Weather forecasts scarier than the weather.... Giving snow storms names.... Predicting The Storm of The Decade! and then watching as no snow falls....
Ever wonder how much television weather people really know about what's headed our way?
Weather blogger Tom Thunstrom has. He's begun a contest to measure which Philadelphia-area station is best this winter at predicting the snow and rain that falls.
He's a hobbyist, not a meteorologist -- a non-profit organization manager who was struck by the weather bug at age 10 in Minnesota, when a tornado roared over his house. After that he was charting mini-forecasts for his parents on toy chalkboards, telling friends everything they always wanted to know about barometric pressure - and more.
If it hadn't been for differential equations and calculus, he figures he'd be a household name, paid the big bucks on TV to tell you about your drive home. Instead, he wound up majoring in history and poli sci, and runs a group that preaches about financial education.
In July the 29-year-old from upper Montgomery County, Pa., launched his blog that gives him outlet for atmospheric passions he says makes him more than a weather geek - he says he's a weather weenie. The site pulled fairly modest traffic over the summer, but picked up in the fall as the big storms hit - Katrina, Wilma etc.
Now he's looking to score with his 2005-2006 Winter Forecast Challenge:
Watching promotions for each of the TV stations in town, you hear claims that 3, 6, 10, or 29 is better than the competition for whatever reasons. Yet when you hear the ads, they don't tell you how accurate their forecasts are or how much more accurate their forecast is than their opponent.
He started keeping book Nov. 1, charting each low pressure system that visits Philadelphia. He will check measurements on snow and rain at Philadelphia International Airport. His system rounds predictions to the nearest inch and accounts for the frequent ranges given by meteorologists. (The narrower, the better score. And the lower the score, the better.)
For example, Channel 6 forecasts rain for the city, snow for the burbs. It rains at the airport with no snow accumulation. Channel 6 speculates the rain event to start between 5-8 AM and it starts at 9. They would score a 0 on precip and would score a 2 on timing (for being one hour off) for a total of 2 points for the event.
Example #2, Channel 29 forecasts 2-4" of snow for the city and says it starts around 7-9 AM. The airport gets rain but it starts as predicted, at 9 AM. 29 scores a 2 on precip but gets a 0 on timing for a total of 2 points on the event.
So far some local TV people are paying attention. CBS 3's weather producer Andy Rice has suggested some improvements to Thunstrom's methodology. Thunstrom has incorporated them.