Monday, December 8, 2008

Be Your Own Forecaster

I've had a few people write me recently asking what forecast models I look at to predict the weather, and which models are the best this time of the year.

Both are hard questions to answer.

Models all tend to have their own quirks, and some do better than others when it comes to a particular type of weather pattern.

They also tend to vary by location -- with most all models having a tough time in places like Colorado due to the varied terrain.

Still, they help give an overall idea of what might happen on the larger scale, and then it's up to the forecaster to fill in the details here at home.

I have a variety of places I like to go on the web to look at data.

First, I like to check the climate prediction center. Click here for the CPC. In particular, I look at the 6-10 day outlook and the national US hazards forecast.

Now if you aren't too savvy on reading forecast models on your own, then one thing you can do is to read the local forecast discussion from your local National Weather Service forecast office.

Essentially, they are reading all the models, both long and short-term, then writing a discussion of what they see, think and feel about the forecast.

The only problem is they will use some weather jargon that you may not be familiar with, such as FROPA.

FROPA is short for frontal passage.

Click here and you will get a US map. Click on your state and it will bring up a page showing your state and 10 options to click on.

One of those options is the forecast discussion.

If your state has more than 1 forecast office, just scroll through until you find the one from your area.

It is interesting to read surrounding offices though, because forecasters don't always agree on things.

If you want to do your own forecasting -- to get a feel on the forecast, first you need to look at the regional snapshot of what is happening in terms of wind, temps, and precipitation. Click here and when the page loads, click on surface -- then your region.

And finally, from the link I just put above, you can also click on forecast and get some of the more common weather models.

The RUC is a short-term model, the Eta is a medium-range model and the GFS is long-term.

When looking at the model, a good plot to look at is the 500 mb winds under the "aloft plots" section.

This will show you what is happening with weather patterns at approx. 22,000 feet -- which is free and clear of all forces that impact weather, such as high mountains.


  1. I live in Alberta, Canada - where we have nothing resembling CoCoRaHS, and I'm sure we never will! Our weather forecasting is terrible! Our previous government slashed a ton of funding to Environment Canada and it will be DISASTROUS one day, mark my words. I just wanted to say I found a real goldmine when I found this blog! I see that there aren't many comments - I certainly hope you aren't discouraged by that! The info here is exactly what I've been looking for! Wish I could participate!

  2. I never knew that forecast discussion section was there on the NOAA website . I have to confess it is somewhat addictive. I live in NYS and I've been following their discussion of the snowstorm we are having right now. I have new respect for how difficult it must be to predict some weather events.