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Forecasting weather a year ahead

“Garden party next July. Should be a nice day for it!” (iStockPhoto)
“Garden party next July. Should be a nice day for it!” (iStockPhoto)

Sana Ahmed, staff writer

July 18, 2011 — Revolutionary or highly improbable? A new smart phone application claims to accurately predict weather a year in advance.

What if you could pick the perfect beach day a year in advance?
What if you could pick the perfect beach day a year in advance?

One of the latest weather-forecasting applications (app), WT360, claims to be able to tell you how to dress for your sister’s garden-party wedding next year.

Is this indeed possible?

Pennsylvania-based Weather Trends International, the makers of the new WT360 app, believe that it is. The app was developed under the supervision of a crew of meteorologists using statistics and cyclic patterns. Their aim was to have a long-range forecasting service that could provide a forecast that remains the same from the time the prognostication was made.

“I would call it a forecasting tool because the same is true for a forecast made for tomorrow. It would imply precision, but we know oftentimes someone will say it will rain tomorrow and it might be sunny all day,” says Richard Woolley, vice-president of operations at Weather Trends International.

“It’s what you can expect a year in advance and it’s much better than guessing or using climatology. We have collected weather information from all over the world and we work with data sources that are publicly and privately available.”

In theory, the app sounds remarkable given its claims to predict the weather up to a year in advance. However, is this scientifically possible?

“We have a reputation to maintain,” says Woolley. “What we’re saying is that this is our most likely opportunity for a weather condition to occur in that time frame and we’re going to get that correct about 80% of the time.”

Woolley adds, “We work with a probability. It’s better than not knowing anything at all, and it’s better than just using an average number or some other arbitrary value that doesn’t mean anything.”

Some meteorologists remain skeptical of the app's claim
Some meteorologists remain skeptical of the app's claim

Some meteorologists remain skeptical of the app’s features, however.

“The idea that it’s a forecast is misleading,” says Chris Scott, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. “Weather is too chaotic, and it’s simply impossible to see the daily variations in temperature a year in advance.”

At The Weather Network, meteorologists strive to work towards a 14-day trend. Beyond that, they work with something called the seasonal outlook, which is not specific and operates more like a trend that might occur.

Still, The Weather Network is no stranger to apps. The WeatherEye app forecasts in terms of hours and days and provides its users with other essential information such as warnings during extreme weather.

“They (scientists) have not found a silver bullet that reasonably predicts the weather a year in advance,” says Scott. “It’s on the same scale as time travel. This will never be the case in our lifetime, or even in our grandchildrens’ lifetimes.”

Brian Pullen, CEO of Playground Inc., a software developing company in Toronto, Ontario, believes that the WT360 app could potentially be very helpful, particularly for governments that regularly deal with extreme weather situations such as floods and hurricanes. But he remains wary of its claims.

“The specificity of the app is questionable,” says Pullen. “The idea is good, because to some people in the world the prediction of long-term weather can mean a great deal more. There are countries where weather impacts lives far more. The ability to predict those ahead of time and give people ample preparation or evacuation time can change and save lives. I think that's profound.”

Woolley says the technology is being used by multinational companies. Pullen believes that the app would be most effective when such companies are using it to make purchasing decisions.

“If you were using this for human factors such as flood relief or predicting famine, I don’t think the accuracy is there to rely on the app for that. But if investors and business people are using it to predict trends in the market, then in that game, I think it makes sense and I see its value,” he says.

With the existence of apps like WT360, it’s important for the user to be aware of how they’re applying the technology, as well as its limits.

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