Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Future Direction of the National Weather Service

I often wonder if the public understands what in the world we (the National Weather Service) is saying when we issue a forecast.  In other words, there are probably a lot of terms we use that only we as forecasters understand.  For example, does the public know the difference between "patchy fog" and "areas of fog"?  Which is more significant?  And what's the difference between "rain likely" and "rain", or "isolated showers" and "scattered showers"?  National Weather Service folks of course know the answer and often agonize over these decisions, but does the public care?

I am really happy with the direction that the National Weather Service is headed, which an increased emphasis on understanding how the public makes decisions based on our products and services.  After all, you can make the most accurate forecast, but it means nothing if our customers make poor decisions based on the forecast, or doesn't see the forecast at all.  And to make things trickier, different people have different thresholds that they deem as important.  For example, the snowplow operator may want to know if it's going to snow 2" or more, but the avalanche forecaster may only care if it's going to snow 6" or more, or may even be more concerned about wind rather than snow.  The trick is allowing our customers to easily extract information from our forecasts which can help them make better decisions.

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