HELENA — Cell phones and weather apps have made it very easy and convenient to access a weather forecast, but I cringe whenever someone says. "I just checked my phone and...yadda yadda yadda." Forecasting the weather is difficult, and your phone app is missing one very valuable thing: human interpretation.
I can hear some of the jokes you're saying now, “the forecast is always wrong. You can be wrong 50% and still keep your job. I don't need to watch the weather on the news, I've got my cell phone.” But have you ever wondered where that weather app on your phone is getting its information?
Meteorologists like myself or the National Weather Service spend hours pouring over computer model data, satellites, radars, and surface observations. Weather forecasting is an art as much as it is a science. Having an education and experience allows for better interpretation of model data.
The problem with cell phone weather apps is where the cell phone provider gets the information. If you were to take a Verizon, AT&T, and a Sprint phone, all three weather forecasts are almost always different.
Weather apps are sometimes programmed to take one computer model or a blend of computer model data. However, these computer models go out to 10 or more days, and new computer models come out every few hours. The weather changes very rapidly, and even the most reliable computer models are prone to error and inconsistencies.
The apps do not take geography or microclimates into account and have problems forecasting for snow and thunderstorms. Apps are programmed to err on the side of caution and may show the possibility of certain weather when the odds of that weather occurring is quite remote.
Many weather apps are also among a host of smartphone apps that have been found to sell your location history and other data to third parties. But really what weather apps miss most is that human interpretation, the experience, and an education through schooling and learning from past mistakes.