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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Nation/World

Weather forecasts as unreliable as Mother Nature, survey finds

Will Lester Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Never mind fancy computers, satellites and Doppler radar. Most people have limited faith that meteorologists can accurately forecast the weather.

Four in 10 say they have made plans in the past month based on a weather forecast that turned out to be wrong, according to an AP-Ipsos poll. Still, most people closely follow the weather, mainly on television. About a third say they think the weather forecasts in their area are accurate, but half say just “somewhat accurate,” and the remainder say the forecasts are off the mark.

Some people remember only the bad forecasts.

“A lot of times, I think it’s going to be the opposite of what they say,” said Raymond Smart, semiretired and living near Portland, Maine. He checks several outlets for forecasts but often relies on a more basic approach.

“I wake up in the morning and look out the window,” Smart said. “If the sun’s shining, I think maybe it will be a good day. If it’s raining, then maybe not.”

Despite the skepticism, most people say they check the weather forecasts.

Almost two-thirds said they had checked the weather forecast on the day they were surveyed. Television was, by far, the most popular source of weather information (used by seven in 10 who checked a forecast), followed by the Internet, newspapers and radio.

All those sources are useful for Charles Topping, a metalsmith who lives 50 miles from Bakersfield, Calif., and has no weather forecasting station nearby.

“My friends and I go to about three or four different sources,” Topping said, “then we all take our best guess.

“Day-to-day, we do all right,” he said. “People did without weather reports for thousands of years.”

Weather forecasting has grown increasingly sophisticated – especially in providing early warnings and tracking severe storms, veteran forecasters say. Predicting simply whether it will rain or not can be tougher.

The National Weather Service has made major strides in the last couple of decades in its ability to detect storm systems and to communicate that information quickly, said Dennis McCarthy, chief of the office of weather and water services for the NWS.

A few decades ago, forecasters were lucky to be able to provide much warning of tornadoes or to accurately predict the track of a winter storm, but new radar, satellite and computer technology have dramatically improved their ability, he said.

Improvements in technology don’t mean forecasters always get it right.

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