Phone App Versus The Weatherman

By: Eric M. Weglarz, Guest Columnist



As the age of technology rapidly blossoms before our eyes, the emergence of phones as a dominant part of the current lifestyle has become apparent. We use our phone as a Swiss Army knife for daily tasks such as communication, entertainment, as a GPS, and even to get the weather forecast.

While it might seem sound to get a weather forecast from your phone, is the forecast you receive better than what you get from a local weatherman? This question might seem simple to answer, but it’s important to analyze the differences between the app and a human delivering the forecast on television or the radio.

As a future TV meteorologist, I surprisingly have yet to consult a weather app once for a forecast. This might seem strange, as one might think that the app would contain similar content to what I might deliver on-air. When you open your favorite weather app, you usually come across temperatures, conditions and forecast over the next six to seven days for your location. The method in which the forecast is created differs slightly from app to app, but the underlying infrastructure for making it stems from the use of a computer model.

This model may blend different forecast models into a singular forecast, but the result is a specific set of numbers, probabilities of precipitation, etc. that you view on your phone. To make this effective, the coverage of the model spans across the entire U.S. For example, say I wanted to get a forecast in Buffalo, NY. My location would pull gridded model data or corrected data from a forecaster, then display it on the app.

The process seems logically sound, but the critical question that fellow meteorologists and I ask is how do you convey uncertainty in the forecast and/or volatility in the weather through an app? The answer simply is that you cannot easily do this through a phone.

This is when getting the forecast from your local weatherman on television or the radio becomes invaluable. Vermont as a state is very weather conscious; knowing for example when snow events will sweep through the state help the local economy plan accordingly. As a result, a core of intelligent weathermen and women in Burlington and the Fairbanks Museum provide local forecasts that are far superior to what you will find on your phone. These types of forecasts can highlight both uncertainty and intensity, which are critical to informing the public.

Before we completely discount apps, strides have been made by local TV stations to provide quality forecasts, especially as smartphones become increasingly more popular. My particularly favorite approach done by some stations in New England is to provide a video forecast in tandem, which aims to provide a shortened explanation to the numbers you normally would see on the screen.

Normally in an opinion that involves forecasting the weather, I tend to firmly take a side. After comparing weather apps with weather delivered over traditional broadcast media, I found that local broadcast media outlets tended to have the upper hand on the daily weather forecast in comparison to their private sector counterparts.

The reasoning behind this is fairly straightforward, which stems to a local meteorologist’s ability to have superior knowledge of the synoptics in that particular region. Understanding biases within each computer model is critical in making an accurate forecast, which is why your local weatherman is more likely to nail the next seven days.

The next time you’re in need of a forecast, tune into your local TV or radio station, their accuracy won’t disappoint.