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Weather Forecasting: Definition & Types

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  • 0:03 What Is Weather Forecasting?
  • 0:42 Tools Used for Weather…
  • 1:26 Types of Weather Forecasting
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Have you ever wondered what weather forecasting is and what tools we use to do it? How can we make short-, medium-, and long-term weather predictions? Let's find out!

What Is Weather Forecasting?

Should you wear a raincoat or a sweater today? Should you go to the office or work from home? These are all everyday questions we might only be able to answer with the help of a weather forecast. When dangerous weather conditions like hurricanes or snowstorms arrive, our choices about what we should or shouldn't do can often mean the difference between life and death.

Weather forecasting is the prediction of what the atmosphere will be like in a particular place by using technology and scientific knowledge to make weather observations. In other words, it's a way of predicting things like cloud cover, rain, snow, wind speed, and temperature before they happen.

Tools Used for Weather Forecasting

Weather forecasters use all kinds of tools to achieve this goal. We have instruments called barometers to measure air pressure, radar to measure the location and speed of clouds, thermometers to measure temperature, and computer models to process data accumulated from these instruments. However, to this day, humans with good experience can still do a better job at predicting the weather than computer models alone because humans are often involved in picking the most appropriate model for a situation.

The main ways we can forecast the weather include looking at current weather conditions, tracking the motion of air and clouds in the sky, finding previous weather patterns that resemble current ones, examining changes in air pressure, and running computer models.

Types of Weather Forecasting

There are four main types of weather prediction we're going to discuss in this lesson: short-range, medium-range, long-range, and hazardous weather forecasting.

Short-range forecasts are predictions made between one and seven days before they happen. Medium-range forecasts are usually given between one week and four weeks in advance. Long-range forecasts are given between one month and a year in advance. The further into the future you're trying to predict, the harder it is to be sure. Longer-range forecasts are only useful if the forecaster says how likely he or she believes it is that the prediction is accurate. This is called a level of confidence. For example, a forecaster may predict rain next Tuesday with a 90% level of confidence. Short-range forecasts are far more accurate than medium- or long-range ones.

The accuracy of weather forecasting also depends on location. There are places in the world where weather changes little from one day to the next, especially at the equator and the North and South Poles. However, in the mid-latitudes any two days can have entirely different weather conditions because in these areas polar winds meet tropical winds, creating unstable air pressure. This changeable weather condition is called a depression. Longer-scale forecasts are produced using many of the same techniques as shorter-scale ones but also factor in statistics of past weather trends in an area. Long-term predictions require more powerful computer models than short-term ones.

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