This short series arises from the recently published paper, “The Evolving Role of Humans in Weather Prediction and Communication“. Please read that paper first, before proceeding.
Neil Stuart always has been a thought-provoking author and discussion partner at conferences, regarding the human role in forecasting—most certainly including communication of forecasts. He lead-authored this new article in Bulletin of the AMS that fortunately is not paywalled, and shouldn’t be, given its importance. [I posit that no published atmospheric science should be paywalled, but that’s another issue!]
Yes, automation, AI, misconceptions thereabouts, IDSS, and the continuing importance of humans in the process, are all covered—quite often in contexts that matter in a social response-based, “Was*ISsy” sense. Although I found a few minor omissions or deficiencies in my read of it, this is about as good of a review article on the topic as reasonably can be done, given the limited space allotted.
Let the discussion begin! As a highly experienced, scientific severe-storms forecaster who was not involved (none currently in my unit were, to my knowledge), I’ll have a few tidbits to add too. There are so many places to go with this. I hope we do. Such discussion matters. I’ll post few early thoughts in multiple parts here.
Whither human understanding of the meteorological situation involved in a forecast? The article heavily emphasizes evolving educational requirements, and rightly so. It also alludes to the need for continuing meteorological and situational understanding on the part of forecasters (which begins, but does not end, in university education). The atmosphere offers continuing education, in its own language, throughout our careers as forecasters. It is professionally incumbent upon us to use observational data to read and understand the language of the atmosphere!
After all, regardless of how sophisticated the forecast models or post-processing are, we cannot optimally communicate a situation we do not deeply understand. Put another way, even the most eloquent and convincing communication of an unknowingly bad forecast, or incomplete understanding of the scenario, invites potentially tragic and economically costly consequences. Or as a colleague once put it, “You can spray-paint a turd gold, and it’s still a smelly turd.”
That means human diagnosis, by all available means (including hand analysis), still is important, and will remain so. Detailed, immersive situational diagnosis (subjective chart analyses, satellite imagery, radar imagery, soundings, radar-derived wind profiles, objective analyses, observational data of all available types) is absolutely foundational to every forecast scenario, but especially short-fused, multivariate, and high-impact ones, such as severe local storms and winter storms. Optimally thorough diagnosis is necessarily time-consuming and demanding of undistracted concentration in an operational setting. I’m glad the authors recognized and noted the importance of expert roles in forecast teams, and of fully attentive acuity. Institutionally, across public and private operations, we must reduce, not increase, distractions and disruptions to concentration on the forecast floor!
Given all the above, it is crucial for university and professional continuing education to maintain emphasis on meteorological situational understanding as the fundamental core of all forecasting and IDSS, and not lose sight of fundamentals in the zeal to embrace ever-more precise and prettier output. The safety of those who we serve with the forecasts is at stake!