Why did Australian weather forecasts go wrong during a ‘strange’ summer?
We’ve been warned to expect warmer and drier than average weather this spring and summer, threatening to make life hot and sweaty for millions of Australians. We were told to prepare for heatwaves and wildfires. so what happened?
Despite the heat and humidity, there was also a whole heap of rain, and while the spring forecasts were largely accurate, with both Sydney and Perth recording their hottest springs on record, some meteorologists were ‘surprised’ by the rain dumping on the east in weeks Last.
Large parts of the country are inundated with floods just weeks into 2024, a situation partly caused by former tropical cyclone Jasper. Many of those areas, mostly in Queensland and Victoria, are still experiencing the effects of torrential rains, which are set to cost their local economies millions. Earlier this month in Victoria alone, about 200 mm fell on parts of the state in just days.
As El Niño arrives on our shores, after three years of wet conditions brought by La Niña, things have not been quite as expected, leaving some Australians feeling increasingly distrustful of the weatherman.
“Strange” weather due to rising ocean temperatures
While it is not abnormal to see heavy rainfall during an El Niño cycle, Dr Andrew King, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, said the rainfall seen throughout the summer surprised him.
“I was a little surprised by how wet it was. It’s a weird El Niño, actually, because our ocean conditions are very warm in eastern Australia, unusually warm,” he said.
“This basically helps provide more moisture and destabilize the atmosphere a little bit, leading to increased precipitation in the southeast of the continent. This was really not something that most people were expecting.”
Can we trust our weather apps?
If you rely on the weather app on your phone — regardless of whether you’re on an iPhone or Android — this year you may have noticed a scary little rain icon popping up on certain days, only to later emerge into sunny skies. You may have also seen a sunny, but wet, rain symbol.
Because storms are generally difficult to predict, even experts sometimes make mistakes. But do we focus too much on our weather apps? Should we take these forecasts and “rain icons” with a grain of salt? Or do we not know how to explain it?
It’s a little bit of both, King says. Australians should know what to expect from apps, and know how to interpret them.
“Firstly, I think all apps are a little different,” King told Yahoo News Australia. “The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), for example, will say there is a chance of showers and will include a rain symbol, when there is a relatively low probability, and it may only be at one time of the day – but the rest of the time, that is the case.” Sunny,” he said.
So, when looking at your weather app, it’s really helpful to look beyond the icons and read the fine print.
Different applications use different models, which means different predictions
According to King, most apps also use “different models,” leading to “slightly different predictions.” When it comes to Apple products, for example, the tech giant says it gets its weather data from a range of organizations, many of which are based overseas. Although some of its data is taken from BoM, it claims.
If the technology companies behind weather apps were sourcing data from overseas, King said that could mean the information was “less relevant to the Australian weather climate”. “The BoM is probably the best source of weather forecast information in Australia,” he said, adding that for the most part the Met Office is as accurate as possible at the time of the forecast.
“The US models are quite clever. But the Bank of Japan uses its own model, which works at a higher resolution, than Australia, so it can produce the kind of fine-scale information.”
Applications using US models may “collect data” several times a day, but Australian resources “may update their forecasts more frequently”.
“At least for a few hours, in general, yes (you can rely on apps),” King said. “But it’s better to use the BoM app, rather than Google or Apple, if you’re planning an outdoor event several days in advance.”
King also noted that often times, if a meteorologist gets a small detail wrong, it “can make a big difference.” “On summer days, when the land is really warming up, you can stimulate local circulation, so things like the sea breeze have an effect, because the sea is much slower to heat up, you get a breeze from the sea to the land,” he said. .
“It’s very difficult to predict the timing of these types of wind patterns. If you get a little bit wrong, it can make a big difference in the temperature forecast. So it can be difficult to predict.”
What’s on the cards for the rest of the summer?
King said the bulk of El Niño’s effects are felt in the spring, which means we are past the peak of the phenomenon, and that the cycle “will likely continue for another three or four months.”
“At the moment, the Bank of England forecast is for slightly wetter than normal conditions to continue in the south-east, where we have warm sea surface temperatures off the east coast, but also drier than normal conditions across the north and west coasts,” he explained. .
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