Commentary: Weather predictions are inaccurate

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I don’t believe that a full winter prediction can be forecast for a portion of a state a month in advance of its beginning in December. I’m a believer that weather forecasting is a guessing game that seems to never be completely right for any size of territory.

I keep receiving information about services for providing weather predictions that influence how commodity trading companies invest. Other weather services give growers an idea of about when to plant or to harvest or to time pesticide applications.

These services could provide me with percentage of accuracy data, but it still wouldn’t overcome my experience of watching the local television meteorologists missing the predictions for rain that stick in my mind forever.

This is why I’m hesitant to believe the Climate Prediction Center is really able to be accurate in changing its winter outlook for only northeastern South Dakota. The center now thinks this area will have a colder than average winter.

Apparently Laura Edwards, South Dakota State University Extension climate field specialist, has confidence in the center’s predictions.

This is a change from the winter outlook that has been forecast up until just before Thanksgiving. "There have been higher chances of warmer than average temperatures over the winter, but a shift in climate patterns over the Pacific Ocean has changed things for us," Edwards said.

Edwards said the rest of the state is projected to have equal chances of above, below or near normal temperatures for December, January and February. Now there is my belief in weather predicting—anything is possible.

Edwards explained that climatologists look to the Pacific Ocean for clues in what lies ahead for the coming season. Now that El Niño is no longer developing in the tropical region of the Pacific Ocean, climate forecasters are focusing their sights on the northern Pacific Ocean.

"This is akin to looking upstream, to see what might be influencing atmospheric patterns that could move towards the northern Great Plains," Edwards said. Again that important word in my hesitancy to believe is “could.”  

One more less than adequate prediction is precipitation. As far as precipitation goes, Edwards said the winter months have equal chances for wetter, drier or near normal amounts of moisture.

What is quite logical to believe is that this winter will not be a drought buster for South Dakota or most any other northern Corn Belt state. Edwards said, "South Dakota will need an extended period of above average precipitation to recover from the current drought."

Dennis Todey, SDSU state climatologist, said, "Now, drought is projected to persist across the whole state through at least February." There had been some hope for a little above normal precipitation through January.  

I wish most climatologists and meteorologists would admit their complete uncertainty as Todey and Edwards agree. “There is a fair amount of uncertainty this year in the climate model forecasts for the winter months of December, January and February.”

"Without El Niño or La Niña impacting us over the winter season, it is more challenging to come up with a strong forecast, and the models are struggling with precipitation in particular," Todey said.

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