Philosophical question: What is the smallest unit of weather? Is it the tiny breeze that forms between the temperature differential of midday pavement and a shaded gutter puddle? That answer might soon be answered by a powerful new weather forecasting tool. IBM has combined its computing power with the Weather Channel's impressive forecasting platform to create a new tool called Deep Thunder. Yes, the name is badass, and I encourage you to say it while speaking like Xerxes from 300.
The atmosphere that blankets our planet contains around 5,600 trillion tons of air. It can blast the ground below with lightning, torrential rain, heat waves, and tornadoes, or caress it with a light breeze or dusting of snowflakes. As the past few days have reminded us, it's no small feat to make predictions about what this vast, seething mass of wind and water will do. But our forecasting prowess--at least when it comes to predicting how hot the coming days will be--has been making impressive strides. High-temperature predictions have improved significantly over the past 12 years, according to a new report from ForecastWatch, a Columbus, Ohio-based company that assesses the accuracy of weather forecasts.
Our general weather in New England hasn't changed too much over the past 70 years. We still have our four seasons and a wild variety of all sorts of storms and temperatures. But one thing that has changed quite dramatically in that time is the way we view and receive forecasts for what's ahead. Weather observations were few and far between most of the time. A meteorologist had to depend on scattered reports from airports, fishermen, and phone calls from weather savvy locals.
It was a tale of two storms. The first consisted of the rain and thunder forecast for Bournemouth by the BBC weather app on the Saturday spring bank holiday. The second came when the first failed to materialise and a tourism manager in the town complained that visitors who stayed away could have come after all and enjoyed sunshine and blue skies. This opportunity to rage at inaccurate forecasting, bash the BBC and highlight the grievances of small businesses did not go to waste. For the Sun, it was a "blunderstorm".
IBM and its subsidiary The Weather Company are working on a new weather forecasting system, one that they say will boost forecast accuracy quite a bit. It's called the Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System, or GRAF, and it will pull data from weather stations, aircraft sensors and smartphone pressure sensors -- a massive amount of information that will be analyzed by the IBM technology that powers the US Department of Energy's powerful Summit and Sierra supercomputers. "Today, weather forecasts around the world are not created equal, so we are changing that," Cameron Clayton, general manager of Watson Media and Weather for IBM, said in a statement. "Weather influences what people do day-to-day and is arguably the most important external swing factor in business performance. As extreme weather becomes more common, our new weather system will ensure every person and organization around the world has access to more accurate, more finely-tuned weather forecasts."