Weather: [More data + more computers = better forecasts]

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Weather forecasters are gathering new data to improve forecast accuracy, but already, forecasts outside the summer season are highly accurate. What new technologies are being put into place to improve forecast accuracy, especially for the convective storms that cause so much death and destruction in summer?

A tree was uproyouoted and fell upon devastated houses
The April 27, 2011 tornado left many homes in shambles and killed 64 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The twister — one of 358 tornadoes in the largest outbreak of tornadoes in United States history — reached a width of 1.5 miles. Much of the effort in weather forecasting concerns getting faster, more accurate predictions of the giant convective cells that drive severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

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Discussion Questions

  1. What is the starting point for a weather forecast?
  2. What are the three steps in making a warning about severe weather?
  3. Why are storms harder to forecast in summer than in winter?
  4. Why do meteorologists try to “repurpose” existing equipment for new uses?
  5. What is the “Valley of Death”? What other fields have a problem translating research into practice, and how do they attempt to speed the translation of research into practice?

Lesson Plans/Activities

  1. Ask the class to look at the predictions for yesterday’s weather from 7, 5, 3 and 1 day ago. Do the forecasts grow more accurate? Which aspect improves the most: temperature, precipitation, wind speed or wind direction?
  2. Reread the forecasters “plea” in the article and ask the class to write 150 words on these topics: Why would a forecaster write this kind of plea? Do you think it would be helpful? What else could a forecaster say to persuade more people to evacuate low-lying areas?
  3. Research question: Assign a short paper on the tornado outbreak of Apr. 25-28, 2011. Papers can cover causes, damages/deaths, and lessons learned.