Aug. 27, 2014: Josh Linker discusses showing computer models

By Josh Linker, Meteorologist
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 27, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT

Ok, so now that Hurricane Cristobal is well on its way to missing the United States, we need to have a little chat.

We, in the weather department at Bay News 9, are not in the business of hyping weather events. Period. With the increase in social media over the last few years, our jobs have become a bit more challenging.

On a regular basis, images are posted to social media that show some pretty scary things like hurricanes hitting our area more than a week away. The major problem is that there is no context to the image. Often times it is just simply one run of one computer model. Believe me when I say this, but we look at all of this information before it hits social media. With our experience we are able to understand the context. But, it isn’t always the case in other places.

Last week if you were watching the weather report on one of the other channels here in the Tampa Bay area, you would have seen a single image of a hurricane expected to hit the Tampa Bay area 8 days away.

I fail to see the reason for showing any of this especially since the model run of the same computer model the two days prior had it hitting S. Texas, and then New Orleans. It is crucial in weather forecasting, especially the tropics, to understand, first, the uncertainty in computer models, and second, the biases that some models show. If a weather forecaster (presenter) doesn’t understand that, they are doing a disservice to the consumers of the information they are sharing.

Admittedly, there was a period of time late last week when the track forecast for what became Cristobal, was a bit uncertain. It is our job to express that. And, we did. But, showing one time period of one computer model more than a week in advance just to generate hype or scare viewers into watching is just plain wrong. We have to assume that our viewers may only see that one weather segment. It is irresponsible to send our viewers into an unnecessary panic.

We also have access to dozens of computer models; part of the so-called “spaghetti plot” we show on air and post on our website. But, we actually remove from the display the models that don’t function well. Those models are still in the “system” because they are used for model verification purposes. There are some well performing newer models that we prefer to utilize. It would be like trying to use a first grade math workbook to solve your college calculus equations. But you will see some of these less-accurate computer models displayed in the Spaghetti plot in many other places on TV, the web and in social media. These models often go off in different directions with a tropical system they aren’t able to predict.  Why show them to the public?  We don’t.

With all that said, we are still on the beginning side of the peak of hurricane season and we, like always, will do our part to give you as accurate information as we can without causing unnecessary concern in our area which is very vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms.