Meteorologists: Stop Focusing on Hyped Forecasts and Start Focusing on Improving Accuracy

There has been an article circulating on the internet over the last few days basically telling people that they need to stay away from weather websites or pages that are run by amateur weather forecasters. I would assume that they are referring to any weather source that is run by individuals who do not at least have a bachelor’s degree in meteorology. I do realize that there are weather pages out there that hype certain weather events to drive up views, and as a result, their weather pages and sites temporarily get a lot of views. Due to the rise of social media, this is a complex issue that has become a problem in recent years and has allowed anybody with a internet connection to create a Facebook page and declare themselves a meteorologist. For all we know, they could be a 14 year old kid that couldn’t interpret a weather model if their life depended on it. The point of this article is not to go on and on about the hyped forecasts that these inexperienced forecasters are putting out. That has already been done by these so-called experts in the field who have written articles about it, posted on Facebook and Twitter about it, and will probably continue to talk about it. When you tell people not to go look at something, they’re going to go look at it, and you’re giving these 14 year old kids free publicity, which is the opposite of what you intended. Allow me to give some advice on what has truly made Firsthand Weather successful thus far, and why weather sites and pages that aren’t reliable eventually fall by the wayside.

1) Focus on putting out accurate and quality forecasts. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he discusses how a person does not truly master something until he has at least put 10,000 hours of time into it. Research actually backs that claim up, and you can study the lives of very successful people and understand why this is true. It takes more than a college degree to reach the level of mastery. I’ve seen “amateur” forecasters who have been studying the weather for 30 or 40 years who were much better forecasters than degreed meteorologists simply because they have put more time into studying meteorology. Now, the reason I am working towards a meteorology degree at the University of Oklahoma is because I’m trying to reach that level of mastery in meteorology. But just like everyone else, I started as an amateur, and my forecasts are getting better with time.

My point is this: work on improving the accuracy and quality of YOUR forecasts, and if you effectively get those forecasts out to the public, they’ll come back next time there is another big storm system moving their way. They’re going to go where they’re getting accurate forecasts and who they consider a reliable source. I’ve seen several TV meteorologists (typically younger meteorologists) in the past post on Facebook about how people aren’t taking their forecasts seriously because of these other amateur forecasters that hype forecasts and make the rest of us look bad. Allow me to be blunt here for a minute. They’re probably not taking you serious as a meteorologist because your forecasts are not accurate or reliable. Keep working to become a better meteorologist and keep working towards those 10,000 hours, but remember, it doesn’t stop there. Again, if you’re putting out accurate and reliable forecasts, people most certainly will be back.

2) Be willing to adapt to changing times. Some people are always going to be stuck in their old ways no matter how many times you tell them that they need to adapt to changing times. A lot of meteorologists want to put out weather information to the public the same, old boring way. What might have worked in the 1980s probably won’t work in 2014. You have to constantly adapt with the changing times, and you have to be good at foreseeing the future. Back in 2009 when I began helping out on a weather website before I started Firsthand Weather, I made sure that I took the extra effort to promote the social media pages in order to drive views to the content being put out on the website. That didn’t seem as important at the time, but I knew that’s where it was going. If you’re reading this article right now, I guarantee that most of you got here by clicking on a link shared on Facebook or Twitter. If I had not focused on social media when it didn’t seem as important, Firsthand Weather wouldn’t be where it is today.

My point is this: do your research and figure out how the public will be getting their weather information down the road. I can guarantee you that it’ll be different than it is today. If you adapt with the times, you’re going to be ahead of the game. If you have accurate forecasts and you have adapted to change, then that’s another step to being taken serious in the weather industry. Again, don’t do things the way they did it when the dinosaurs roamed the earth; plan for change.

3) Be the change that you want to see take place. While you need to adapt to change as I stated above, you also need to be the change that you want to see take place. When I was around 15 or 16, I began posting on this weather forum that was run by a local meteorologist in Upstate South Carolina where I’m from. At that point, Firsthand Weather was not even in the making, and my grandma was about the only one who listened to my forecasts. But see, even back then, my forecasting style was different than most everyone else’s. I told everyone what I thought and was sometimes even a little too aggressive. There was a small group of people that began to follow my forecasts, and that local meteorologist didn’t like that at all. My forecasts ended up being right a lot of times when his were wrong, and he’d often say that my way of things were not the “right way” to go about things. Well, I eventually got blocked on there, but this one weather site had been silently following my forecasts. After I was blocked, they invited me to write for their site, which was a huge leap for me at the time. When I got over there, I did the exact same thing. My forecasting style was completely different, and people liked it. When I decided to start Firsthand Weather, those group of fans followed me over from the other site, and here we are today. I still do things completely different than most meteorologists or weather enthusiasts do.

When I had just started Firsthand Weather, degreed meteorologists would actually take the time to email me and tell me that if I kept doing things like I was doing them, that no meteorologist would ever think to hire someone like me down the road. Nearly four years later, Firsthand Weather gets hundreds of job applications every year with meteorologists wanting to be a part of this site. Who would have thought than someone would come to ME wanting me to hire them to a site that couldn’t even pay them. What a difference a few years can make, simply because I didn’t want to put out my forecasts the same, boring way.

My point is this: be different and out of the ordinary! In other words, think outside of the box.

4) Don’t bash. You might be surprised that I actually included this one on my list, but meteorologists and weather enthusiasts are really bad about doing this. Now, bashing is NOT the same thing as criticizing. If you’ve been following me for any time now, you know that there are many times that I don’t agree with certain weather forecasts that are put out. At times, I’ll criticize someone for doing something, but I will provide a reasonable explanation as to why I don’t think their forecast is right. It helps me to become a better weather forecaster, and in certain cases, I’m wrong and they’re right. Criticism can help a person, but bashing doesn’t.

My point is this: you can put your effort into working on the three things that I mentioned above instead of taking the time to bash and degrade an individual. If you’re spending all of your time on social media degrading a meteorologist, then I’m willing to bet money that you’re not reaching your full potential. Ever wonder why your weather website or page is not growing or getting any views? You’re spending all your time on things that aren’t important and aren’t helping anybody.

So in conclusion, allow me to tie all of this together. Let’s go back to that one article that has been circulating around the internet, which was the intent of me writing this article in the first place. While I believe that it is very important to warn the public of untrustworthy weather sources, it’s just as important to focus on improving your forecasting ability and making improvements to the organization that you’re apart of. Focus more on the things that I listed above (by the way, I could have added more things to the list if I had had enough time) instead of focusing on “amateur” forecasters posting on the internet. Last time I checked, the public is smart enough to determine who they need to listen to. If you keep putting out accurate forecasts, people will keep coming back. You’re going to have those occasions where someone posts a hyped forecast and gets a ton of shares, but while that is aggravating, your audience will come to you first to get your opinion on whether or not that forecast is authentic. There’s nothing you can do about 14 year olds posting their little apocalyptic forecasts on Facebook, but there is something you can do about becoming a better meteorologist each and every day.

  • Nancy Freeman

    You are wise beyond your years! You do have to be flexible and open in today’s society. We have come a long way in the world of technology and that’s what learning is all about, studying , being open minded and using information in a way that provides for more accurate answers and forecasts. A lot of the so called weather folks are not putting forth the time and effort to really look at their forecast area , they are giving out generalized forecasts in what is becoming a more specific world. Kudos to you and your team for wanting to keep us informed and safe from potential disasters in the weather world.

  • NikolaMilovic

    Matthew, what you said can serve as a good basis to all young people who want to orient to meteorology. For me, meteorology monitoring of meteorological events that take place locally or in the general area of ​​the globe. Of such interest and tracking such events, it is necessary to have synchronized statements from many places on the planet where you follow those changes. But there is a big problem: weather changes are the consequences of climate change, whose cause has not yet truly discovered, and it seems that many do not want to know the true causes of climate change. I’m in a relationship with a friend Len announced some of the activities I decipher the causes of climate change. We’ll see what comes of it to happen.

  • How about this. Create a service in which websites can have their predictions rated, after the fact of course, giving them a score and giving them objective feedback as to how they can improve future forecasts.

  • Also, where is the, “article circulating on the internet?” No link?