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Weather forecasts are based on science, not guesses

NKY snowfighters stand ready for winter weather
Posted at 2:44 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 15:03:51-05

At times like these, almost all eyes turn to the weather forecast.

Since late last week, it has been clear that a major snowstorm was headed our way and that snowstorm would have a significant impact on all of us living in the region.

Severe weather -- from snowstorms to tornadoes -- can be a life-or-death matter.

Our meteorologists are committed to keeping you as safe as possible, but predicting what is going to happen in our atmosphere is complicated. Conditions change.

Just the other day I heard someone say the old punch line: “I don’t bother with the weather people. They are just guessing anyway, and they are wrong more than they are right.”

The reality is our meteorologists go through a rigorous process to get their jobs. They aren’t just a friendly face on TV.

To become a meteorologist, you have to have a four-year college degree related to meteorology or science. Most meteorologists also get certified by either the American Meteorological Society or the National Weather Association. The certification tests aren’t easy.

Chief Meteorologist Steve Raleigh and our team -- Jennifer Ketchmark, Sherry Hughes, Austin Winfield and Raven Richard -- aren’t guessing. They are combing through multiple computer weather forecasting models. They are studying what the weather systems are doing and how they are moving. And then they combine that with their years of experience to create a forecast.

But predicting what will happen in the future isn’t easy.

Conditions can change as the weather evolves.

Think about planning a trip to Columbus. You tell a friend you think you will arrive at 1 p.m. You’ve made this drive before. You know it generally is a two-hour drive. Maybe you have checked a traffic app to see what road conditions currently look like. You know you have enough gas that you won’t need to stop.

But there are factors that don’t play out the way you expect.

What if you get off work early and leave an hour earlier? Now, you will arrive at noon.

What if there is a car crash on Interstate 71 just north of Wilmington? Now, you will arrive at 1:30 p.m.

Or what if just as you are getting ready to leave, your car won’t start and you can’t make the trip after all?

The point is our meteorologists are talented and experienced and they use science to make informed forecasts about what the weather might do hours or days from now.

Those forecasts won’t be perfect.

But they actually are incredibly accurate.

You just pay more attention when the forecast is off by a bit. That memory of the time the meteorologists “missed” on the forecast sticks in your brain far longer than the time you took an umbrella because of what meteorologist Jennifer Ketchmark told you in the morning and it kept you dry on your walk to your car after work.

So far, our team’s forecast has been accurate for this snowstorm.

That hasn’t stopped our team from receiving hate mail, some of it filled with expletives, from people telling them they blew it. Some blamed Jennifer for our newsroom delivering extra local news in place of one hour of "Good Morning America" today. For us, making sure our audience knows what is coming locally was more important than that national news.

The storm is far from over. And throughout the next 24 hours -- and really 24/7, 365 days a year -- our meteorologists will be there for you, digging into the science to bring you the most accurate forecast they can.

Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Media Content at WCPO 9. Contact him at mike.canan@wcpo.com. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.