A weather forecasting competition

E. Linacre and B. Geerts


A competition is held each year by the Department of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, to celebrate the person who can give the most accurate forecasts (1). Hundreds of entrants ranging from undergraduates to professors come from dozens of universities to participate in the National Collegiate Weather Forecasting Contest. In 1996-7 there were 383 entrants, who prepared daily forecasts over 13 fortnight periods of the daily extreme temperatures and 24-hours rainfall (i.e. either zero, 0-1.3mm, 1.4-6.1mm, ..., up to 25 mm and above) at 13 places across the USA. A different place is chosen for each period.

In 1996-7, the climatological forecast performed amongst the worst, which is not surprising, considering the large weather anomalies that affect the US especially in winter. The consensus (i.e. average) of all the forecasts had a score which was better than those of 94% of the entrants, but sophisticated objective numerical weather predictions (NWP) were slightly better. This was the first year that NWP forecasting proved better than the consensus from all entrants, in a competition biased in favour of human forecasting because plenty of time was available. About 13% of the university staff and 5% of the graduate students performed better than the NWP forecasts.



(1) Vislocky, R.L. & J.M. Fritsch 1997. Performance of an advanced MOS system i the 1996-7 national collegiate weaher forecasting contest. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 87, 2851-7.