Nese instructs scholars to take 90-day weather forecasts with grain of salt

Laura Zaks
February 18, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- At one time or another, often in the mornings, Google gets asked the common question: “What is today’s weather?”

Jon Nese, the associate head of the undergraduate program in meteorology at Penn State, can answer the question given climatology and vast experience in weather patterns.

As part of the Distinguished Honors Faculty Program (DHFP): A World of Weather, Nese spent the evening of Feb. 13 with Schreyer Honors College Scholars, debunking certain meteorology myths and explaining why 90-day weather forecasts are to be taken with a grain of salt.

“The world will always be impacted by weather, whether it’s because you want to plan a vacation, a wedding, you name it,” Nese said. “And they’ll ask meteorologists for the weather forecast for July, in February.”

Nese warned the students that any forecast past 10 days is difficult to trust, as by that time, air tends to “vacillate,” and the computer model predictions are as good as listening to the previous year’s temperature of that day.

“The weather will make you eat humble pie— there are only so many times when you are 100% sure, so when you are, you have to truly use the moment and be adamant,” Nese said. “People often say, ‘Meteorologists can be wrong 50% of the time and still get paid,’ but the truth is, every field— lawyers, politicians, economists— offer predictions. But we are reminded every day by the weather if we were right or not. We visibly take responsibility.”

The world always wants to know forecasts ahead of time, and companies milk the opportunity by providing up to 90-day weather predictions. Yet, as Nese sees it, just because it’s on the internet, “doesn’t mean it’s true.”

The most efficient way to forecast the weather, the Scholars learned, is for a meteorologist to rely on his or her own experiences and knowledge in calculating weather patterns, while also checking with the computer models. As is the case with many professions, the field applies the “10,000-hour-rule” developed by journalist Malcolm Gladwell.

“The best meteorologists know how to forecast using not only computer models but also their own weather knowledge. The more you experience, the better you forecast,” Nese said, in reference to Gladwell.

The room was buzzing with questions and smiles as Nese delved into experiences where forecasting played a large role, like predicting lightning for a football game.

Mikayla Casey, a junior studying Spanish and security and risk analysis, was excited to hear such new perspectives and stories from a department far different than her major.

“I have never been to an event from ‘A World of Weather’ before, but I signed up on a whim, and now I wish I had sooner,” Casey said. “Weather is one of the only things that affects us all— the whole world. It’s a conversation that needs each and every person.”

Stephanie Poly, a program assistant and Scholar majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, also enjoyed the event.

“It went better than I could ever hope, with everyone being so intrigued and fascinated by what Dr. Nese had to say,” Poly said. “Opportunities like these are what make Schreyer, Schreyer, as the Scholars get exposed to things outside their major.”

About Distinguished Honors Faculty Programs

Schreyer Honors College Distinguished Honors Faculty Programs pair select faculty with Scholars in small-group learning experiences that often venture beyond the labels or definition of a particular academic major. Through field trips and discussions, Scholars of various fields of study gain insight into subjects they might not have otherwise explored.

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total approximately 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 28 countries. More than 14,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

 

Last Updated February 18, 2020