Let’s Get Low

Let's Get Low

Alan Sealls, NWA President

In my final message as National Weather Association President, I’ve got to go low. That’s low as in minimum daily temperature. We’re in the season when reaching 32 degrees is a big deal if the ground is wet or there is precipitation.

A user of my TV station’s weather app recently complained that the app was wrong because it showed a predicted low temperature on the extended forecast that was nowhere near the temperature when he woke up in the middle of the night. He said the actual temperature was closer to the hourly forecast on our weather app. Both app forecasts were correct, but how the temperatures are presented is confusing. Look at the collage of website forecasts in the figure. The high precedes the low or the high is directly above the low. What’s a user to think about when the low happens? Anything they want! The man who complained misinterpreted the low for the calendar day as being the morning low for the previous day. I don’t blame him.

Collage of weather forecasts showing the forecast low temperature displayed below or to the right of the high temperature.
Collage of weather forecasts showing the forecast low temperature displayed below or to the right of the high temperature.

Grab the nearest non-meteorologist and tell them the low for next Wednesday will be 29 degrees. Ask them when they think that low will happen. I predict you'll get an even split of answers between Wednesday morning and Wednesday night (after midnight). That’s not good. Glance through your favorite weather apps and weather sites to see how many of them don’t make it clear when the low will occur. Something as simple as 65/29 implies 65 happens first followed by 29 but we know the minimum for a day is typically before the maximum. The calendar day certainly ends at midnight. Would displaying 29\65 be better? I think so, based on having learned to read from left to right!

Some broadcast TV stations place the low beneath the high on the extended outlook graphic. The artwork is typically designed by non-meteorologists. Does it communicate the message well? I call on you weather vendors, coders, graphic artists, web developers, and meteorologists to not leave something so basic and so important up to the interpretation of the user.

As a profession, we have so much accurate data to communicate but if we fail to specify when it’s valid, we and the public and our clients lose out. As a good example, the National Weather Service (weather.gov) fully separates the night minimum from the day maximum in the online forecast display. Kudos to them!

So now, on a high note, I end my term as NWA President. Paul Schlatter will carry the barometer forward as 2019 President. Thanks for allowing me to lead. It’s been rewarding. Thanks to the many committees and members who put their hearts into supporting the NWA while embracing my diversity theme in models and methods, in the people we hire or elect to lead our organization, and in the folks we serve, network with, or even socialize with. Diversity is the way to be strong and healthy. It extends to your studies, your nutrition, and even to your investment portfolio.

Finally, as you plan your year-end donations, diversify those too by contributing to the National Weather Association Foundation to increase opportunities in operational meteorology. Thank you.

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