Human beings have no control over the weather, but when I’m on a trip or planning one, I tend to check the weather forecast obsessively when the weather is not to my liking. If it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, or windy, I want to know how bad it’s going to be and when it’ll get better. And if the weather is just fine, I tend not to check the forecast at all, for fear of breaking the good luck pattern.
I’ve used a variety of weather sites, including CNN, The Weather Channel, Weather Underground, Accuweather, and a host of others over the years but have yet to find one that I think is very reliable for locations outside North America. I don’t expect long-range forecasts to be very accurate, even in the U.S., but when you wake up and check what the weather is supposed to be like that day, you expect it to be fairly accurate.
I’ve been traveling in Europe for the last two months and have all the places I’ve been to plugged into my list of cities on my iPod weather app, which is powered by The Weather Channel. It never ceases to amaze me how inaccurate the predictions are on this site/app, even for same day forecasts.Yesterday, for example, we were in Syros, Greece, and when I woke up and saw that, according to the Weather Channel, the high temperature here was going to be 84 degrees, I thought we were going to be in for a beautiful day. We planned to tour, Ermoupoli, the island’s hilly capital, on foot without the benefit of a rental car.
We left our apartment at 10 a.m. and it already felt like it was in the upper 80s and humid, and it only got worse from there. By 10:30, my shirt was already completely soaked through and I wanted to return to our place for a cool shower. I kept wondering what the temperature was but couldn’t find any signs displaying it.
In the evening, I asked four locals what they thought the high temperature had been that day and they all guessed between 34-37, which is 93-98 Fahrenheit. People are prone to exaggeration though, so when I got home I checked a variety of weather sites to see how they recorded the actual high temperature here.
The recordings ranged between 90-94, a far cry from 84, and the high temperature forecasts for the following day varied from the Weather Channel’s low-ball estimate of 82 to a local website’s prediction of 88. Of course, we’ve also enjoyed the serendipity of experiencing glorious weather when the forecasts called for rain. On one occasion, while we were in Lucca, the forecast looked so unremittingly wet and gloomy that we nearly changed our plans to go somewhere else – thankfully we didn’t because the weather turned out to be lovely. In fairness to all the weather sites, you really only tend to remember forecasts when they’re wrong.
Which site has the most accurate forecasts? A quick troll of the Internet doesn’t reveal a conclusive answer to the question. Five years ago, a site called Omninerd published a study that concluded that The Weather Channel and a site called Intellicast were best at making long term forecasts, but they found no clear winner in the short- to medium-term forecast category.
Needless to say, I take my forecasts with a massive grain of salt, especially using websites based in the U.S. for overseas forecasts. Let us know which sites you find to be most and least accurate in predicting the weather, or do you not bother to check the forecast at all, since there’s nothing you can do about the weather anyway?
Update: The Weather Channel was way off on Syros weather again today. My iPod told me it would be a high of 82 today and it actually reached 92, according to local media here. TWC thinks it’s going to be a high of 82 here again tomorrow, but I’m not banking on it. Note to TWC: It’s hot in Greece! Much hotter than you think.
(Note: The National Weather Service isn’t used in the poll since it only makes forecasts for the U.S.)
[Photo by Mendhak on Flickr]