IT’S A COMMON TROPE IN OLD CARTOONS AND TV SITCOMS:
a hapless meteorologist making wild guesses, much to the consternation of
picnickers and sunbathers everywhere.
But for all the frustration some folks show when forecasts go awry,
Americans remain quite interested—perhaps even addicted—to weather
In the first survey of its kind back in 2009, the National Center for
Atmospheric Research estimated U.S. adults checked the weather a staggering
300 billion times a year, more than three times daily on average.[ 1]
A big reason we pay so much attention to weather forecasts these days
is better communications technology. After all, instead of waiting for a
newspaper or local TV forecast as in decades past, digital distribution via the
internet now provides weather information on demand at any time and in any
place—indeed, even from the computer in your pocket.
But that same digital infrastructure also has played a big role in increasing
the accuracy of weather forecasting itself.
A century ago, meteorologists had to rely on weather balloons for
atmospheric data and telegraph reports for regional conditions on the
ground. Now, they have instant access to precise data from almost anywhere
in the world thanks to billion-dollar weather satellites and an interconnected
These improvements in technology come with their own unique set of
challenges, however. Because, as any actuary knows, having more data doesn’t
guarantee better predictions. Sometimes, it’s just noise that must be separated
from the true signal.
So how has weather forecasting evolved in the last few decades as the
technology has improved and the data sets have only gotten deeper?
And what roles, direct and indirect, do actuaries themselves play in the
future of forecasting and climate science?