We are never wrong on forecasts, says weatherman


Your lack of understanding of forecasts might the problem, not us, say scientists

Wednesday March 18 2020

For a while now the weatherman has been at the centre of criticism for “always getting it wrong” especially during rainy seasons.
At times, Kenya Meteorological Department has been called out for giving ‘inaccurate forecasts’ and plunging many people into confusion.
For example, the department was on the spot during this year’s March-April-May rainy season for “getting it wrong”. Farmers waited for the rains in March only for them to fail despite having cultivated their lands. The rain finally came in April in many areas and farmers were forced to replant after their previous crops either wilted or the seeds decayed.
Recently, the weatherman released a forecast for the short rain (October-November-December) season. Farmers are now in a dilemma on whether to go by the reports and plant or not.
Despite the common perception, experts have said the weatherman is never wrong.

Kenyans do not understand the language used in forecasts and conclude the weatherman is wrong, according to the principal meteorologist at the department, Ms Patricia Nying’uro.
During an interview with the HealthyNation she explained that forecasts are based on probabilities and people, therefore, should not expect a 100 per cent result.
“When we say we will have above average rainfall with a probability of 50 per cent, we mean there is high chance the rainfall will be above normal with a very small percentage that it will below normal. And when we says rain will be below average and gives a probability of 20 per cent, it means there is a low chance the rain will be below normal (the expected amount of rain in a particular area),” she said.
She defended the department, saying meteorologists use terms like ‘probable, possibility, chance, likelihood, many areas, several areas, and few areas, normal, above normal and below normal’ because they do not work with definite numbers since weather is fragile and cannot be absolutely predicted.
“We never say it will rain, we normally say ‘it will likely’ rain,” she said, adding that if the probability of a weather condition to prevail is too minimal, then the weatherman will use a word that denotes it -‘chance’.

When a forecaster says ‘most places’, he/she means 66 per cent to 100 per cent of the total area of forecast. Several places means 33 per cent to 66 per cent while few places means below 33 per cent of the total area of forecast.
According to Ms Nying’uro, data varies from one area to the next and so it is not right to give a blanket declaration about the weather condition of a region or a country.

Dr Phillip Omondi, of the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre said there were so many things that interfere with weather especially in the tropic.
“People do not understand the dynamics of weather. Forecasting for the tropical region is complicated and that is why people should always check for the latest weather updates every now and then,” he said.
The lakes, mountains and the Rift Valley affect weather and may disrupt a forecast in different areas in the country, he said.
Dr Omondi said due to microclimate of certain areas, some people think the weatherman is wrong. For example, it may rain at the Nairobi CBD and fail to rain at the fringes, a situation which may make a person to conclude the weatherman was wrong.
But, of essence is the fact that seasons are shifting. According to Ms Nying’uro, they are becoming shorter with fewer rainy days and that is why people need to adapt.
Initially, long rains would be expected in mid-March and would cease by the end of May. This is not the case currently.