The Difficulties of Forecasting
Winter Precipitation In North Texas


Winter precipitation is difficult to forecast no matter where you are located. However each area has reasons specific to it cause those difficulties. In Michigan there is lake effect snow, polar air can cause snow for many areas, and for Texas the problem is deciding what kind of precipitation will occur. In Texas, one would think that severe weather would be the most difficult element of weather to assess. However in many cases this is simply not the fact. Winter weather is probably the most difficult part of forecasting in the North Texas area for a lot of Meteorologists. Determining what kind of precipitation will occur is certainly a challenge for Meteorologists and forecasters in this area.

Typically, winter precipitation will be associated with a low pressure system moving into Texas. This system will cause precipitation to develop over the North Texas area, with assorted precipitation types. Forecasters will begin looking at this situation days in advance, assessing if temperatures will be cold enough to support winter precipitation or not. In many cases, parts of the area will be cold enough, while other parts will not. Forecasters will look at precipitation models and other forecast models to try and get an idea of what is going to happen. Then they will attempt to build a forecast, based on this information. Their forecast will tend to change on a daily basis as the system gets closer and more information is gained.

The problem with this is that sometimes there is a thin layer of cold within the system that the models are not detecting. This cold layer of air will cause temperatures to drop lower than expected and allow the winter precipitation to form in areas where it was not expected. In perspective, only a few degree temperature difference could mean the difference between rain and sleet. However that precipitation difference means a lot to people traveling or commuting to work or school. In my experience, the forecast models tend to handle this situation quite badly. This problem is quite common in the winter here in North Texas. It is the most common problem with forecasting winter weather here in this area.

This forecast problem has many consequences associated with is. The most obvious one would be that the precipitation type forecasted was not what actually resulted. This causes a plethora of its problems such as people thinking it is going to rain and when they get up to go to work in the morning, it is sleeting and they are not prepared and have not allotted proper time to get there due to deteriorated driving conditions. This also affects kids driving to school. It also causes problems for workers that have to drive for their jobs. It affects people that work for the Department of Transportation whose jobs are to keep the roads safe. To sum it up, this affects anyone who has to go outside for any reason at all. Other consequences include that people will remember that the forecaster was wrong in this event. It seems people always remember when the forecast is wrong. If repeatedly wrong when forecasting the winter precipitation, then people could lose confidence in the forecaster.

The main difficulties of forecasting winter precipitation for the North Texas area is based around the shallow cold layers of air that are difficult to detect. The best way to detect this cold air is to carefully assess the temperature profiles of every layer of the atmosphere. This careful assessment will have to be repeated numerous times before the system comes in to correctly forecast what is going to happen. Obviously this will take some time so the forecaster should prepare to spend extra time when making their forecast. The forecaster must also be very careful when assessing the exact location of the freezing line. This can be a difficult thing to do sometimes with fronts moving through, in the case that they move faster or shower than expected. It will also be affected by the shallow layers of cold air. Keeping track of where this line is located will greatly aid in the winter precipitation accuracy. They must keep in mind though that this line can change positions at any time, and just because a temperature is below freezing does not mean that the proper conditions are in place to cause precipitation.

The best solution to this forecasting problem is just to be very careful to assess temperature profile of every layer of the atmosphere, as well as what mechanisms are in place to cause precipitation. They also need to keep tabs on the location of the freezing line as it will be an indicator of what type of precipitation will fall if the necessary conditions are in place. The forecaster just has to allow enough time to thoroughly study all of these aspects and assess their effects.

Experienced forecasters in the North Texas area are very careful to allow plenty of time to thoroughly assess the atmospheric conditions and all elements associated with winter precipitation. They are also very careful about how they forecast the precipitation. If it is not known whether rain or sleet will fall, they best thing for them to do is to forecast and rain and sleet mix so that people will be aware of what could happen and be properly prepared for it. I think forecasters here would rather people know that the precipitation could happen, and even if it does not, the people are still ready for it. However an accurate forecast is always the best policy. Experienced forecasters in this area know what to expect with winter precipitation and therefore handle it much better than inexperienced ones do.

Forecast models are constantly being adjusted and improved. As this occurs, the forecast accuracy will improve as well. The models will eventually get to a point where they detect the shallow layers of cold air, and make forecasting winter precipitation much less of a challenge than it is now. Improving technology will allow the forecasters to be able to do much more with winter precipitation forecasting then they can now. Even improvements in radar and satellite technology will aid in the forecasting of winter precipitation. Radar will be a much shorter term forecasting tool when it comes to winter precipitation, but it will still help. Right now radar resolution is being greatly improved which will allow the radar to accurately see what type of precipitation is falling and more easily locate the freezing line. The radar can only be used when the precipitation is close to the forecast area, but it is still a help to be able to see what precipitation is coming, so the accurate advisement can be given to people. Also, education in this kind of forecasting is also always changing and improving so forecasters will gain new skills. They will learn how to better use the tools that they already have and develop skills that may aid in creating new technology. These skills will enable them to increase their forecasting accuracy. They will also become more accurate at forecasting as they gain experience. Gaining experience will allow the forecaster to be aware of what problems certain types of forecasting are prone to and be prepared to deal with those difficulties. They will also learn to use new technology as it is introduced and how to use the technology to its greatest advantage.

Winter precipitation forecasting is difficult no matter the location. Every place has its own specific set of complications when it comes to winter precipitation. In North Texas that difficulty is determining what kind of precipitation will fall. This problem is usually caused by shallow layers of cold air that the models miss. The forecasters just have to thoroughly assess temperature profiles of the entire atmosphere as well as what mechanisms are in place in order to predict what kind of precipitation will fall. As technology improves, the models will also improve and forecasts will become more accurate. There will also be additional forecast tools developed as time progresses. The improvements in technology will improve the accuracy of forecasts. Also improving education will greatly aid in increasing accuracy. As education methods improve, forecasters will gain new skills that will enable them to improve their skills. They will learn how to better use the equipment that they have and also learn to correctly use the new equipment being developed. All of these things will help to improve the accuracy of winter precipitation forecasting. Forecasters will also become more accurate as they gain experience. They saying goes that practice makes perfect, but it should say practice makes better. I do not think perfection is possible in the career of weather forecasting, but practice will certainly improve ones skills drastically.