Powerful computing, with some help from smartphones, promises to make weather predictions hyperlocal
In late January, a massive snowstorm drifted toward New York City. Meteorologists warned that a historic blizzard could soon cripple the Big Apple, potentially burying the city under 60 centimeters of snow overnight. Governor Andrew Cuomo took drastic action, declaring a state of emergency for several counties and shutting down the city that never sleeps. For the first time in its 110-year history, the New York City Subway closed for snow.
As the hours wore on, however, the overhyped snowfall never materialized. The storm hit hard to the east but just grazed the city with a manageable 25 centimeters of fresh powder. When Cuomo took grief for overreacting, many meteorologists sympathized. A meteorological misjudgment of just a few minutes or miles can mislead officials, trigger poor decisions and bring on public jeers. But underestimating a storm’s impact may put people in peril. The answer is to make weather forecasts more precise, both in time and space.