An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Atlantic: Meteorologists have never gotten a shiny magazine cover or a brooding Aaron Sorkin film, and the weather-research hub of Norman, Oklahoma, is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Palo Alto. But over the past few decades, scientists have gotten significantly — even staggeringly — better at predicting the weather. How much better? “A modern five-day forecast is as accurate as a one-day forecast was in 1980,” says a new paper, published last week in the journal Science. “Useful forecasts now reach nine to 10 days into the future.” “Modern 72-hour predictions of hurricane tracks are more accurate than 24-hour forecasts were 40 years ago,” the authors write. The federal government now predicts storm surge, stream level, and the likelihood of drought. It has also gotten better at talking about its forecasts: As I wrote in 2017, the National Weather Service has dropped professional jargon in favor of clear, direct, and everyday language. “Everybody’s improving, and they’re improving a lot,” says Richard Alley, an author of the paper and a geoscientist at Penn State.

Understanding months-long events like El NiƱo, for instance, has allowed meteorologists to go beyond the seven-day forecast. Alley, the Penn State professor, says that he is awed by the new models. Well-studied features of Earth’s climate — like the temperate Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean — emerge in computer models, even though developers have written code that only mimics basic physics. We are now surrounded by the products of these miraculous models. In 2009, a back-of-the-envelope study estimated that U.S. adults check the weather forecast about 300 billion times per year. Perhaps in all that checking we have forgotten how strange the forecast is, how almost supernatural it is that people can describe the weather before it happens. More than 1,000 years ago, the Spanish archbishop Agobard of Lyon argued that no witch could control the weather because only God could understand it. “Man does not know the paths of the clouds, nor their perfect knowledges,” he wrote. He cited the Book of Job for authority, which asks: “Dost thou know when God caused the light of his cloud to shine? Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds ?”

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