Blog, Product Management

Weather forecasts: the less we know the better we live

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While waiting in the Lufthansa check-in this morning, I was having this incredibly deep lecture about the Accuweather weather predictions tools (which are the same of every other weather service) and why they are so inaccurate. Their model acts basically in two phases. The first one is some sort of setup, where real world data from this current moment is introduced into the machine. The second one is the application of complex mathematical functions in order to predict how the clouds and winds will move in the next few hours or days.

It sounds easy but it is not. The author of the article was mainly complaining about the fact that computers are not fast enough to elaborate the huge amount of information that they need to transform the real world measurements and mathematical trends into forecasts.
And we are talking of impressive supercomputers as big as a Mechanical Godzilla. The other problem is related to the mathematical models: they are buggy and don’t reflect accurately how the real world works. So the conclusion is that the weather forecasts won’t get much more accurate in the next years. It is possible that some innovations will cause small improvements but we will still need to take the umbrella “just in case”.

Personally I think this is good news. I fear that  reaching  the 100% forecasts accuracy could dramatically change the world as we know it. Let’s try to imagine what we could expect from this improbable future. Close your eyes and imagine that you are in 2030.. (ok, now open your eyes again or you won’t be able to go on reading).

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You open your mail account and you find a suspicious email from a booking website. It says “it is going to rain in <your city>. But don’t worry about that, we have a bunch a cheap option for you to enjoy a sunny weekend. 100% weather certified”. And they propose you a list of hotels in sunny destinations like Canary Islands and Florida.
And you will believe it, not only because it is always sunny in the Canary Islands but because the technology will be so accurate that rain won’t absolutely be an option. They can even also offer you a complete money refund if at any moment it starts raining.

Look totally cool right? The other side of the coin is that prices may vary accordingly to weather predictions. A Côte d’Azur sunny weekend may cost you twice as much as a cloudy one. A rainy weekend in a seaside place? It will be a complete disaster for local hotels and restaurants.

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So this year is going to be especially snowing eh? Well, sad to tell you but your car insurance is going to be a little bit higher than the last year. You know, more snow, more chances to have little a crash. And of course we have to raise your health insurance as well. You know, the flu. Now, let’s talk about your life insurance..

Insurance companies are always looking for a best way to calculate the risk of their customers. They were the pioneers of the Big Data study, and the weather forecast will certainly feel into their complex risk calculations.

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Today’s governmental agenda. 1st point. Dry summer in Europe. A clear signal of underproduction of wine from Italy, France and Spain. Let’s invest on the Californian and South African batches. 2nd point. The storms in Indonesia are predicted to be stronger than usual this year. Let’s stop buying palm oil from East Asia and focus on canola oil from the USA. 3rd point: Almonds for Ben & Jerry’s ice creams..

This can be only the tip of the iceberg. In a world so finely interconnected, having a crystal ball for predicting in the detail the output of the most important crops from all around the world can be very dangerous. The problem is not the information per se, but the kind of people capable of speculating with it.

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But possibly I am just overreacting. There are a lot of advantages of better forecasts, like natural disaster prevention, better agricultural efficiency and logistic optimization. Anyway I won’t bother too much because, according to the Accuweather guys, we are very long from this to happen.

Oh wait there’s a new mail from your boss. You hadn’t book for Canary Islands yet, right? Because, you know, this weekend is going to rain anyway so you won’t mind do some extra work. Good!

(You really want to know more about Mechagodzilla? Have a look at this and thank the Japaneses for existing)

Photo by Arkadiusz Radek.

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