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Weather Forecasting


Found in: science; preK-2; 3-5; 6-8; 9-12

Hurricane Joaquin was predicted to make landfall along the east coast by the National Hurricane Center. Joaquin was predicted to head out to sea by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. The European Center also predicted that Hurricane Sandy would hit New Jersey. (See: Hurricane Joaquin Forecast: European Model Leads Pack Again) In both instances the European prediction was correct. The European Center’s model may be more accurate because its computer has about ten times the computing capacity. Improved models and more powerful computers have made weather forecasting more reliable. Still, in the long run, weather is and will always be impossible to predict absolutely.

Small changes in meteorological conditions can, in time, make a big difference in weather patterns. The sensitive dependence on initial conditions or Butterfly Effect was first recognized by meteorologist Edward Lorenz while testing a computer weather model in the 1960s. The character Ian Malcolm demonstrates the phenomenon in Jurassic Park (1:45). For a less flirtatious description, listen to the audio (3:25) or read the transcript of The Butterfly Effect.

The following lessons and resources will help students understand the complexity of weather forecasting:

Lessons:

Interactives:

Background:

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