Monday, February 25, 2013 Needs Improvement

Okay, this isn't necessarily hardware related, but websites qualify as something techy, right? So if I want to rant about a website with some stupid algorithms, I'm totally allowed to do so! Especially since this is my blog so I can do whatever I want. With that out of the way, let me talk to you a bit about, or The Weather Channel if you prefer. Simply put, their forecasting is woefully inadequate.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to find good times to go outside for a bike ride. As any cyclist can tell you, riding in the rain can be a bit of a mess, especially when you're on a road bike doing 15-25 miles per hour. The tires kick up all sorts of spray, your face, feet, and hands can all get quite cold, and this is to say nothing about what all that grit does to your expensive bike! Long story short, I'm more of a fair weather cyclist that prefers avoiding the rain. As you can imagine, in the northwest (in Olympia, WA area), this can be quite a task.

During my quest for decent cycling weather, I have had quite a few mishaps of late. Three Saturday's back, the forecast was a 0% to 10% chance of rain for the next four hours; I got soaked. The next Saturday was the same story: 0% chance of rain got me 100% wet. Then on Wednesday I also checked and was greeted with a 0% rain forecast that left me dripping wet. Hmmm.... So you can imagine my concern when I saw the following forecast for today:
Once bitten, twice shy as the saying goes...or, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Looking out my window also gave me further reason for concern, as the skies were alternating between sunny and severely overcast on a regular basis. If the weather was "partly cloudy", I've got some beachfront property I'm willing to sell at a great price!

But here's where it gets interesting: has a satellite map available, which I haven't looked at much, so I decided to give it a shot. Upon opening the map, you have two options: Past and Future. I started at Future, thinking it would be more useful than knowing what had happened of late. Here's the prediction for the next 15 minutes:
Gosh, that's looking pretty good. In fact, looking at the next several hours of the map showed similarly clear skies. Was I potentially missing something? Maybe my windows were broken and it really wasn't as gloomy looking as it seemed? Then I thought I'd quickly check the recent past to see what that looked like. Umm, here's the most recent 15 minutes:
If you open those two images and flip between them, you'll quickly understand why I say that needs to improve their prediction algorithms. As far as I can tell, that prediction is based on what they saw probably some time yesterday, and as you get farther away from the time the prediction was made, things become a lot more dicey. The fact that they have the most recent Doppler images from the satellites showing rain all around my area would lead me to think that the next couple of hours are likely to continue that pattern. Sure enough, not ten minutes later the rain started coming down so hard that I didn't even need to look out the window to know it was seriously wet. Bike ride: cancelled; time for a jog in the rain instead (since 6 miles per hour isn't nearly as rough in the rain).

This should be a reasonably easy fix; I mean, sure, if you're trying to predict the next 10 days of weather, or a month in advance, I don't expect extreme accuracy. For the next day or two, though, I want it a good prediction, and for the next couple hours you better get it right. A relatively simple script ought to be able to predict the next couple hours quickly and accurately -- far better than a complex calculation that was run 24 hours in advance.

Something else they need to do for their weather map is to stop using animated GIFs. Seriously, what is this, 1999? Animated GIFs are far more bandwidth intensive than a JPG image and using Flash to overlay the weather. But then, I don't think has been substantially updated in at least five years other than to maybe add more advertisements. Blech. So here's the question: does anyone have a better website for getting accurate weather predictions for the next few hours? Because just isn't doing it for me.

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