Author(s): Jeremy Deaton

Climate change could make weather harder to predict

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Rising temperatures could reduce how far meteorologists can see into the future, study finds.

New research raises the uncomfortable possibility that climate change will not only make weather more severe but also harder to predict, potentially giving us less time to prepare for extreme floods, storms and heat waves in the years to come.


Small errors grow into larger errors, causing the model to diverge from the actual weather over time. Knowing more about the initial conditions can make forecasts marginally more accurate, but weather is fundamentally chaotic, and beyond a certain point, the future is unknowable, at least in any great detail.

To account for errors, meteorologists will run an ensemble of weather models, inputting slightly different initial conditions into each model and then watching where the models agree and disagree. As they look deeper into the future, the models will branch further and further apart, until they bear as much resemblance to each other as to a model based on completely different inputs. This is the point of “error saturation,” when the models “lose memory” of the initial conditions, as Sheshadri wrote.


Simpson said that, in addition to deploying a more realistic representation of climate change, future studies should investigate whether predictability will vary by season or region. Although weather forecasts may grow less reliable in some parts of the world, they could become more reliable in others.


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