What is it about?

We all know that weather prediction is not perfect, but to what extent can be expect to improve forecasts? This paper tries to answer this questions by finding the theoretical limit of weather prediction (scientists hypothesize that such a limit exists because the atmosphere is a chaotic system). According to simulations with one of today's most advanced weather models, this theoretical limit seems to be around three weeks. This number is surprisingly close to estimates from many decades ago.

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Why is it important?

Weather has a tremendous impact not only on today's economy but also on the lives of people in general. Especially with regard to extreme weather events, timely forecasts are invaluable. However, current forecasts are often over-confident, flat out wrong, or otherwise not useful. Learning about the theoretical limits of weather prediction will help us to know the range and degree of accuracy with which we can predict the weather (or at least hope to in the future). Eventually, this would lead to more useful forecasts.


We often tend to think that there is no limit to how much future technology can improve our lives. This article shows, however, that there are "hard" limits. Even with future technology, like incredibly powerful supercomputers, we will not be able to predict the weather for more than three weeks. This fundamental limit seems to be rooted in the chaotic behavior of our atmosphere, where even the tiniest of whirls eventually affect the evolution of gigantic storm systems.

Falko Judt
National Center for Atmospheric Research

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Insights into Atmospheric Predictability through Global Convection-Permitting Model Simulations, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, May 2018, American Meteorological Society, DOI: 10.1175/jas-d-17-0343.1.
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