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Does your app show a snowy future for you?

Weather app forecasts can unintentionally mislead
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Posted at 4:26 PM, Jan 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-14 16:55:52-05

MIDWAY, Fla. (WTXL) — The mention of even the slimmest chance for wintry weather for the north Florida/southern Georgia region can cause extra excitement to weather forecast consumers. After all, sleet and snow events for the region are quite rare. The last time measurable snow and ice occurred was in early 2018, and only happened three times in our region in all of the 2010s.

A number of weather apps for mobile phones can provide local forecasts for several days in advance. A few of them have shown chances for snow, freezing rain, or a rain/snow mix for some local communities.

Before making a raid on a grocery store to stockpile bread and milk, consider these realities when it comes to phone app forecasts, and long-range weather forecasts in general:

  • Forecasts for times beyond one week have much lower accuracy compared to short-range forecasts.
  • Long-range forecasts can change drastically from day to day, and sometimes even hour to hour, depending on the frequency of forecast data cycles. This means a forecast for snow seven days from now may not be the same when a new outlook is published.
  • Weather apps for phones are mainly computer-driven, using forecast data to create an outlook. In many cases, human analysis and input is not included.
  • Local frozen precipitation events happen under a certain mix of factors, including existing cold air, a moisture source, and a disturbance that usually runs through the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Some of the rules regarding snow forecasts in the Gulf region are also valid in the warmer times of year, when the focus is on developing tropical storms and hurricanes, and where they can move and how strong they can be long in the future.

Just as it's not advised to lock into an extended tropical cyclone track forecast, it's wiser to check for trends in a winter weather pattern over time that would support or reject a snow scenario for the region.

During the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, a series of cold fronts will enter the Big Bend/southern Georgia area, bringing temperatures back to average. Additional cold air arrives after next Monday, enough to support subfreezing morning temperatures. One long-range model is detecting moisture in the northern Gulf and the western Atlantic, which is likely being factored into some apps' rain/snow forecasts for next Tuesday or Wednesday.

These small-scale details are highly challenging to forecast with any kind of dependable precision seven or eight days from now, and forecasts showing local frozen precipitation should be taken with a higher amount of skepticism for now. If repeated forecast trends support the likelihood for winter weather, the First Alert Weather team will provide legitimate information with plenty of time for you to prepare.

Our Storm Shield weather app will also give reliable short-term and extended forecasts on your mobile device for your specific location.

For now, keep the shovels in the garage, but get your heavy jackets clean and ready for next week's cold snap.