Weather forecasting is the application of science and technology to predict the state of the atmosphere for a future time and a given location. Human beings have attempted to predict the weather for as long as there are records. Today, weather forecasts are made by collecting quantitative data about the current state of the atmosphere and using scientific understanding of atmospheric processes to project how the atmosphere will evolve. The chaotic nature of the atmosphere, the massive computational power required to solve the equations that describe the atmosphere, and incomplete understanding of atmospheric processes mean that forecasts become less accurate as the difference in time between the present moment and the time for which the forecast is being made (the range of the forecast) increases.
Surface weather observations of atmospheric pressure, temperature
, wind speed
, wind direction
are made near the earth's surface by trained observers, automatic weather stations or buoys. The World Meteorological Organization acts to standardize the instrumentation, observing practices and timing of these observations worldwide. Stations either report hourly in METAR reports, or every six hours in SYNOP reports.
Measurements of temperature
above the surface are found by launching radiosondes (weather balloons). Data are usually obtained from near the surface to the middle of the stratosphere, about 30,000 meters (100,000 ft). In recent years, data transmitted from commercial airplanes through the AMDAR system has also been incorporated into upper air observation, primarily in numerical models.
Increasingly, data from weather satellites
are being used because of their almost global coverage. Although their visible
light images are very useful for forecasters to see development of clouds, little of this information can be used by numerical weather prediction models. The infrared (IR)
data however can be used as it gives information on the temperature at the surface and cloud tops. Individual clouds can also be tracked from one time to the next to provide information on wind
direction and strength at the clouds steering level. Polar orbiting satellites provide soundings of temperature
throughout the depth of the atmosphere. Compared with similar data from radiosondes, the satellite data has the advantage that coverage is global, however the accuracy and resolution is not as good.
provide information on precipitation
location and intensity. Additionally, if Doppler weather radar is used then wind speed
and direction can be determined.
During the data assimilation process, information gained from the observations is used in conjunction with a numerical model's most recent forecast
for the time that observations were made (since this contains information from previous observations
) to produce the meteorological analysis
. This is the best estimate of the current state
of the atmosphere. It is a three dimensional representation of the distribution of temperature, moisture and wind.