‘I can do better than that’: How a 13-year-old’s frustration with forecasts birthed AccuWeather

‘I can do better than that’: How a 13-year-old’s frustration with forecasts birthed AccuWeather

Sitting on the tiny Thai island of Koh Mak as lightning flashed on the horizon, my eyes were glued to the AccuWeather app.

I was mesmerised by the storm tracking feature, which followed the weather front as it erratically skirted my cliffside bungalow.

On an island so obscure that it was absent from the world map up until the late 1960s - when German tourists became some of the first European visitors to what they dubbed the ‘Lost World’ - I wondered how a US weather service could so accurately predict the conditions here.

So I decided to find out.

What does it take to deliver some of the world’s most accurate weather forecasts?

It turns out it takes a dizzying number of datasets to deliver AccuWeather’s forecasts. These range from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) models and forecasts to satellite pictures spanning the entire globe and surface observations from national meteorological services.

The site’s forecasts are continually modified by proprietary AI algorithms, which incorporate the latest data to maximise accuracy.

Over 100 expert meteorologists and another 100 IT and AI experts run this complex operation from the company’s headquarters in Pennsylvania and a second weather centre in Kansas.

The company also says it works with government weather services to deliver severe weather warnings faster than any other source, helping millions of people across different countries to act fast and seek shelter when danger strikes.

Dozens of awards from the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and independent verification from ForecastWatch attest to the accuracy of the site’s data.

“Over 60 years, AccuWeather has become the most accurate and most utilised weather source in the world, saving tens of thousands of lives and preventing hundreds of thousands of injuries and tens of billions of dollars in property damage,” senior director of forecasting operations Dan DePodwin tells Euronews Green.

‘I can do better than that’: How a 13-year-old’s frustration with forecasts birthed AccuWeather

Now often referred to as the “father of modern commercial meteorology” - and once called “the most accurate man in weather” by The New York Times - Dr Joel N Myers founded AccuWeather in 1962.

He developed a fascination with weather at an early age.

"When I was 13, I rode my bike to high school in Philadelphia and the forecast called for a high of 50 [10°C] and the chance for a shower,” Dr Myers recalls.

“I pushed my bike home through a raging snowstorm in November of 1953 - I had a feeling that it was going to snow and I said, ‘Boy, I bet I can do better than that - we had 11 inches of snow and it was supposed to be 50 with a shower’, so that really motivated me and became the blossoming idea for AccuWeather.”

Less than a decade later, while studying meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, his dream was met with incredulity.

“People told me I was crazy,” he recalls. “How could one person or one small company be better than a government agency with 5,000 professionals and all their equipment and data and billion-dollar budgets (in today’s dollars)? Why would companies pay for what seemed to be free? Even my own family had serious doubts.

“I had to call 25,000 prospects before I had 100 paying customers,” he muses, “which means I had 24,900 rejections.”

Further pushback came from government and commercial competitors in the weather sector, as well as academics and even the AMS.

Undeterred, he pushed forward with his mission to deliver clearly communicated, personalised and accurate forecasts to his customers.

‘Never more important than today’: The role forecasting services play in extreme weather

The world’s climate has shifted considerably since AccuWeather’s inception. In the last 12 months, temperature records have been broken consecutively, bearing what Copernicus weather experts have called the “signature of climate change”.

Hopes of keeping below the 1.5C limit, set by the Paris Agreement to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, are fading and the WMO has warned we are likely to temporarily surpass it by 2028.

“The core of AccuWeather's mission is to keep people safe and help them make the best decisions when they are impacted by significant weather events,” says DePodwin. “This mission has never been more important than it is today with the increasing impact of severe weather on highly populated areas across the world.”

From deadly heatwaves in India, Greece and the US to devastating floods in China, current extreme weather conditions drive home the need for life-saving forecasts and early warning systems.

While climate change is amplifying severe weather, more people are living in vulnerable areas than ever before.

“For example, the US coastline - which is frequently hit by tropical storms and hurricanes - contains millions more people today than 50 years ago,” says DePodwin. “This [means] a huge increase in exposure and economic impact when storms hit.”

He points to the surging number of “billion-dollar weather disasters” in recent decades as evidence. 2023 was a historic year for the US, with 28 weather and climate disasters tallying a price tag of at least $92.9 billion (€86.4b), according to NOAA.

“This includes severe thunderstorm and tornado outbreaks, hurricanes, flash flooding events, droughts and wildfires,” says DePodwin.

The evidence is clear, there can be little doubt that humans are contributing to global warming.

Climate change is a matter of intense interest and global importance. The evidence is clear, there can be little doubt that humans are contributing to global warming and continue to influence the world’s climate.

“Overwhelming data suggests it has been accelerated by humankind, especially over the last several decades, by the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and the role of methane gas.”