January can bring a wide range in morning low temperatures from day to day as cold fronts and wind shifts shuffle our air masses. It wouldn’t be unusual to see morning lows vary by a dozen degrees or more on back-to-back days.
Given a focus on freezes on the Gulf Coast, more people notice the forecast on the weather app doesn’t match the one on TV. “Which one is correct?” My answer, “They both are.” Here’s why.
On TV, most meteorologists are giving a forecast for a large area, so numbers are averaged to account for the majority of populated locations. The automated forecast on your weather app is direct from computer models that generate numbers for areas that could be as small as a square mile or two. Based on your phone’s GPS or your home Internet location, the models deliver data for where you are. That means you’ll always get slightly different temperatures and rain percentages than what we give on TV. That’s the same for some forecasts on web pages.
When it’s really cold, low-temperature forecasts on some websites and weather apps may confuse people simply because of how the data is displayed. It’s not obvious, for a given day, that when a high temperature is stacked above a low temperature or when a low temperature is shown after a high temperature, the low may be for the next morning. “What sense does that make?” you ask. “None,” say I.
“Well, Alan, why don’t you fix it?” Because I did not create anyone’s website or weather app. Weather apps are like brake pads on your vehicle. Many are made by an outside company. I have been talking with coders and app vendors for a few years, trying to get them to realize how confusing it is to put the morning low temperature directly under or to the right of the previous day’s high temperature.
Some companies that create weather apps use the logic that the low temperature for Tuesday, for example, happens on Tuesday night, so they display the temperature on Tuesday. That’s not how most people think, because Tuesday’s low happens on Tuesday morning. On a calendar, Tuesday night is actually Wednesday. It’s like if you were born on July 5 at 1 a.m., you can’t say you were born on the night of July 4.
Weather apps have the value of convenience. The next time you travel a distance, as a passenger, to or from the beach or up into the mountains, check the weather app forecast every few miles and see how the forecast changes based on your proximity to water or changes in elevation.
The downside to weather apps is they don’t put numbers in context or tell corny jokes like I do on TV. Is the app right? You would have to tell me, from your experience. If weather apps were that great at forecasting, there would be fewer meteorologists. I don’t see that, yet.
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