Comparing NWS POP Forecasts to Third-Party Providers

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Monday, 18 January 2010
Exhibit Hall B2 (GWCC)
Eric Bickel, The University of Texas, Austin, TX; and E. Floehr

Handout (1.1 MB)

In this paper, we verify probability of precipitation (POP) forecasts provided by the National Weather Service (NWS), The Weather Channel (TWC), and Custom Weather (CW). We analyze n-day-ahead forecasts, where n ranges from 0 (same day) to 9 for TWC, from 1 to 6 for CW, and 1 to 3 for the NWS. Our dataset includes almost 16 million POP forecasts, or about 1 million POPs per provider per day. Data was collected over a four year period at almost 800 observation stations across the United States. In addition to verifying these POP forecasts in an absolute sense, we make relative comparisons between the providers.

TWC results are quite interesting and confirm the previous findings of Bickel and Kim (2008), which were based on a much smaller dataset. For example, the same-day forecast is relatively well calibrated for POPs of 0.3 and above, but does demonstrate a tendency to over forecast precipitation for POPs below 0.3. Calibration results for 1 to 4 day lead times are similar to the same day results. Calibration performance worsens significantly beyond 6 days. This poor performance is driven by TWC's desire to artifially avoid forecasts of 0.5.

CW forecasts POPs at a resolution of 0.01, instead of 0.1, and these forecasts do provide additional information. For example, when CW forecasts a POP of p + 0.01 it is more likely to precipitate than when they forecast p (p < 1). In addition, CW's forecasts tend to be well calibrated, but exhibt bias—especially their day-ahead forecast. CW's skill score is higher than TWC for forecasts ranging from 1 to 6 days.

The NWS's 1-day to 3-day forecasts are well calibrated. However, they also exhibit bias. For example, their 3-day forecast contains a bias of -0.06. Meaning that, on average, the NWS underestimates the POP by 0.06. The NWS day-ahead forecast outperforms CW and TWC. However, CW's 2-day and 3-day forecasts have a higher skill score than the NWS.

In sum, CW does appear to add value to the NWS POP forecasts, including an ability to forecast at the 0.01 level. TWC's near-term forecasts (less than seven days) exhibit less skill than either the NWS or CW. TWC's long-term forecasts (seven to nine days) exhibit either no skill or even negative skill.


Bickel, J. Eric and Seong-Dae Kim. 2008. Verification of The Weather Channel Probability of Precipitation Forecasts. Monthly Weather Review 136(12) 4867-4881.