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The New Sabermetrics -- Weather Forecasting

Did you hear the one about bloggers in their parents' basement wearing pajamas and how they predicted 30 inches of snow Sunday?

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There you go again - damn social media predicting bad weather.
There you go again - damn social media predicting bad weather.

If you live east of the Mississippi and haven't been living under a rock for the past couple of days, you know that severe weather is on its way (and if you're in the South, it's already gotten to you). A serious Nor'easter is headed straight for Philadelphia, with predictions of snow ranging from 6 to 12 in the city, less to the south and east, and a lot more to the north and west. There could be high wind, lots of snow, possibly some ice and slush -- in other words, be prepared and be safe.

But you don't come here for the weather. You come here for baseball. So what's the catch Cohen? You take a month off to finish your book manuscript and now you're writing about the weather?

Here's the baseball hook: does any of this sound familiar? From a Philadelphia Inquirer article yesterday, titled "Winter Storm Watch: 100 Percent Chance of Wild Rumors":

As the Philadelphia region endures its 10th-snowiest season on record, forecasters find themselves battling not just snow and ice, but social media minions. In the era of viral tweets and posts, storms can become legends before their times.

Yes, computers were making a case for those amounts, but another big factor, said Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service, was social media.
On any given day, a computer model is likely to see a megastorm on the horizon. Meteorologists, who are using social media more themselves, complain that with so many models available for plucking and misinterpreting, Twitter and Facebook can propagate storms of bad information.
"Social media is a negative factor," said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc., the commercial service in State College, Pa. "Any Tom, Dick, and Harry can look at the computer models. It's human nature to see the worst-case scenario."

Does any of this sound familiar?

How about if instead of meteorlogists, we talk about baseball scouts and GMs? And instead of Tom, Dick, and Harry with a computer using social media, we talk about smart baseball fans writing on blogs? Does it sound familiar now?

This is far afield from my expertise, but from where I sit, it seems we are entering the Moneyball age of weather forecasting. As Nate Silver describes in The Signal and the Noise, with big data and massive computing power, forecasting has not improved in areas like earthquakes and the economy, but it has improved in predicting the weather. And it seems to me we're seeing the same thing happening in weather reporting/predicting as we saw in the 90s and 00s with baseball analysis/forecasting.

In that time period, data was becoming more accessible to anyone who follows baseball, as was more and more computing power. Now, instead of analysis (to the extent there was any) taking place solely in baseball front offices, it was taking place anywhere someone smart happened to be (including in their parents' basement, while wearing pajamas). Bill James pioneered this, but others like the folks at Baseball Prospectus took it to a new level of data analysis and computing power.

The mainstream of baseball pushed back for a time, which gave us Billy Beane writing Moneyball (right, Joe Morgan?) and Brad Pitt getting an Oscar nomination. Now, even the Phillies are getting on the analysis bandwagon. Big baseball data and big computing power has taken over the game.

Is the same thing happening with weather prediction? For a long time, we got our weather from pretty people at 6pm and 11pm. Then a few big services popped up on the internet, but those were either reprints of the National Weather Service or the same services that fed into the local pretty faces. But now, with information spreading wide and computing power becoming ever-cheaper, the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys of the world are trying to get into the game.

In other words, weather forecasting is democratizing just like baseball analysis did in the 90s and 00s.

So instead of relying on or Cecily Tynan on Channel 6, we can look to WeatherBoy or Eastern Pennsylvania Weather Authority (EPAWA). Thanks to Wet Luzinski who turned me onto the latter earlier this year because EPAWA has been the most accurate, detailed, and reliable weather service this crazy winter. If you're not following what they're doing, do so. It'll help your life.

But it's not coming from the meteorology mainstream. It's not coming from your local news. And it's not coming from the National Weather Service. Instead, it's coming from smart people, doing smart analysis, and using social media to get the word out.

As we saw with baseball in the 90s and 00s, democratization of information leads to better information and a sea-change in analysis. Just don't listen to the old guard complaining, yet again, about "kids these days." The world is passing them by.