NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 24, 2007

Private companies with a lot at stake would often rather pay for private weather forecasts than rely on the "free" forecasts from the government, says John R. Lott, Jr., author of Freedomnomics and a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.

According to a new study by Forecast Watch, a company that keeps track of past forecasts:

  • From Oct. 1, 2006, through June 30, 2007, the government's National Weather Service did very poorly in predicting the probability of rain or snow.
  • Comparing the National Weather Service to The Weather Channel, CustomWeather, and DTN Meteorlogix, Forecast Watch, the government's next-day forecast had a 21 percent greater error rate between predicted probability of precipitation and the rate that precipitation actually occurred.
  • In looking at predicting snow fall from December 2006 through February 2007, the National Weather Service's average error was 24 percent greater.
  • All private forecasting companies did much better than the National Weather Service, the report concludes.

The government doesn't do any better with forecasting temperature, says Lott.  For the largest 50 cities in the United States over the last year, ranks the National Weather Service's overall predictions for high and low temperatures as well as precipitation as dead last among the six weather forecasting services they examined.

It has only been in the last several years that comparisons between government and private weather companies have been possible, as the National Weather Service has made its data more readily available.  But none of this should be very surprising.  Incentives matter. If the private companies don't do a good job, they go out of business. Government agencies never even shrink, says Lott.

Source: John R. Lott, Jr., "Does Government Weather Forecasting Endanger Lives?" Fox News, August 22, 2007.

For text:,2933,293844,00.html


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