Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More reflections on a career

I was making a presentation recently to some forecasters about science-based weather forecasting methods.  After the presentation, which included an extended discussion of my thoughts on what how best to use numerical weather prediction models in forecasting by human beings, I was thinking once again about the future of humans in the weather forecast business. I have a number of essays that touch on this general topic, and I'll not go through all of that here.

My recent thoughts were focused on what I maintain is the likely outcome in the future - that public sector forecasting will come to be dominated by automation.  Humans may stick around like useless appendages, much as firemen continued to ride on diesel locomotives long after the need to maintain a hot fire in a locomotive had disappeared.  But the role of humans as creators of the forecast will be increasingly limited.  The economics of weather forecasting are inexorably aligned against human forecasters.  We don't invest in improving in human forecasters to anywhere near the extent to which we invest in automation.  The eventual outcome of that imbalance seems pretty obvious.  As most human forecasters add less and less positive value to the automated forecast products, they hasten the day of their eventual disappearance.  There may continue to be some role for humans in the private sector, of course, although even there the drive to rely on automated products is strong.

My entire career in the science of meteorology has been motivated by a hope to unite the science and its research results with operational forecasting.  A large fraction of that time has been spent seeking ways to use science to help human forecasters, many of whom I'm proud to call my friends.  Some of them have found my work to be helpful, and that alone justifies any effort I spent on their behalf.

Whatever miniscule measure of "fame" that might be attached to me as a consequence of my work can be attributed to my having chosen to spend my efforts doing something that had only a small number of "competitors" - there just aren't many folks occupying the interface between research and operations.  It's relatively easy to be a "star" when there are so few folks doing it!

What I see in the future, then, is the eventual obsolescence of most everything I've striven to accomplish.  If human forecasters disappear, at least in the public sector, then my career will have achieved little of any real permanence.  But the more I think about it, I do not see this as something to make me feel sad or regretful.  I'm not ashamed of what I tried to do, certainly.  The impermanence of science is part of its attraction to me.  The field moves on - new ideas replace the old, new methods supplant earlier approaches, and so on.  If you're hoping to achieve a scientific form of immortality, it likely won't happen.  Isaac Newton is still remembered today, and it's likely he will be indefinitely.  But I'm most assuredly not in that rarified air at Newton's level!!  I'm quite satisfied (and feel fortunate, in fact) to have been a participant in the science that had attracted me so strongly as a boy.

Something of my work may continue to be mentioned in historical reviews, but in 500 years, it's unlikely that a meteorologist of the future will have heard of me or what I've worked so hard to produce.  I'm just fine with that.  The thought doesn't depress me or indicate that I'm depressed.  There's a good chance I won't live long enough to see the eventual destiny for human forecasters that I foresee - I'm becoming a dinosaur - but I had a lot of fun doing the "work" and the science has been very good to me.

1 comment:

Rapid Weather said...

I am afraid you are correct. I have noticed here (I haven't had time to check other parts of the country) that when the public sector forecasters are uncertain about which model is correct beyond 3 days, they just slap "mostly sunny" in the forecast. It is so sad.

Chris Orr CCM
Rapid City SD