People in Weather – Q&A with Jason Nicholls, Senior Meteorologist,AccuWeather

Today we are starting our new initiative a series on People in Weather through which we will try to bring people from different walks of Weather talk about their experiences of being a Weather Forecaster.  In the inaugural post we have Jason Nicholls, Senior Meteorologist & International Forecasting Manager, AccuWeather take questions from our bloggers on his experience & gives us some interesting tips.

Jason

To the regular followers of @Chennairains twitter handle Jason is a known person who had taken up an active role in providing timely & accurate interpretations of the weather events that impacted Chennai & Tamil Nadu.  It is an understatement to say he went out of the way to provide these outputs and answered almost all the questions thrown at him about the many silly rumors that were doing the rounds.

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A brief background on Jason for the benefit of the bloggers of Chennai in his own words.

I graduated Lyndon State College in 1992. I worked at a couple of small weather services until starting at Accuweather in 1994. Took over as manager of international forecasting department in 2005 but have been forecasting internationally for at least 15 years.

  • If you were did not become a meteorologist what other career would you have chosen?

Probably would have become a math or science teacher.

  • As a meteorologist / weather forecaster can you let us share with us the incident / forecast that you treasure the most?

The forecasts I enjoy most are when my long range outlooks are correct because of the degree of difficult and amount of research put into them.

  • Also has there been any instance where you have got it badly wrong in these forecasts.

As a meteorologist I have had several forecasts go bad but none that stand out. The best thing to do when a forecast goes wrong is to learn from the mistake and move on.

  • To take it forward from the last question, is there a SOP you suggest during failed forecasts.

Look at what happened to see what caused the forecast to go astray and try to avoid the same mistake in the future. Sometimes the models are so completely wrong that you can get lead astray, especially when they all show a similar solution and nature does something else.

  • As someone responsible for the international forecasting of AccuWeather which part of the world do you actively follow and why?

I mostly forecast for commodity and energy traders so I look at all areas daily. However, I will concentrate in areas of greatest concern for the traders which can change. Usually in NH spring/summer I concentrate on the US, but this time of year it is usually South America and Australia.

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  • If you get an opportunity to undertake a trip with both work & holiday together which destination would you prefer and why?

The two places I would most like to visit are the UK and Australia. Both areas peaked my interest since I was a kid.

  • Among the various numerical weather models available in public domain which one do you trust the most & why?

The ECMWF is statistically most accurate, but I look at every model I can and judge who seems to be doing best and go with that model. Using ensembles is by far the best way to go in the long range…less volatility than the operational/deterministic runs.

  • With the increasing instances of Extreme Weather Events do you think the models have to unlearn and learn in terms of how they interpret environmental variables.

The GFS and ECMWF are constantly being tweaked, but not sure you can ever make a computer model perfect enough to catch every extreme event. The modes, however, are much better than when I started in meteorology.

  • Do you think India needs a mesoscale model of its own considering the tropical nature of the country or Global models like GFS / ECMWF etc have been developed well enough to provide fairly accurate forecasts.

A mesoscale model would be helpful especially helping to capture local extremes but even mesoscale models have limits. It would be a great tool to add to the global modeling.

  • In your opinion which is the most important layer of atmosphere that holds the key for weather events, does this change between Tropics / Extra Tropics.

Every layer is important to understand what is going on, but I really like looking at 500mb and surface. To the average person I would say the surface is most important because that is the weather they experience.

  • As you are aware Chennai has a lot of weather bloggers, most of us do this out of passion, what is your view on this and what advice would you give us to make us better in our understanding and interpretation.

I have no problem with bloggers we have several in the US and globally but to be honest I never read blogs. The only time I am not a fan of bloggers is when they spread false information or try to cause panic by putting forth worse case scenarios instead of trying to put out an accurate forecast. The best way to get better is to read technical paper to improve your understanding of how the weather works. You can also get better through experience, trial and error.

  • It goes without saying being in the Weather forecasting domain at times it could be 24×7 during these times how understanding is your family particularly your kids who would like to spend more time with their dad.

I would love to spend more time with the family, but still manage to attend all my kids activities and even actively volunteer at their school.

  • With likely switch over to La Nina, coupled with -ve IOD, thus pushing development of weather systems to Central Bay of Bengal, and AP joining the list of upcoming NE Monsoon, how do you see forthcoming NEM panning out?

Hard to say with any certainty how the NEM will pan out but most indications are for a wetter SW monsoon likely carrying into the NEM.

  • You have been going out of the way giving updates for Chennai for 2015 NEM, how did you feel when the city was drowning on Dec 1?

You were pretty much active during. I felt bad for the people suffering with the floods and did the updates on Twitter to keep people informed so they could make decisions.

  • Indian monsoon – It has been the life line of india from ancient times. Will it sustain the same vigor in coming years as well?

Actually the monsoon has been sub par over the past couple of years, especially in N and W India. We may see a more robust monsoon this summer if the ENSO forecast goes as planned.

  • Was observing a feature called migraine in accuweather prediction, How is it predicted?

I am not sure how this is calculated but I believe it has a component of wind, temperatures and humidity.

  • Globally, which region weather is the most difficult to predict?

Every region has it’s own challenges with it’s share of micro climates, but the one area that has given me the greatest amount of trouble is the San Francisco Bay area of California.

  • In India, according to traditional wisdom certain birds and insects are considered as harbingers for monsoon. Can they really feel the changing conditions ?

There are legends like these all over the world, including in the US but not the most reliable indicator.

  • When compared to 2015 & 1997 super Elnino years why 1982 displayed very strong Elninoic atmospheric conditions despite similar values in Nino 3.4 values (with more North-East ward displacement of SPCZ, indicated by persistent SOI values below -30 as per BOM during peaking ENSO months)?

The short answer is every El Nino is different and there are different effects depending on whether the El Nino in eastern Pacific based like in 1997 & 2015 vs central Pacific based.

  • How this SPCZ movement (either in NE or SW) effects trade wind pattern thus Indian monsoon

I am not sure the SPCZ has much influence on the India monsoon since its movement is strongly correlated to ENSO. ENSO and the IOD are far bigger factors for the monsoon especially when it strong like in 2015, 1997 and 1982. Here is link about the SPCZ

  • Any official weather agency forecasting southern oscillation index (SOI) like did for MJO?

I know NOAA and Australia BOM are two of the main agencies but there really is no “official” agency. However, the WMO may be the closest thing.

  • Which tropical and sub-tropical parameters other than “Nino” influencing the Elnino atmospheric index (SOI)?

You can start here for more information about  SOI

We at the Chennaiyil Oru Mazhaikaalam blog express our sincere thanks to Jason for taking time out in answering our questions.  We also take the opportunity for placing on record our appreciation for his work during the Chennai Rains.