Rain or shine? > Contestants must forecast temperatures in 13 U.S. cities.

Weather Contest Is More Than Hot Air

Weather has become big business. The most recent El Niño, for example, jump-started demand for insurance-type services that energy companies, farmers, or ski resort owners might buy to cover their weather-related losses. Now, in hopes of improving their forecasting models, a weather services company is sponsoring a contest for the most accurate predictions.

There is a host of models for turning climate and other data into seasonal predictions, says meteorologist Bradley Hoggatt of the Kansas City-based Aquila Energy Corp., but "no one has been able to objectively determine the most skillful one."

To find a far-seeing forecast, Aquila is staging a contest. Each month for half a year, individuals or groups must submit a 90-day forecast of average temperature probabilities for 13 U.S. cities. Don't expect advice on sunbathing. The predictions are based on the needs of utility companies: heating degree days (HDD) for winter and cooling degree days (CDD) for summer. One HDD equals 1 day when the temperature is 1°F below 65°F (18°C). CDDs are for temperatures above 65°F. Over the next 3 years, two winners a year will each receive $50,000 for the best forecast.

"I think we will get something very, very useful" out of the contest, says Ron McPherson, director of the American Meteorological Society, which helped design the contest. The first 3-month forecast is due 15 December. Results will be published in the AMS Bulletin.

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Contest rules are available here, under "forecast competition"