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Fake weather: Evelyn Cusack on long-range forecasters, and why you shouldn't trust them

Forecasts based on things like moon cycles and the behaviour of animals simply aren’t scientific, Cusack says.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

THERE’S BEEN PLENTY of debate about the issue of fake news in recent months – particularly since Donald Trump’s shock victory in the US election.

The websites that promote such stories and share them on social media are often set up in far-flung corners of the world; the creators’ made-up headlines designed to generate traffic through Facebook, and often to appeal to a particular political audience.

For example, the fake story below, from a site called 70News, was widely shared in the days after the 8 November election. Within two days it was the top returned search on Google, when people looked up news about the popular vote. (The final tally, by the way, released this week, showed Hillary Clinton outpaced Trump by almost 2.9 million votes).

fake news

Alongside fake news, fake weather reports are a booming business online as well.

Often based on moon phases, or sometimes on the behaviour of animals, the long-range forecasts are widely shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Otherwise reputable news outlets often run stories based on interviews with the self-described forecasters who run the websites and social media accounts – usually around the start of the summer, or heading into winter.

Not scientific

It’s an issue Evelyn Cusack is used to being asked about. The Met Éireann deputy head of forecasting even dedicated a lengthy portion of a bulletin to a scientific takedown of makey-up forecasting methods, back in 2013:

met1

Dropping by TheJournal.ie’s offices for a chat this week, Cusack said it appeared there’d been no let-up in such reports over the last few years.

Forecasts based on things like moon cycles and the behaviour of animals simply aren’t scientific, she said.

“If our weather was repeated according to a lunar cycle we would certainly know about it because we have measurements in Irish weather that go back to the 1800s –  so if there was a cycle we would use it.

And the weather that’s going to affect Ireland in four days’ time is across the Atlantic Ocean, 3,000 miles away. The weather that will affect us in six days’ time is around the Pacific Ocean so there’s no way an animal could be affected by that.

There have been major advances in forecasting in recent years, Cusack said, but even so, predictions only cover four or five days – “maximum ten days” – with any accuracy.

“If you look at Met Éireann’s mission statement, the reason we exist, what we’re paid for by the Irish taxpayer is to predict the weather and to provide timely warnings of severe weather in order to save lives. So that’s our function.

If there was a forecasting method available we would use it, why wouldn’t we? That’s what we’re paid for.

She’d rather people didn’t give fake weather outlets the time-of-day, she said – but given the nature of the medium, such outlets can’t be silenced or banned.

I wouldn’t like anyone to make commercial decisions based on them – but obviously they can if they want. It’s a free country, we’re not North Korea.

Read: The mild December weather broke temperature records at Phoenix Park today >

Read: Evelyn Cusack came in to give us a Christmas week forecast. It might get stormy > 

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