Weather wise

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OVER the past 2,500 years, weather forecasting has moved from superstition to empiricism, and finally to mathematics. Now, thanks to the enterprise of two young meteorologists in Munich, it has reached the pinnacle of scientific evolution - for thanks to the launch of the European Weather Challenge (EWC), weather forecasting is now an international sport.

The rules of the event run over the Internet by Paul James and Michael Sachweh are simple. Entrants (mainly professional forecasters and university departments) must forecast by noon each Friday what the temperature will be at each of 10 widely spread locations in Europe at noon on Monday. Points are given according to the correctness of the forecast, with one point lost for each degree of error.

The first 12-week round of the competition ended in February in a victory for the professional forecasting group Meteo Consult of the Netherlands. The second round is now at its halfway stage, and Meteo Consult are again in the lead, level with the Yunet Weather Team from Belgrade.

I asked Paul James how the entrants' forecasts compared with that old British stand-by of "same as today". The figures he provided are most encouraging. All 18 entrants in the first competition did better than "same as today", the best of them scoring some 25 per cent higher.

Quite apart from the competitive fun, the EWC is providing an objective measure of the effectiveness of modern forecasters. And it confirms what a good job they're doing.