Artificial intelligence? Old hat for us, says Alabama prognosticator

Artificial intelligence? Old hat for us, says Alabama prognosticator

Artificial intelligence? Old hat for us, says Alabama prognosticator

The public is hearing a lot about artificial intelligence these days – from the benefits to the dangers. AFN looks at how it's used in weather forecasting … and why it's not new to the weather world.

Whether a weather forecast originates from your smartphone, NOAA weather radio, local radio, or TV meteorologists, AI has a hand in it. Well-known Alabama TV meteorologist James Spann (pictured above), chief meteorologist at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama, says AI is nothing new to him or his fellow meteorologists.

"Goodness, we've used what I consider to be artificial intelligence for decades in weather and computer models. That's all that is – that is artificial intelligence," he tells AFN. "You are running a model of the earth's atmosphere on a supercomputer, and they take all this data and assemble it and they come out with the state of the atmosphere in five, six, seven, 10, 15 days."

He's convinced weather forecast models are an example of the ultimate use of AI. "It's made weather forecasts a whole lot better, and we're better at identifying weather systems – that could be dangerous, that could kill you – days in advance."

Still, Spann says the lack of data for the weather forecast models is a hindrance to a better forecast.

"We're launching balloons twice a day – and think about all the things that can happen in 12 hours in the upper atmosphere," he states. "Until we can find a way of getting real-time monitoring of the entire tropopause, the troposphere, we're going to miss it from time to time."

Despite AI's usefulness, Spann argues a human in the equation is still necessary.

"AI tornado warnings, they could be issued, sure – and you could have a person generated [using AI] with a perfect body, perfect skin, perfect language," he acknowledges. "But they've not been in the Dollar General in Gordo, Alabama. They don't know the culture."

Spann has served as chief meteorologist for ABC 33/40 for more than two decades, and is the recipient of the two highest awards in the nation for a broadcast meteorologist.