This blog features content related to science education, teaching strategies, interesting news about atmospheric science, and tools for scientific data collection and analysis. The ultimate goal of this blog is to give our volunteer contributors the opportunity to share interesting scientific information as well as practice communication strategies. Please note that constructive comments and discussion are welcome, but highly negative comments will be removed.




Morgan B. Yarker, PhD, CCM



Michel d. S. Mesquita, PhD



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Do sea surface temperatures affect seasonal forecasting in the Midwest US

Do sea surface temperatures affect seasonal forecasting in the Midwest US?

Using the 2012 Midwest drought as a case study, Princeton researchers attempt to answer this question. 

The weather in the Midwest United States is known for being dynamic, with temperatures and precipitation amounts that can vary greatly from season to season, and even day by day. This makes forecasting weather in the Midwest more difficult to predict than places on the coasts, especially when using seasonal forecast models. Since seasonal forecast models are probabilistic models that rely on ocean temperatures as input data, the farther landlocked a place is, like the Midwest US, the more difficult it is to predict temperature or precipitation probabilities. Researchers at Princeton published a study in Environmental Research Letters in March of 2014, focusing on how being able to predict sea surface temperatures (SSTs) affected forecasting the 2012 Midwest drought

By looking at climatological global SSTs and precipitation in the continental United States (CONUS) from 1982-2012, the researchers were able to obtain data showing the correlation between the two phenomena, by using several forecasting models to reproduce the 2012 summer conditions. In the southeastern and northwestern CONUS, places closer in proximity to the ocean, the models showed positive, yet weak, correlations between SSTs and precipitation amounts. In the Midwest, there was little to no correlation between SSTs and precipitation.

Comparing one of their models, the NMME, with their own SVD algebraic analysis, the researchers write, 

“During spring, the observational data show a weak coupling pattern between global SSTs and CONUS precipitation. However, the NMME models show a much stronger coupling. This is similar to the SVD results for summer, with the model coupling much stronger. The spring SVD analysis of observations confirms that SSTs were not a dominant driver for the 2012 drought, but more than half of the NMME models forecasted the 2012 drought for the wrong reason: a strong coupling with SSTs…The onset of the 2012 drought actually occurred in mid-May, and therefore the strong coupling with SSTs also hampered the forecast of the onset of the drought.”

Between the NMME models and SVD analysis, we know SSTs and precipitation in the CONUS are very loosely correlated. Nevertheless, since the model coupling between the two phenomena was much stronger than what occurred, it can be inferred that SSTs may be a cause but are not the dominant cause for the drought. 

This begs the question: Did knowing and being able to predict sea surface temperatures hinder forecasts for the 2012 Midwest drought? Long story short, not necessarily. However, this Princeton study highlights a systematic problem in the models that could hinder future seasonal forecasts, since researchers found that models have a limited ability to predict droughts in correlation with SSTs. In analyzing the SSTs and comparing what the model output showed versus what actually happened, the NMME model predicted the lack of precipitation based on strong coupling with SSTs, when SSTs didn’t actually correlate with the drought at all. 

In their concluding analysis, it was determined by the Princeton research group that,  

“Therefore, the models are limited in their ability to predict MW precipitation anomalies even at zero month lead time, despite their skill in predicting pan-Pacific SST variability at seasonal or longer time scales. Because Pacific SSTs did not play a major role in the 2012 drought, and droughts in general over the last 30 years, the skillful prediction of Pacific SSTs may actually hinder the prediction of MW summer precipitation due to the underestimation of the variances in the most models and overly strong coupling in two models.”

Seasonal Forecasting Models in the Midwest

It appears that not only did SSTs not have a direct role in forecasting the 2012 drought, but also that they haven’t played a major role in the past 30 years of seasonal forecasting. It is possible that SSTs hinder seasonal forecasting models, however, more research needs to be done. In the future, since it seems that SSTs don’t seem to work well for forecasting in land-locked regions, perhaps some other parameter could be used for seasonal forecasting models in the Midwest.


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Interview with Rafael Abreu

Rafael Abreu: Starting up a meteorology business


Rafael Abreu is a 27-year-old entrepreneur for Oráculo Meteorologia, who provides weather and climate prediction solutions for farmers across Brazil. He is also a PhD student at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil studying the impact of land use change, especially urbanization, in variability of temperature and precipitation. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, he studied meteorology at USP where he discovered a love of coding, particularly in GrADS, Shell Script, HTML, Javascript and Python. Meteorologists commonly use these languages to analyze data, but he also uses them for backend web development for both his PhD research and at Oráculo Meteorologia. He believes that being successful requires problem solving skills, being open to new ideas, and collaborating with others and credits his combined experience of being a researcher and being part of a startup business for helping him develop these key skills.

In a discussion with Michel and myself, he shares the struggles and successes they had while building the business, but especially how utilizing startup strategies in particular turned their business into a profitable company.


Morgan & Michel: What drove you to study meteorology?

Rafael Abreu: I was always fascinated by atmosphere phenomena like thunderstorms, cloud formation, rainbows and such. When I discovered that meteorology course had a big emphasis in mathematics and physics, which were my main interests during high school, I decided to apply for it. Since when I got into the university, I saw that it was no easy task to graduate, but the interest remained and opened a broader range of possibilities to learn new things like statistics, coding and much more.

M & M: Could you tell us a bit about your company ‘Oráculo meteorologia’?

R A: Oráculo Meteorologia is a company that uses weather and climate prediction to help farmers in Brazil better manage their crops. The company was funded in 2015 and has five partners: myself, Takao (CEO), Takashi (Designer) and Matheus (Meteorologist) and Tiago (Meteorologist). We engage in farmers’ day to day activities, such as issuing alerts if there are any nearby thunderstorms that could disturb their operations: such as spraying and planning the best windows to plant and harvest.

M & M: What gave you the idea to create your company?

R A: Matheus studied meteorology with me at USP and he pitched me the idea to build a weather company from scratch. Without knowing exactly what to expect I decided to get onboard, because by the end of my undergraduate degree I was feeling that meteorology was not really appreciated in Brazil, and I was eager to do something about it. All of the partners shared the same motivation. When the company started, we tried to replicate some big weather companies in Brazil, which didn’t gave much results since we had a lot less resources in personnel and technology. Then, we started digging into the concepts of startups, how the Silicon Valley was formed, and many other success stories from other companies and decided to use those strategies in our business, which was when the team became more focused and our first customers started to show up.

M & M: That is an amazing story! What were the new strategies you tried that eventually helped your company succeed?

R A: Takao, who is the CEO, is the main person responsible for making sure the company incorporates proper startup strategies. For example, he developed the brand and made sure we focused on specific target markets to develop a solution that delivers value before expanding to other sectors and other markets. The concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was also essential for us, because in the beginning we made a lot of mistakes. We spent a lot of time trying to build the perfect piece of software that we, as developers, thought customers would want. However, reality showed us that this is not always the case, and customers weren’t really interested in the software we made. We then tried to build a simpler product, testing it with WhatsApp and talking closely with our target market to understand what key information they need and how they needed it to be displayed. Only after validating this information did we start developing the mobile app. We learned all of these concepts mainly from the internet, through websites like Endeavor and TED talks. Also, we went through an acceleration program from Startup Farm, a well known company in South America, on Google Campus São Paulo, that helped us to build this kind of knowledge.

M & M: Those procedures are definitely key processes for startup companies, and it sounds like it really worked for you! Even after a round of being not so successful. That is an important lesson for others who want to start a business. What other challenges did you face while starting up the business?

R A: The biggest challenge is to be outside your comfort zone, which means you face a lot of uncertainty. Starting a new business from scratch means you might take some time to start making some money, which could put some constraints in your budget. Also, we needed to learn a lot of different things because we have only a few staff members. Learning things like finance, marketing, web and app development, etc. takes a lot of time, hard work and especially patience. For the app specifically, the challenges were related to our expertise to do so. With no experienced programmer, we had to learn by ourselves how to code the app and distribute it for iOS and Android, which was done mostly by Takashi. Also, I had to learn more about web development, something that is unfamiliar for meteorologists, to develop APIs that feed the information to the app. Besides that, it takes a lot of trial and error, changes in the layout, and lots of feedbacks from the users to find a good match for the customer. Although we think we have a good app, there is always room for improvement.

M & M: Constantly improving to fit the needs of your customers will be key to keeping you in business! With that in mind, where do you see yourself and your company 5 years from now?

R A: The best scenario for us would be to have a lot more users for our app and to be seen as a trustworthy company for all farmers in Brazil. Hopefully we can also serve as an inspiration to meteorology students in Brazil to try to follow this path. Maybe by setting an example as a case of success this could lead to other startups that in turn would generate more jobs and a bigger appreciation for this science that is intertwined in everyone day to day lives.


For more information on Oráculo Meteorologia, how to build a startup, and tips for entrepreneurial meteorology, check out our blog, social media, and the links below!

Oráculo Meteorologia:

How to Build A Startup:–ep245


Morgan & Michel

Podcast: Joao Hackerott

Podcast: Interview with João Hackerott

If you are an educated meteorologist, chances are you don’t have much training in how to start or run a small business because business class requirements are non-existent in most meteorology programs. However, there are meteorologists who have managed to grow businesses selling meteorology products and services.

João A. Hackerott, Phd

One example is Dr. João Hackerott, who started his company when he was a PhD student at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. He used his skills as a academic and experience as a competitive sailor to create forecasts specifically for his customer’s needs. Michel and I talked to João about the challenges of running a small meteorology business, how he transferred from academia to entrepreneurship, and his advice for any meteorologist interesting in starting their own small business. 



For more information about Entrepreneurial meteorology, check out prior blog posts or reach out to us via our contact form or through social media.

Thanks for listening!

Morgan & Michel

Intro to EntreMet

Video: What is Entrepreneurial Meteorology & why should you care?

If you visited our poster at the American Meteorology Society’s annual meeting last month, you might have heard the term Entrepreneurial Meteorology. If you haven’t heard it, you are probably wondering what the heck it means. Well, wonder no more! This 1 minute video gives you the definition and explains why all meteorologists should be familiar with it- even if you aren’t an entrepreneur!



Thanks for watching! If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to us on social media or through our contact form.