Urban Bias in Weather Forecasting Results in Disaster for Rural Kentucky

by Vins

As soon as 2024, Kentucky residents may have access to applications such as the “Rapid Refresh Forecast System” and the “New United Forecast System” as a response to shortcomings in Kentucky’s existing weather forecasting system, which has failed to predict natural disasters in rural parts of the state on multiple occasions. As WhoWhatWhy reported, timely accurate weather forecasts can be “a matter of life and death” in Kentucky, but rural communities in eastern regions of the state often suffer from poor weather data, compared with urban areas.

Due to unforeseen natural disasters, such as the flooding that affected Eastern Kentucky in July 2023, meteorologists, researchers, and software developers teamed up to create a more reliable system to track and report weather conditions. The Rapid Refresh Forecast System (RAP) is a numerical weather prediction system that uses ten different models to provide short-term forecasts of atmospheric conditions, with a focus on rapidly changing weather phenomena, such as thunderstorms. The RAP model updates every hour, and has the capability to identify and track small-scale weather patterns that are often missed by current models.

The RAP model would notify residents of Kentucky of important weather updates, with ample time to respond appropriately.

Establishment news coverage of the July 2023 floods in Kentucky consists entirely of the event’s immediate impact and aftermath, but have yet to address the systemic failures that have occurred and will continue to occur without the establishment of proper warning systems. Many of the solutions that have been offered have been estimated to take years to implement. With the reality of climate change, and the strong probability of future floods, there is a dire need for action that should be reflected in coverage of these disasters—including, especially, the forecasting systems that could help mitigate their impacts.

Source: Anya Slepyan and Claire Carlson, “In East Kentucky, Timely Weather Forecasts Are a Matter of Life and Death,” WhoWhatWhy, April 6, 2023.

Student Researchers: Ava Bertino, Jay Blumenfeld, Jarius Kidd, and Kelsey Rowe (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)