WxChallenge is an online North American forecasting challenge held by the University of Oklahoma, dedicated to building forecasting experience within undergraduates, graduates, and professors across many different universities in the United States and Canada. Every week forecasters across North America compete by forecasting for four days at a specific city in an attempt to be the closest in accuracy with respect to the temperature (both high and low), wind speed, and precipitation. The forecast city is changed bi-weekly allowing forecasters to gain experience in new locations. NC State has participated in this competition since its inauguration during the 2006-2007 school year. The competition is fierce, and there are multiple competitive levels to help even out the playing field. Freshmen and sophomores are placed in “category 4”, juniors and seniors category 3, graduate students category 2, and professors and professionals are placed in category 1. The WxChallenge helps to foster friendly competition between students as well as different schools, and provides valuable forecasting experience for undergraduates in meteorology programs across North America.
Within North Carolina, NC State has been in competition with the University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte, as well as UNC Asheville and ECU; this competition was dubbed the “Tobacco Cup”. At the end of every WxChallenge season, the Tobacco Cup trophy is awarded to the school that did the best overall during the regular forecasting season. For two years in a row (‘16-’17, and ‘17-’18), NC State has won the Tobacco cup, and leads the overall series against UNC-Asheville by a tally of 6 to 4. NC State hopes to hold onto the Tobacco Cup for another year as the 2018-19 WxChallenge is poised to begin in a couple of months.
At the end of every season during the months of April and May, the WxChallenge holds its annual tournament where the best forecasters in North America go head to head, demonstrating their forecasting skills to the best of their ability for the tournament city. Before the official start of the tournament, there is a wildcard round. The wildcard consists of those students who were not seeded overall (did not make the top 32 in North America), but were of the top 40 within their respective category (categories 1, 2, 3, and 4). This wildcard round consists of two, four day forecast periods in which only the top eight of each category become seeded within the tournament. Once the wildcard round has concluded, the tournament can begin. The tournament consists of two day rounds, where each forecaster is paired with another to go head to head. The best forecaster for that two day period moves on to the next round. Overall there are six rounds, with the tournament lasting three weeks. At the end there is only one person left, and they are recognized as the winner for the tournament. Each year, NC State has a handful of people make it into the wildcard round, and a few make it into the tournament. The tournament is very difficult, and to make it into the wildcard portion is no small feat. Also at the end of the year, the individual who performed best cumulatively during the regular season is given the championship title. At the conclusion of the tournament, typically there is nothing more with the competition until the next year. However, this past year was a different story with the introduction of the Team Tournament.
A new tournament was introduced to the WxChallenge during the 2017-18 school year. Following the conclusion of the individual tournament, the team tournament began and lasted two weeks, with the typical two, four day periods of forecasting. The major difference in this is that it is not individuals being pitted against one another, but only the top 16 schools in North America that was determined at the end of the regular season. With NC State finishing in 5tth overall for the regular season, they qualified for the Team Tournament. In this tournament, individuals were encouraged to get together and collaborate on a forecast, to help make as accurate of a forecast as possible. Then a single forecast is entered by the team for the respective forecast day, and is scored based on accuracy with respect to the verification. However, in this tournament teams are awarded points based upon how well they do for a day in comparison to the other teams, with the best team earning 15 points in a day and the worst team earning 3. A team that did not forecast earned no points for that day. After a long fought battle, NC State ended up being in 5th place at the end of the tournament tying with the University of Washington. This was the first year the team tournament was implemented, and many changes will likely occur over the next year or two as it exits the beta-testing stage. Outside of the team tournament, schools are also ranked by their cumulative performance. These past two years were the best NC State has ever done in the WxChallenge cumulatively, ranking at 4th and 5th place overall respectively. To put this feat into perspective, on average there is anywhere between 30 and 40 participating schools across the country, with at least a dozen of those being well respected for their forecasting abilities in the challenge.
The WxChallenge is an excellent way to hone forecasting skills or build forecasting experience and anyone is welcome to participate. Even if someone has no forecasting experience, the WxChallenge is one of the best ways to learn how to forecast and utilize different sources for weather information. NC State has excellent forecasters who are willing to help those with little to no experience gain experience in forecasting through individual help or through meetings that were held bi-weekly this past year with the Research, Forecast, and Discussion (RFD) club. In-depth descriptions of the forecast location for the two week period were held, and many questions or inquiries about particularly processes that may be involved with the city were answered or researched. Another year of the WxChallenge is coming up for the 2018-19 season, and NC State is looking to maintain their spot as the best in NC with the Tobacco Cup and fight their way to the top of the rankings again. All WxChallenge participants are indebted to those at The University of Oklahoma for setting up and running this enjoyable and educational competition.
Authors/Editors: Michael Mugrage & Shae McLamb
Faculty Review Board: Dr. Gary Lackmann