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University senior Mark Schmidt is part of a fantasy weather forecasting league. 

With autumn on the horizon, many University of Kansas students are firing up their fantasy football leagues with the hopes that their gridiron heroes will lead them to a victory. For University senior Mark Schmidt, the changing of the leaves brings about a different fantasy excitement: the start of his annual fantasy weather forecasting league.

Schmidt, who is majoring in atmospheric science and also works as the meteorologist for Sporting Kansas City, hopes to work for the National Weather Service once he graduates.

“They’re the ones that release the tornado warnings and the strong storm warnings that save lives,” Schmidt said. “That’s what I feel like I need to do in my life, and that’s why I chose meteorology.”

The league, which begins on Sept. 25, will stretch until Dec. 9 on

The Kansan sat down with Schmidt to talk about his history in the league and his prospects for the upcoming season.

How would you explain fantasy weather forecasting to someone who has never heard of it before?

The way this works is I have to create a forecast that includes the high temperature, the low temperature, wind speed and precipitation amount. Every day I have to put all of those in. I get a certain amount of points for how close I am to the actual weather conditions for that day. You get less points the closer you are to the actual forecast, so it works like golf, where you want the lowest amount of points. Then, they rank you based on how many points you have at the end of the day. The way this contest works is every two weeks there is a new city that we have to forecast for. Everybody that competes in this competition is forecasting for the same city at the same time.

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Have you been successful in the past?

I have been pretty successful. The best I have done consistently is [ranking] in the top 20 forecasters in the nation. The best individual day that I have done was number 12 in the nation. On average, I would say that I have ranked around 100.

How many people are you competing against?

It varies year to year, but normally it is somewhere between 2,100 and 2,300 people across the nation. This involves people around the nation, such as students like me, PhDs and actual professional meteorologists. That’s why I feel that it’s a pretty big accomplishment to be in the top 100 consistently.

How often are your forecasts correct, or within a successful margin for you?

That parameter of success is kind of hard: forecasting [success is based on] how close you are rather than hitting the forecast on the head every time. I call a success within one to two degrees of the high and low temperatures and a couple miles-per-hour on wind. Most of my forecasts are within that margin. I’d say that 75 percent of the time I’m within a successful margin.

Have you ever been exactly right on a forecast across the board?

Yeah, I’ve been exactly right, but it’s extremely rare. It was an easier forecast. There wasn’t any rain predicted and there was going to be a low wind. That’s happened once in the three years I’ve been doing this.

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How did you get into fantasy weather forecasting?

We were required to do this for my initial weather forecasting class. We had to log all of our forecasts, and, at the end of the semester, we were able to see what our margins of error were. That’s how I got started in it, and I really liked it. When [the professor] said that people look at this in interviews, I was like, ‘Maybe I should actually do this, and try to win.’

What’s the prize if you win the league?

It’s actually a pretty big deal if you win. You get a trophy, a plaque and scoring recognition. Other than that, you get bragging rights.

How much do you rely on your own analysis, rather than other meteorologists, to come up with your forecasts?

I tend not to look at what other forecasters have put out. I like to look at the computer models that come out showing different weather patterns. Those are coming from the supercomputer in Wyoming.

Do you have a favorite city or region to forecast for?

Forecasting is more regional, and I like forecasting for central Kansas, and south-central Kansas in Tornado Alley, especially in the summertime. That’s when you’re going to get these dangerous, active thunderstorms that are going to produce large hail and tornados. That makes it a really fun time. I also like watching the storms develop with my own eyes rather than on radars or on computer monitors.

Have you ever predicted a tornado formation?

Before I took the forecasting class, I was going to a baseball game with my parents and I saw a cloud formation, and I saw a shelf cloud form. I was like, ‘Those are the conditions for a tornado.’ I told my dad, ‘Hey, watch this.’ Sure enough, there was a tornado that dropped. That was actually a really cool day because I was proud that I learned the cloud formations that would produce a tornado. Forecasting wise, it wasn’t very good because it was within five minutes [of the tornado dropping]. Hearing that there’s a tornado five minutes out doesn’t do any good.

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Is there anything that you would like the general public to know about meteorology?

It’s not going to be exact 100 percent of the time. You have to understand that there are going to some forecasts that are more off than others. So when people say, ‘Oh, the weather man is always wrong.’ No, that’s not always true. Over the last 50 years, weather forecasting has improved from 50 percent accuracy to almost 75 or 80 percent accuracy.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Source :

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