MIT team wins weather forecasting competition second year in a row 

Members of the MIT WxChallenge forecasting team gather to celebrate their second consecutive win. Image courtesy John Marshall

A mixed team of MIT undergraduates, graduates, staff and faculty took first place in the intercollegiate weather forecasting competition WxChallenge for the 2022-2023 season, defending their win for the second year in a row. This is the first time the MIT team has held consecutive victories since 2008.

“I think this was an outstanding team, probably the best in my memory of 25 plus years,” says Lodovica Illari, a senior lecturer in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and the team’s faculty sponsor.

The WxChallenge is run by the University of Oklahoma and is open to anyone currently affiliated with a university. During the competition, participants create forecasts for two weeks for a designated city or town in the United States, which includes temperature minimums and maximums, maximum wind speed, and maximum precipitation. Ten total locations are chosen and are spread out over the academic calendar.

The team experienced a setback when Jeffery Scott, a long-time participant and team manager, had to step away mid competition. Two PhD team members, Robert van der Drift and Grace O’Neil, stepped in to take on his duties, such as administrative work and making sure all the reports were logged on the WxChallenge servers. They also provided daily email briefings and created a Slack channel to foster better interaction and communication. The team, which had been in first before he left, managed to make up for his loss and secure the position.

“Overall the whole experience was very rewarding,” says O’Neil, a PhD in the Program of Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate (PAOC). “Having to go from being just a member of the team to actually then helping the whole team and then…doing very well was exciting.”

The team also benefited from an updated modeling site designed by Yoland Gao. Gao, a sophomore in Course 6-2, completed an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) over the summer to update a site developed by a previous PhD student that hadn’t been maintained in a while.

“I created this basically new website, going off of what had done in the past and making it more interactive and making the tool easier to use,” he says. “That was a welcome return of a very useful tool.”

Gao plans on making more tweaks as necessary, and possibly bringing back old features that weren’t used as often but still come in handy on occasion.

In addition to team scoring, the challenge also includes individual scoring and awards for different location predictions. MIT individual awards include: O’Neil in 3rd for cumulative winners and 3rd in category 2; Gao in first for cumulative winners in category 4 and winner in category 4 for Augusta, ME; Van der Drift in 8th for cumulative winners and 4th in category 2; Olivia Norman in 12th for cumulative winners and 6th overall in category 2, as well as runner up in category 2 for Atlanta, GA; Spencer Rhodes as runner up in category 4 for Augusta, ME; and Adrienne Lai as winner in category 4 prize for Sarasota/Bradenton, FL.

With two victories in the bag, the pressure is on for the team to keep their streak going, but they’re keeping calm about the prospect.

“I think most of us do this for fun, so we’re not thinking too much about it,” Gao says.

“I hope we win again next year,” O’Neil says. “We put in a lot of effort every time, so I hope it continues.”