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FORECASTERS TURN OUT TO BE RIGHT WITH HOT TIP FOR EAST

When the nation's long-range forecasters predicted the East would have a warmer than normal May, few realized it would be the hottest on record.

Sweating out an all-time high may be a bit easier when you at least know you made the right prediction.The forecasts originate here in the government's World Weather Building, a structure its inhabitants contend is named for an antiquated air-conditioning system that produces a different climate on each floor.

It's the climate outside that has everyone's attention now. The dreaded Bermuda High often cooks this area, pulling hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico to roast the East Coast.

It's just a month or so early this year.

But criticize the sweaty weather, and forecaster Ed O'Lenic rises to the defense, noting that the same pattern brings vital moisture to the Great Plains from the Gulf of Mexico.

"I never met a weather function I didn't like, in some way," he says.

Things don't always go so well for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration long-range forecasters, who predicted a colder than normal winter for the Washington area only to see the capital bask in months of mildness.

They meet in groups of four to thrash out the 90-day outlook every month. The 30-day forecast is updated every 15 days.

The Energy Department and utilities look to seasonal forecasts to get a feeling for heating fuel needs in winter or electricity needs for summer air conditioning.

The agriculture industry wants to know about growing conditions. Some growers even decide what to plant based on potential moisture and temperature conditions.

Commodity speculators are fans, too, hoping to better guess whether crops will be large or small - and hence prices low or high.

Indeed, the long-range forecasts are withheld until 3 p.m. when the commodities markets close, so all speculators will have an equal chance at the information before trading resumes.

Every long-range forecast, right or wrong, gives researchers a chance to evaluate their prediction against reality so they can do better next time.