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Monsoon rainfall predictions could shower contest winners with prizes
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Monsoon rainfall predictions could shower contest winners with prizes

From betting beers to handing out gift cards, online game enters 2nd year

  • The Rillito River swells with rain as it crosses beneath the Campbell Avenue bridge following a monsoon storm on July 2021.
    Paul Ingram/Tucson Sentinel The Rillito River swells with rain as it crosses beneath the Campbell Avenue bridge following a monsoon storm on July 2021.

Zackry Guido and Michael Crimmins have discussed the region’s weather on their podcast, “Southwest Climate Podcast,” for more than a decade, particularly the monsoon. The co-hosts and their producer, Ben McMahan, have now taken their love for the rainy season to another level: what began as betting beers on rainfall predictions has morphed into an online game for the public.

This summer marks the second year of the Southwest Monsoon Fantasy Forecasts, which brings a competitive splash to the months of flash floods and lightning displays and a chance to engage the public in the Old Pueblo’s summer phenomenon. Participants can win up to $400 for the most accurate predictions of rainfall during the summer months.

The climate is often portrayed “as a villain” in media coverage of extreme weather and the environment, said Guido, a assistant research professor at the University of Arizona.

“The monsoon here, however, is an event, a season that really creates part of our identity in the Southwest and you know, it's actually a happy time,” said Guido, who works in UA's Arizona Institute for Resilient Environments and Societies.

Guido leads the team behind the game, which includes McMahan, a research scientist with the Climate Assessment for the Southwest, and Crimmins, a professor in the University of Arizona’s  Department of Environmental Science. The team also includes statisticians and programmers who have helped bring the online event to life.

Participants make rainfall forecasts for the months of July, August and September for the cities of Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Albuquerque and El Paso — a total of 15 predictions. Players receive points based upon the accuracy of their monthly guesses combined with how risky the forecast was.

The game features a bar graph with past monthly rainfall totals from each city to assist players.

Last year’s winners received home weather stations, however this year's top three forecasters will receive $400, $300 and $200 Amazon gift cards, respectively. The awards are provided by AIRES.

Individuals will need to submit forecasts for at least two months to be eligible to win. The change in prizes is due in part to last year’s winner: Emily Stulz.

Stulz, director of social media at the University of Arizona, moved to the state last May from Michigan. Despite having never experienced a monsoon before, she gave it a try and ended up with a weather station a few months later. The weather station is now with some family friends.

Stulz is not alone in her lack of monsoon expertise. Most of last year’s 296 players were “weather beginners,” according to Guido.

The average player guessed the rainfall would be around two inches for each month in 2021’s competition. July dwarfed many predictions with 8 inches, followed by less than 4 inches in August and under an inch in September, according to the team’s data.

Last year’s monsoon marked the third wettest on record and Crimmins said he’s “pretty optimistic” this year’s monsoon will be average or above average.

Normally large amounts of moisture don’t arrive until late June or early July, unlike this year, which has already seen some activity. So far, the main National Weather Service model for the United States has predicted a wet July, according to Crimmins. The following months remain uncertain, he said.

Beyond the incentive of winning gift cards, the competition provides the team with some informal research. New users fill out a profile where they provide information such as how often they examine weather forecasts. The team also sent out a survey to last year’s players.

“So we're not only doing it for fun, but we're also trying to understand how people think about the monsoon, how they use forecast information, and just to kind of give them an outlet to be able to throw their ideas into the game, too,” Crimmins said.

Stulz will be testing her luck again this year and encourages others to join in.  

“I thought it was a really fun way to get involved and learn about the monsoon, and I think anyone who has access to a computer or any interest should give it a try,” she said.

The monsoon officially began on June 15 and runs through Sept. 30. July forecasts for the game are due by June 30 at 11:59 p.m.

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monsoon, nws, rainfall, weather, zack guido

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