When it comes to weather, not all chaos is equal. This fact may help your local weatherman do a better job in the future. Researchers at the University of Maryland have found so-called atmospheric hotspots that heavily influence how weather patterns develop. Indeed, because weather is a complex chaotic system, small changes in one area can eventually have a profound impact on other areas. And computer models that predict weather developments don't take such small changes into account.

Researchers led by D.J. Patil of the University of Maryland took global wind predictions from five so-called ensemble forecastsa combination of a main forecast and several adjusted forecasts that show different possible weather developments. They compared these ensemble forecasts to a global wind map and found several regions where deviations in the direction of the wind alignedthe hotspots.

The team concluded that developments in these hotspots affect the overall weather more dramatically than other areas and are therefore crucial for better weather predictions. The team now plans to look for chaotic hotspots worldwide and rank them. "In some areas your forecast doesn't get any better no matter how many readings you take," Patil explains. "So we want to be able to target those hotspots where frequent readings can provide information that really improves forecasts."