The Wisdom of Crowds: Predicting a Weather and Climate-Related Event

Environmental uncertainty is at the core of much of human activity, ranging from daily decisions by individuals to long-term policy planning by governments. Yet, there is little quantitative evidence on the ability of non-expert individuals or populations to forecast climate-related events. Here we report on data from a 90-year old prediction game on a climate related event in Alaska: the Nenana Ice Classic (NIC). Participants in this contest guess to the nearest minute when the ice covering the Tanana River will break, signaling the start of spring. Previous research indicates a strong correlation between the ice breakup dates and regional weather conditions. We study betting decisions between 1955 and 2009. We find the betting distribution closely predicts the outcome of the contest. We also find a significant correlation between regional temperatures as well as past ice breakups and betting behavior, suggesting that participants incorporate both climate and historical information into their decision-making.