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1. a description of an economic or political situation based on analysis of information at the present time
2. a description of weather conditions at the present time and in the immediate future
'The now-cast isn't a forecast; it's a hypothetical projection of what would happen if the election were held today. The now-cast is designed to be extremely aggressive about identifying trends in the polls, …'FiveThirtyEight 29th June 2016
'Our nowcasted economic health indicator updates weekly and reflects timely changes in economic activity.'Nasdaq 7th March 2016
On 8th November 2016 a new president will get the keys to the White House and the identity of one of the most powerful people in the world will finally be decided. As I write, the pace of campaigning and anticipation of the result is hitting its peak level of frenzy, the US media perpetually preoccupied with speculation on the likely outcome. Even though – as the result of the UK's Brexit referendum earlier this year spectacularly illustrated – nothing is ever certain until votes are cast, a major election always provokes a torrent of speculation and guesswork. It's in this context that we're seeing the word nowcast, referring to a prediction of the result based on information available in the absolute here and now.
a nowcast is a prediction informed by analysis of data currently available
As a blend of the words now and forecast (= a statement about what is likely to happen) a nowcast is a prediction informed by analysis of data currently available. In other words, it's a hypothetical model rooted in the most up-to-date set of circumstances, which could for instance differ significantly from what was anticipated the previous week, the day before, or even a number of hours earlier. The concept is simply illustrated by the website FiveThirtyEight which is currently giving regular nowcast updates on the presidential election result (as I write, you might be pleased, or maybe dismayed, to know that Hillary Clinton has a 93.9% chance of winning!).
The noun nowcast has a couple of derivatives, including use as a transitive verb, and the commonly occurring activity noun nowcasting. There's also some evidence for use of the noun nowcaster as a descriptor for people or organizations doing the predicting. Though, as in current months, the term gets an airing in the context of a significant political vote, it's also often associated with economics. Whereas in the political domain nowcasting is largely based on data of a less reliable nature, opinion polls and the like, in economic forecasts it's more fact-based, grounded in statistical analysis of real-time figures. Economic nowcasts are therefore arguably far more accurate than political ones.
The term nowcast actually stems from meteorology (= the scientific study of weather) where it continues to be used to describe current weather conditions or those expected in the immediate future. The word was originally coined in the 1980s by British meteorologist Professor Keith Browning, who used it to describe extrapolation of data to produce a very short-range forecast. Its extension to political and economic domains is relatively recent, though even newer is its popular use in relation to social media posts or images which show weather conditions in a specific location at a particular time.
The morphological make-up of nowcast shouldn't be confused with e.g. podcast, which is of course a blend of the words iPod and broadcast. Evidence over a number of decades suggests that broadcast is a more prolific word former than forecast, with examples like narrowcast, newscast and simulcast dating as far back as the 1930s. More recently of course we've also seen podcast, webcast and mobcast.
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This article was first published 4th October 2016.
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