BOSTON (CBS) — Meet the Schmitt Family or Team Salient, the recent winners of $250,000 from a forecasting contest. The team is comprised of a local man and his twin sons, and get this — they’re not even meteorologists.
Ray Schmitt is a physical oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He’s been studying the water cycle over the ocean, including the waters off Cape Cod. He had this idea a long time ago that when water evaporates from the ocean, it makes it saltier. He wanted to test this idea of using ocean surface salinity to forecast rainfall on land, but a lack of funding made it difficult.
His luck changed with an email from a co-worker.
“December of 2016, I got an email from a colleague. About this contest to forecast rainfall for the U.S. West sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation.” Ray said.
The Bureau of Reclamation manages water and power in the western United States. This contest would be a big task so Ray knew he needed some help.
“I saw my sons, Eric and Stephan, and they mentioned they are using artificial intelligence to play computer games. So I said to them ‘aha you’re just the guys I need,’ and I talked them into entering this contest because there was big prize money to be awarded if you had the best rainfall forecast.” Ray explained.
Up to $800,000 in prize money was up for grabs. Teams that entered had to provide a sub-seasonal forecast for an area west of the Mississippi River.
Eric Schmitt is a mechanical engineer at Veryst Engineering in Needham and Stephen Schmitt is a software developer from Network Appliances in Waltham. With their computer skills and knowledge of artificial intelligence, they helped produce temperature and precipitation forecasts every two weeks for an entire year.
“I think we were intrigued, knowing my dad we weren’t going to hear the end of it until we delivered something,” said Eric.
“We were Team Salient in the contest. It was very gratifying they were willing to humor me and indulge in this contest. You know I think if our first scores were terrible, we probably would have quit because it was a lot of work over the year. But our first scores were fantastic. I.T. was very satisfying to know that we were beating the professionals, and we’re just a bunch of amateurs. It shows the power of a new idea. So we ended up winning $250,000,” Ray said grinning ear to ear.
And his sons had no problem spending the winnings.
“I blew it all on a house,” said Eric while laughing.
Team Salient made predictions that beat out professional forecasters. Visit their website to learn more about them and see their current forecast predictions.