Let me show you, looking at one location, Seattle-Tacoma Airport, and the forecasts available at 8 PM Thursday.
The Seattle Times is going for 84F on Saturday, 87F on Sunday, and 81F on Monday
The National Weather Service? 83F on Saturday, 84 on Sunday and 78 on Monday
In contrast, KING-TV is the same:
So the forecasts for Saturday range from 81 to 84F. Sunday ranges from 82 to 87, and Monday from 78 to 81F. This is a pretty typical range for such forecasts.
So noting that there are differences, who delivers the best forecast? And why are they different?
One resource to check out is a web site: ForecastAdvisor.com. This compare the forecasts of a number of different outlets. Can I guarantee the results from this website. No. But their results are qualitatively consistent with my experience.
So here are their results for last and this year for Sea-Tac Meteogroup, a European-based firm, does very well, but so does the Weather Channel and the firm they own: the Weather Underground. I often check Weather Channel predictions when I don't have the time to do it myself. The National Weather Service is substantially less accurate.
Other locations? Here is their analysis for Spokane and Yakima....quite similar. Accuweather does decently as well.
Why does a group like the Weather Channel do so well? Because they have a more sophisticated approach to weather forecasting than the National Weather Service. But the National Weather Service has one big advantage that sometimes is important: human forecasters.
All forecasts are based on numerical weather prediction models, with names such as the GFS, UKMET, ECMWF, WRF, and NMMB. These models start with an observational description of the atmosphere and use the equations describing atmospheric physics to predict the future.
The National Weather Service runs several weather forecasting models, does simply statistic postprocessing to their output (called MOS, Model Output Statistics), and gives the results to human forecasters, who actually make the predictions that are distributed. Generally, US forecasters rely on a limited number of forecast models.
In contrast, the Weather Channel has pretty much taken humans out of the loop. They take the forecasts from many modeling systems and then correct typical errors or biases based on past model performance. Then they combine these corrected forecasts statistically in an optimal way, weighting the forecasts based on their contribution to making the best forecast. It is very hard for humans to beat such a sophisticated combination of the best models and statistics, although there are situations when they can.
National Weather Service forecasters can sometimes beat automated (or "objective") forecasts during situations when many of the models fail, when something very unusual happens, when forecasts need to be rapidly updated, or when there are very local effects the models can't simulate and the statistics can't correct for. Such situations are admittedly unusual, but can be critically important. National Weather Service forecasters are stationed around the country and thus become experts in their local weather. They can also consult and advice local governments and businesses--something the national forecast companies do not do.
And I should make something clear. The commercial weather industry, like the Weather Channel, DEPEND on National Weather Service models and observational data. To put it another way, the National Weather Service provides the essential weather infrastructure for the private sector..