Data Sense: Re-examining 2013 predictions

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Since its inception in May, this column has focused on using the best available data to make predictions about indicators that are important to the local economy. We made several predictions in 2013, encompassing topics such as sales tax revenues, gasoline prices, population levels, electricity consumption levels and snowfall. Now that we’ve rung in the new year, it’s a good time to take a look back at a few of these predictions to see how we did.

Data Sense

This monthly column is written by Yampa Valley Data Partners. It publishes on the first Sunday of the month in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Read more columns here.

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Brandon Owens

In our May column, we looked at sales tax revenues through March and made a best guess about where we’d end up by year's end. The preliminary Steamboat Springs March 2013 tax report indicated that the year-to-date collection total was $6.02 million. Based on this, we predicted 2013 annual sales tax collections would be $17.87 million and that year-to-date sales tax collections through October 2013 would be $14.6 million. We noted that the prediction was likely to be on the low side because it was based on the March preliminary data and also because it didn’t fully reflect the changing seasonal trend in sales tax collections whereby an increasing share of tax revenue is collected during the summer months.

The October 2013 tax report now is available. It shows that year-to-date sales tax collections through October actually were $15.1 million, which is $600,000 greater than the May prediction. As it turns out, the May prediction was low for the very reasons cited. The difference between the preliminary and final March data accounted for one-third of the difference and stronger-than-expected summer sales tax collections accounted for the remainder. Incidentally, based on the latest data, the expected 2013 sales tax total now is $18.69 million, a 6.2 percent increase from 2012.

In our June column, we looked at gasoline prices. According to the Steamboat Today’s gas price survey published June 3, the average price of gas in Steamboat Springs was $3.87 per gallon. Given the local gasoline price history and the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s crude oil price forecast, we predicted that the average gasoline price in December 2013 would fall to $3.46 per gallon. Turns out, this prediction was very accurate. According to www.gasbuddy.com, the average gasoline price on Dec. 31 in Steamboat Springs was $3.48 per gallon.

In our December column, we looked at the snow water equivalent level on Rabbit Ears Pass as of opening day of the Steamboat ski season and predicted the year-end SWE based on this value. The snow depth on Nov. 27 was 28 inches, which translated to an SWE of 6.9 inches. Based on this, we predicted a year-end SWE value of 11.75 inches, which is well above the two-year average of 9.3 inches. This prediction also was fairly accurate — give or take a day. At day-end Tuesday, the Rabbit Ears SWE level hit 10.8 inches. It reached 11.40 inches Wednesday.

It is important to periodically assess past predictions to see how accurate they were. This process helps us understand and improve future predictions. Of course, the ultimate goal is to always make the most accurate predictions possible based on the best available data.

Brandon Owens is an independent contractor for Yampa Valley Data Partners, a regional nonprofit organization serving Routt and Moffat counties. YVDP’s mission is to strengthen our communities through collaborative partnerships and by providing relevant, timely, accessible data to decision makers. Visit www.yampavalleydatapartners.com.

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