"Life", communication, disabilities, education, learning, social sciences

Learning Disorders in the Meteorological Community: Implications for Communication and Education” (abridged)

Matt Bolton, lead intern at How The Weatherworks, continues to provide insights into many social issues facing people (especially students) who have learning disabilities. This article relates to how professionals in the weather community may or may not see the effect their routine activities could have on individuals with such disabilities. You can see Matt’s recent PowerPoint presentation (NWA Annual Meeting – Fall 2015) here.

For further information about this overall topic, I refer you to four other articles that Matt has penned during the past year:

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Hi everyone. I’m Matt Bolton. I’m the Lead Intern for How The Weatherworks, a weather consulting and education company in Naples, FL. Today, I’m going to talk to you about learning disorders.

You may be wondering why I’m here, at a meteorology conference, talking about learning disorders. I am heavily involved in How The Weatherworks’ National Weather Camp Program for middle and high school students. Over the last four years, I’ve interacted, both as a student at camp, and as a faculty instructor, with several individuals who have different learning disorders. Most recently, last year, we had a student who is on the autism spectrum. While we were ultimately able to accommodate the student, the overall national Program did not have a formal plan in place to account for behaviors associated with specific disorders, like autism, that affect learning. Based on our interactions with the student, I started a series of discussions regarding disorder accommodation. I’m happy to report that we’ve taken steps over the last year that will allow us to both recognize such conditions, and better accommodate them.

In those discussions, I asked, “If we’re not thinking about conditions like autism at camp, is anyone in the wider weather enterprise?” Partially because of that line of thought, I’ve become heavily involved as an advocate for individuals who have learning disorders. I’m especially drawn to autism, and I’m also interested and involved in helping people affected by color blindness. 1.7% of the American population – roughly 4.6 million people, according to a 2014 report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities – is affected by some kind of learning disorder or disability. This includes 1 in 68 who are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, and about 1 in 10 who are affected by color blindness. Color blindness mainly affects males, and the 1 in 10 stat reflects the male population. Female color blindness prevalence is roughly 1 in 200.

In my initial advocacy work, I wanted to look at meteorologists’ awareness of different learning disorders. Results from an informal survey I conducted and discussions I had with professionals in the field show an inherent lack of awareness of learning disorder topics, and a seeming lack of willingness to talk about them.

What I found was that people don’t talk about learning disorders and conditions like color blindness because they’re uncomfortable with them. But because people don’t talk about them, they don’t understand them. If learning disorders were better understood, it could remove some of that discomfort.

Let me ask you a question – please answer by a show of hands: how many of you, when you think of people with autism, think of people who act repetitively? People who rock back and forth or flap their hands, or do other self-stimulating behavior? How many of you immediately think of people who are non-verbal, and struggle to communicate? Or, people who have a single, intense interest?

Let’s try a little social perception experiment. What if I walked up to you right now and said, “Hi, I’m Matt, and I have autism!” – what would you do – because, guess what, everyone? Hi, I’m Matt, and I have autism! I have autism, and I’m telling you because it shows that the condition exists across a spectrum. When you meet one person who has autism, you’ve met one person who has autism, and the same goes for any other disorder. We shouldn’t stereotype or label people. Learning disorders, really, are just features of the individual, just as much as personality or skin color – and we shouldn’t be unwilling to discuss them just because they make us uncomfortable. There are plenty of things these days with ever-increasing levels of widespread acceptance that used to be uncomfortable topics, and there’s no reason learning disorders can’t have similar acceptance.

Why should you care about learning disorders and conditions that affect learning? Let’s go back to color blindness and I’ll show you. This is a low temperature forecast map. Temperatures on it range from the upper 30s to the upper 50s. Greens are closer to the 30s, and yellows and oranges are closer to 60 degrees. I put it through color blind simulation, and look at this: the entire green color spectrum disappears and turns yellow. This map is now totally useless, even for people who don’t have some degree of color blindness. Color blindness mainly affects greens and reds, and everything in that range typically turns shades of yellow, tan, and brown. You can understand, then, why color blindness is such an issue for meteorologists. Reds, yellows, and greens are the main colors we use in radar images, and a lot of other things, including most watch and warning products. You have to ask yourself, are poor color choices forcing approximately 11% of the people using your graphics to spend more time interpreting the graphic than they do taking action, in something like a tornado event?

As you can see here, there are several very good free phone apps and computer programs that do a nice job of simulating the different kinds of color blindness. In closing on color blindness, we should think about the context of the data we’re showing the public, and if there are ways we can enhance it to make color perception differences less of a problem. Some possible ways to do this are adding bold borders between colors, and using colors that have strong contrast.

Now, let’s look back at autism. Autism is a complex neuro-developmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to communicate. It runs along a spectrum – high-functioning cases are less severe, while low-functioning cases are more severe. The first thing I want to talk about in relation to autism is the idea that affected individuals are inherently interested in science.

Psychologist and autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen proposed that there is a link between autism incidence and science interest, evidenced by his Hyper-Systemizing Theory. He used the term “systemizing” to describe what he sees in autism as a desire to build and analyze “systems.” A system is anything that receives input and produces a related output. Systems follow rules and are predictable, and the goal of systemizing is to find and be able to predict those rules. In systemizing, you’re looking for associations to see if things are related. This is important for meteorologists to know because it means individuals who have autism may be more inclined toward an interest in meteorology.

The second thing I want to talk about is Theory of Mind, which is the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others. It also involves understanding that others have thoughts, feelings, and intentions that are different from one’s own, and the ability to infer what others are thinking so that it is possible to predict their behavior. Think for a moment how having poor Theory of Mind might affect someone in a severe weather situation. How could they be affected in an educational setting, such as when one of you are talking to them at school?

The last thing I’m going to talk about is information processing. Looking at this image, you’ll see a meteorologist in a TV studio. He’s showing the radar and talking about some showers moving inland off the coast of Florida. But what else is in this wide-angle studio shot? There are computer screens over here, and his hand is blurred, because it’s moving. There are a lot of extra things going on, while he’s talking about the rain chances. In autism, information is processed in such a way that individuals process everything at once. They would see his hand moving, the radar, the extra studio equipment…. and possibly get confused, missing the message of when the rain will come onshore. This isn’t a severe weather situation, but imagine the potential implications if it was. That’s not to say we can or should change how we deliver forecasts; this is just something we should be aware of, that there are people who have trouble processing our forecasts. We should try to simplify them when we can.

In closing, what are some things we could do to help these individuals? Two ideas I’ll share today are 1 on 1 mentoring programs for high school and middle school students, and workshops and training sessions to educate meteorologists on how to recognize and respond to different learning disorders. We could also create specialized weather learning resources specifically targeting different disorders.

I’d like to leave you with a closing thought that is even more important than the above recommendations and is, really, the overarching theme of this talk. It is a quote from a friend of mine that we all should take with us, and remember when interacting with individuals who have learning challenges:

“No one is perfect or normal. […disorders] are just the features that make you who you are.”

© 2016 Matt Bolton

Originally posted 1/31/16

Matt Bolton, a student communicator pursuing a B.A. in psychology, is the Lead Intern for How The Weatherworks in Naples, FL, and a member of the National Weather Association’s Professional Development and Diversity Committees. He maintains a personal blog, where he posts articles on autism and learning disorders and disabilities, education and learning, psychology, photography, and meteorology.

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: More heavy rainfall still on tap for southwest Florida

Yesterday morning, I provided information about the flooding potential for southwest Florida. At the time, I indicated that rainfall totals for the upcoming 36 to 42 hours would be in the two to five inch range and that this was atop the nearly two inches that fell across Collier and Lee Counties overnight into Wednesday morning. So far (Fig. 1), total storm rainfall based on radar estimates is in the two and half to four inch range with additional heavy rainfall expected today.

SWFL001-MIA-radar-rainfall-thru-160128-0551amEST

With the stationary front still lingering (today it is across south Florida between Naples and Miami), abundant tropical moisture, and a nearby very strong jet stream, more heavy showers and thunderstorms are in the offing. Additional rainfall totals could reach or exceed three inches according to computer and forecaster guidance. With individual showers and thunderstorms moving over the same areas (an event known as “training”), flooding is possible. Hence, a flood watch has been posted for today across much of south Florida (Fig. 2).

SWFL002-Flood-watch-graphic-160128

Once the front clears the area (and the upper level jet stream moves slightly to the east), skies will clear (at least partially) and temperatures will drop back below seasonal levels…for at least a day or two. With the jet stream nearby, don’t surprised if there is more cloudiness than sunshine during the next five to six days.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/28/16

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Flood Advisory in effect for parts of Collier County, FL

As I wrapped up my earlier post, the National Weather Service issued a flood advisory for parts of Collier County, FL.

FLOOD ADVISORY

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL

1117 AM EST WED JAN 27 2016

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MIAMI HAS ISSUED A

* FLOOD ADVISORY FOR…

SOUTHWESTERN COLLIER COUNTY IN SOUTHWESTERN FLORIDA…

* UNTIL 215 PM EST

* AT 1117 AM EST…DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED PERSISTENT SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS ACROSS THE ADVISORY AREA. HEAVY RAINFALL FROM THE STORMS WILL CAUSE MINOR FLOODING ACROSS COASTAL COLLIER COUNTY. BETWEEN 1 AND 2 INCHES OF RAIN HAVE ALREADY FALLEN…WITH ADDITIONAL RAINFALL RESULTING IN RAPID RUNOFF AND FLOODING.

* SOME LOCATIONS THAT WILL EXPERIENCE FLOODING INCLUDE…

NAPLES…MARCO ISLAND…GOLDEN GATE ESTATES…NAPLES

MANOR AND EAST NAPLES.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

EXCESSIVE RUNOFF FROM HEAVY RAINFALL WILL CAUSE PONDING OF WATER IN URBAN AREAS…HIGHWAYS…STREETS AND UNDERPASSES AS WELL AS OTHER POOR DRAINAGE AREAS AND LOW LYING SPOTS. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TRAVEL ACROSS FLOODED ROADS. FIND ALTERNATE ROUTES.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/27/16

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: More heavy rain on tap for southwest Florida

A quasi-stationary front to the north of Naples, FL will be hanging around Florida at least until Thursday evening (Jan. 28, 2016). To the north and south of this frontal boundary, periods of rain, locally heavy, can be expected. Since individual showers and thunderstorms will be moving over the same areas (an event known as “training”), rainfall totals for the upcoming 36 to 42 hours will be in the two to five inch range. This would be atop the nearly two inches that fell across Collier and Lee Counties overnight. Localized, mainly urban, flooding and ponding could occur.

Extensive cloud cover and reduced daytime solar heating should keep the risk of severe weather low. However, a strong upper level jet stream across the “Sunshine” State, linked to El Nino, could allow some storms to intensify to near or above severe levels.

It is easy to see the extensive amount of mid- and upper-level moisture to the southwest and west of the Florida peninsula on this water vapor satellite image (Fig. 1).

SWFL001-GOES-E-WV-160127-1645Z

Once the front clears the area (and the upper level jet stream moves to the east), skies will clear and temperatures will drop back below seasonal levels…for at least a day or two.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/27/16

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Yet more severe weather possible for southwest Florida

It just keeps coming. Earlier this month, an EF-2 tornado struck Cape Coral, FL (near Fort Myers, FL). The storm produced significant damage and injured three during its nearly three and a half mile trek through Lee County. On Fri., Jan. 15, an EF-1 tornado struck parts of Lee County damaging a few buildings and causing sporadic power outages. A few severe storms accompanied this tornado yielding damage to pool cages and other easily airborne outside items.

Then on Jan. 17, 2016, the third such event in roughly a week impacted south and central Florida. First, a tornado touched down near Sarasota, FL. damaging some condos and mobile homes and killing two. Then, within hours, a strong downburst moved across Collier County, FL inflicting widespread tree and fence damage across a 4-mile wide path that extended some 30 miles in length. This event impacted parts of Naples.

And now, the National Weather Service (NWS) has advised that all of south Florida is under the risk of some severe weather and heavy rainfall on Wednesday, possibly extending into Thursday (Fig. 1).

SWFL001-svr-wx-otlk-160126-earlyAM

While the projected impact level is low at this time, today is the day to start monitoring the weather developments more closely. Given that storminess could develop early on Wednesday, be sure to take a final check of the forecast (NWS and/or television) before bedding down tonight…just in case the activity arrives earlier than expected.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/26/16

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: The U.S. is a big country and has lots of weather

WEATHERTORIAL (my opinions and my opinions only)

As this past weekend’s winter storm exits the mid-Atlantic region and the dig out begins, I caught the following on the main National Weather Service web page (Jan. 25. 2016):

Tranquil Weather Returns To The East While Accumulating Snowfall Moves Into The Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes

High pressure will return to the east coast following the historic winter storm that dumped record snowfall. Low pressure over the central U.S will bring accumulating snow and some ice to the central and northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and the Great Lakes. Travel may become hazardous by later Monday into Tuesday.   Read More…

This put into perspective something that I have known for a long time. The United States is a big country (Fig. 1). Excluding Alaska and Hawaii, the area of the 48 contiguous states is 3.11 million square miles. Consider these other areas from around the globe:

Europe = 3.79 million square miles

Antarctica = 5.41 million square miles

Russia = 6.60 million square miles

North America = 9.54 million square miles

United Kingdom = 94,000 square miles

All of this areal information is from bing.com.

NATL001-global-map

Our Nation spans about 57 degrees of longitude (that’s about one-sixth of the globe going west-to-east) and about 22 degrees of latitude (that’s about one-eighth of the latitudinal banding). With mountains, lakes, prairies and ocean influences, and given the typical sizing of high and low pressure systems, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there is almost always a potpourri of weather going on across our Nation.

In fact, typically, there are at least one or two low-pressure regions of note and one or two high-pressure systems affecting the 48 states (Fig. 2). Even today, when “tranquil” weather is returning to the east, there is something else “brewing.”

NATL002-US-wx-map-160125-06Z

The same could be said for “stuck-in-a-rut” patterns. It’s not uncommon for one part of the Nation to be in chill mode while another part is very warm. And, it’s not uncommon for the pattern to flip-flop over the course of weeks or months, either. Consider how warm the eastern states were in Dec. 2015, only to succumb to massive wintry weather weeks later.

In olden days, we just accepted this. Now, with social media feeds permeating our every waking moment and wall-to-wall news coverage vying for ratings, EVERY weather system has become a weather system of critical importance.

So, I vote for putting weather back into perspective. Yes, weather is important; it affects our lives, our pocketbooks and our safety. It is my chosen profession and I love to study, talk and write about it. But, weather happens! It happens when things get stormy and it happens when the sun shines. And there will ALWAYS be a weather story, somewhere. If it isn’t in the U.S., then the story will be somewhere else – maybe a windstorm in Europe; maybe turbulence attacking an airline as it flies across the Pacific; or perhaps a freeze affecting coffee beans in South America.

It doesn’t mean that storminess is more frequent or more intense or that the climate is changing. It doesn’t mean that the world is coming to an end because Washington was shut down by a snowstorm and not by political controversy. And weather records, much like sporting and other records, are always being broken.

Most of the time, in most places, the weather is pretty good…or at least bearable. Let’s take it for what it’s worth. After all, it’s the only weather we have.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/25/16

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Blizzard conditions from DC to NYC

Well advertised, the “Blizzard of 2016” is well underway. Early this Saturday morning (Jan. 23, 2016), a few locations across the mid-Atlantic had already netted double-digit snowfall numbers. Heavy snow was continuing to fall from near the Washington, DC area northeastward into southeastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey and parts of Delaware (Fig. 1). Winds, gusting to over 40 miles per hour near coastal areas and to between 25 and 30 miles per hour inland, were adding to the snowfall misery.

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As a result, blizzard warnings, for occurring or expected snow, wind and near zero visibility, were posted from the Washington, DC region through the I-95 corridor to the New York City area (Fig. 2).

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Snowfall had started to taper off across areas to the south and southwest of Richmond, as sunrise approached. Along some coastal areas, especially where winds turned more to the east than northeast, warmer air moved in and ensured a liquid precipitation event (Fig. 3).

NATL003-meteo-ORF-160122-23

Forecasts still call for snowfall to be measured in feet across many areas affected by the storm. However, as noted in an earlier post, the snowfall gradient of the western and northern edges of the storm will be huge. The forecast for Albany, NY is snowless; yet the New York City area is looking for almost two feet of snow. Thus, small shifts in storm position, coastal front position and other factors could produce dramatic variances from expected snowfall numbers.

Look for some snowfall records to be set once final measurements are in place. Even if storm snowfall totals are not the greatest in recorded history, the event will likely be in the top five or 10. Note that this will NOT be the greatest storm “ever,” but only a significant to greatest event in recorded history.

Finally, there were some “significant” happenings with this storm system. First, thundersnow was reported in Baltimore, MD, early this Saturday morning. Thundersnow is much like any thunderstorm, just that it occurs while snow is falling. Cloud tops are often lower (maybe only up to four miles above ground level rather than the customary six to ten miles altitude); however, rainfall (or in this case snowfall) can increase significantly. Baltimore netted a snowfall increase of about two inches in less than 45 minutes.

Central Arkansas and southwestern North Carolina saw five to eight inches of snowfall as the storm moved across their region during the past two days.

And, there were unofficial reports that a few snowflakes fell in Panama City, FL this morning.

Once this storm system exits, late Saturday night and Sunday morning, conditions will improve quickly. Other than a period of cloudiness and light precipitation mid-week, tranquility should dominate this week’s weather news along the East Coast.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/23/16

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: More stormy times followed by chilly weather for southwest Florida

With a potentially crippling snowstorm/blizzard set to affect the mid-Atlantic states today and Saturday, it would be easy to lose a local focus. However, since I am slated to give a weather talk at the Friends of Barefoot Beach Lecture Series tomorrow (Jan. 23, 2016), keeping atop of local conditions is uber-important.

Let’s face it, the weather this month across Florida has been quite interesting. And the next 36 to 48 hours will keep that trend intact, according to the National Weather Service in Miami, FL (Fig. 1).

SWFL001-weather-impacts-160122-160124

Today, showers and thunderstorms (some storms strong to possibly severe) should move across the area. Winds will be increasing from the south to southeast with gusts up to 30 miles per hour. As dew points rise into the middle 60’s and a very strong upper level stream flies past at some 30,000 feet or so above sea level, conditions continue to move toward a severe storm set up.

Once the storms exit, winds will shift to the northwest and remain gusty in the 25 to 30 mile per hour range over land. Over water areas, winds are expected to reach gale force, even near the store. This will set the stage, yet again, for strong wave action and rip currents along Florida west coast beaches. Local beach erosion and considerable sand transport can be anticipated.

Look for temperatures to tumble across southwest Florida with highs over the weekend only rising into the lower 60’s with overnight lows dropping into the lower and middle 40’s. Inland locations could see some readings in the upper 30’s.

As next week unfolds, temperatures will rise back to near or slightly above seasonal averages.

As for my talk tomorrow, I am nearly 100 percent certain that I will be leading my audience to the beach to look at wind and wave action at work. We should also have ample low-level cloudiness in place which will allow me to explain winds aloft.

My talk starts at 10:00 a.m. E.S.T. at Barefoot Beach Park, entrance off Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs, FL (address 503 Bonita Beach Road, North Naples, FL 34134).

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/22/16

climate, weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Looking back at an almost perfect winter storm forecast (1/26-1/28/15)

The following is a “weathertorial” concerning the, northeast “blizzard of Jan. 26-28, 2015.” This was written a few days after the event and posted at a different blog site at the time. I am republishing it here (slightly edited) because the impending storm has far too many similarities and forecasters and other media do not seem focused on explaining snowfall gradients.

Also, earlier today, the New York News published a story that attacked meteorologists for a lack of forecasting skills. I hope that someone at the News reads this blog post and learns some things about weather forecasting.

Rather than jumping to conclusions about the January 2015 snow event, as many have done, I took some time to research the information and look at data in some new ways. Hopefully, this will put the storm and its forecasts into a much needed, realistic, perspective.

The opinions expressed are mine alone, unless otherwise noted. DISCLAIMER: I worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 1971 to 1995 (including the National Weather Service [NWS] from 1971-1985). As part of my overall involvement with the weather community, in recent years, I interact with NWS offices and TV weathercasters often.

During the afternoon of Jan. 26, 2015, Steve Tracton, a past colleague at the National Weather Service (NWS), posted a treatise on forecasting, overforecasting and underforecasting at his Facebook Page (posted below for reference).  This was done prior to the onset of the “blizzard of 2015” (and thus did NOT involve any 20-20 hindcasting).

Having spent many years in a forecasting chair (and something which I do for my wife daily – definitely a high-risk forecasting assignment), I can relate to everything Tracton noted in his posting. It’s also important that the public appreciates what Tracton had to say. That’s because most folks only seem to know that “we (meteorologists) can’t ever get it right” and “I wish I had a job where I could be wrong ALL the time and still get paid.”

There are many days when I wish the Congressional Budget Office, economists and stock market pundits were subject to the same scrutiny. I’ll take being a meteorologist any day and I’ll remain proud that I routinely use solid science and solid thinking to make the best forecast possible. Rest assured that most meteorologists and even weather broadcasters (some of whom may not have the same levels of meteorological training) feel the same way! We try our best because we care about the people out there who use our work products every day.

When forecasting snowstorms, such as the multiday, Jan. 26-28, 2015, “potentially historic,” event, there are many factors to address. These include, but are not limited to:

(1) will a storm even form?

(2) where will it form?

(3) when will it form?

(4) what type of weather will it bring (e.g., snow, rain, wind, wind chill, blizzard conditions)?

(5) when will the weather event start and stop?

(6) how much of each type of weather will occur and how intense or significant might it be, and

(7) possibly the most important in this case, what will be the areal extent and gradient of the event (i.e., where will it stop geographically)

This storm event and the sheer magnitude of the expected snowfall (two to three feet of snow) appeared on the forecasting horizon three to five days in advance. The timing was almost right on for most locales and the storm’s central location was only about 100 miles or so from the forecast position (Fig. 1). Further, the storm (which hadn’t even formed yet when the first snow forecasts were issued) did undergo rapid cyclogenesis (deepening), verifying the “meteorological bomb” forecast. Snowfall reached the three-foot depth in some locations. Blizzard conditions (forecast days in advance) occurred.

NATL001FcstVerification15012712Z

All in all, this was a superb forecast. Such a forecast, with this degree of overall accuracy, would not have been possible 30 to 40 years ago. Better data sets (including satellite imagery), better models and improved scientific understanding are among the factors that played a role here.

What went wrong (and this about the only thing that went wrong) was the snowfall gradient (change in snowfall amount over distance) on the storm’s western edge. Here, while written county-by-county forecasts showed the expected snowfall gradient, the gradient concept was not as well noted and/or highlighted in weather statements, briefings and other dissemination modes. Hence, when New York City was pegged as being in the target zone of two feet of snow (a potentially historic event), that forecast was not tempered by the “50-mile rule.” This rule notes that a small change (not necessarily 50 miles) in storm track and/or the effect of another influence can cause the location of heavy snow to miss its mark by 50 miles. This rule is a paramount consideration in explaining large-scale winter storm snowfall (Fig. 2). There are other local factors that affect snowfall within the larger storm setting (e.g., banding, gravity waves, convection and the location of the coastal front). The gradient was well depicted in this forecast precipitation graphic (Fig. 3). This graphic (just one piece of information in a much, much larger suite of information) suggests that New York City snowfall would only be about one foot and that areas to the east of the Big Apple would bear the brunt of the storm.

NATL002GOESwv1501271115ZNATL003PrecipFcst150125to150130

In a similar vein, Boston was on the northern edge of the expected heavy snow area several days before the snow actually fell. Its observed snowfall exceeded the original forecast values.

Meanwhile observed snowfall across eastern Long Island, southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island matched expected snowfall numbers quite closely.

Snowfall gradients were dramatic. Consider these examples (Fig. 4 and Fig. 5):

NATL004LIsnowfallGradients150126to150127NATL005MAsnowfallGradient150126to150127

– Central Park to Islip (central Long Island) 1 inch every 3.4 miles.

– In Worcester County, MA (west of Boston) 1 inch every 0.82 miles.

Thus, if the 50 to 100 mile shift in storm center position did not occur, New York City would have been buried in snow. If the storm had shifted an additional 50 miles to the east, and the heavy band had accompanied it, Boston could have received less than a foot of snow.

There are many ways to express the uncertainty involved with the myriad of factors mentioned earlier. Graphics with text overlays and more descriptive weather statements can help. However, the thinking of the NWS, as evidenced in a briefing on Jan. 27, 2015, at which Dr. Louis Uccelini, the NWS Director spoke, seems to be to add more probabilistic information.

Similarly, Jason Samenow, writing for the Capital Weather Gang (Washington Post) suggested that forecasts needed to involve a range of probabilities, rather than the worst case scenario.”

It is here that I have to disagree.

Airlines, school systems, agencies responsible for snow removal and others need to make plans in advance. Forecasters need to and must convey their best assessment of the situation. A few words, like, “…the expected snowfall gradient on the western side of the storm will be very intense. Small shifts in storm movement can cause significant changes to the forecast in these areas,” would be preferred to “there is a 20% chance of more than 18 inches of snow, but an 80% chance we’ll get at least 6 inches.” The statistical measure may be fine for emergency managers and scientists. For John and Jane Q. Public, and many others, however, I believe that the outcry on a future storm would likely be deafening, because no one would truly understand the math/statistics.

This is because the public knows little about probabilities (let alone many levels of grouped probabilities), and they seem to lack an understanding of basic weather principles, as well. One reason for this could be that weather is not often taught in schools nationwide past fifth grade. TV meteorologists, NWS web sites and credible online blogs can help, but not overcome, this shortfall.

Instead, what we need to do is bring weather and climate back into school curricula so that kids can again educate their parents about what we all face daily. We can easily use weather to teach physics, chemistry, decision-making, math, statistics, communication and, my favorite – “thinking.”

Then, as a society, we can turn from condemnation (ah, so easy) to helping correct situations and procedures, improve learning and more.

This January 2015 snowstorm and its fallout will remain newsworthy for a while. Hopefully, a meaningful dialogue and some solid ideas for improving public understanding and making forecasts more informative will ensue.

Meanwhile, the snowstorm finally wound down across eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Long Island late on Jan. 27, 2015 and over Maine the next day. In these areas, there actually were reports of “historic” snowfalls (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7). Some of these included:

NATL006SnowRecordsBOS150128NATL007SnowRecordsPDT150128

Worchester, MA – (storm total) 34.5 inches versus 33.0 inches (1997)

Providence, RI – (storm total) 19.1 inches is fourth greatest snowfall on record

Boston, MA – (storm total) 24.6 inches is sixth greatest snowfall on record

Portland, ME – storm total 23.8 inches is fourth greatest snowfall on record

Note that records for Worcester have been kept since at least 1883 and for Portland, ME since 1882. Thus, this snowfall broke records that dated back more than 130 years!

Worchester, MA – record daily snowfall (Jan. 27) 31.9 inches versus 11.0 inches (2011)

Boston, MA – record daily snowfall (Jan. 27) 24.4 inches versus 8.8 inches (2011); also snowiest January day on record

Providence, RI – record daily snowfall (Jan. 27) 16.0 inches versus 6.7 inches (2011)

Bangor, ME – record daily snowfall (Jan. 27) 13.3 versus 10.8 (1963)

Islip, NY – record daily snowfall (Jan. 27) 7.5 inches versus 4.5 inches (1987)

JFK Airport, NY – record daily snowfall (Jan. 27) 5.6 inches versus 4.3 inches (2011)

In addition, Boston, Hyannis and Nantucket, MA (and nearby areas had between 9 and 13 hours of blizzard conditions (near zero visibility due to snow and blowing snow and high winds).

All of the above showcase a rare and historic event for the area.

There’s much more to be said about all of the aspects of the “Blizzard of 2015” and its forecasting fallout. However, apologies by NWS and other forecasters were not needed. Forecasters did a very credible job overall and had, but one minor miscue. Yes, New York City, with its millions of residents got less snow than was advertised. However, people (and the media) would have still have found fault with something, even if the forecast was “perfect.”

So, I’d like to close by telling a story about Joseph Strub, a meteorologist-in-charge of the Minneapolis NWS office prior to 1980.

One day, Minneapolis awake to 6 inches of partly cloudy. The news media came into the office with microphones and videocameras at the ready. “Can you explain why you screwed up so badly?” queried the reporter.

Strub replied, “We missed it. But, my forecasters and I are working on the next storm system heading our way. Do you have any other questions?”

The media left the office quickly and quietly. There was no cover up, just the truth.

Years later, while working in the Fort Worth, TX NWS forecast office, I had a similar experience. The Dallas Morning News called and wanted to know why our forecasts were so bad for the month. I volunteered to look into the matter and get back to the reporter. He was surprised that I would be willing to do so, but accepted the fact that I would call him back within the hour (he obviously had my phone number).

When we spoke an hour later, I admitted that our errors were large (but small compared to the computer guidance values). After I described the forecast process to him and how data was limited in parts of Texas, he went back to his desk and reported, not about the large temperature errors, but rather, about the problems involved in forecasting in a region with high temperature and moisture variability and less than needed data sources.

The NWS Boston forecast office followed Strub’s lead on the morning of Jan. 28, 2015 (Fig. 8). Their Facebook post talked about the next weather system heading toward the Boston area. In fact, longer-term computer models and human forecasts suggest a series of storms (not as strong as this one) enroute for the Washington, DC – Boston, MA corridor in the ensuing 10 days.

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Anyone, meteorologists included, can always improve upon what he/she does. And lessons learned have gotten meteorology to where it is today. But throwing stones and complaining about forecast errors is not the way to move forward.

Rather, I suggest New Yorkers, some in the media and others get their hands on a well-written basic weather book and learn something about what forecasting involves. And if the book doesn’t answer the questions, then I (and I know others who) would be willing to help improve the state of weather literacy to anyone who asks. Readers can contact me here or by posting comments online at any of my social media pages.

From Steve Tracton’s Facebook posting on Jan. 26, 2015

“Imminent blizzard of historic proportions predicted with seemingly total (100%) certainty to bury cities from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Portland, etc. Rarely does one hear forecasts of snowstorms described with complete confidence being of historic, disastrous, life threatening, unprecedented, massive, etc. proportions even when only 24-36 hours in advance – not even with “historic…” preceded by likely, probably, potentially, etc.

I have no reason outright (with one caveat, below) to question the predictions other than there is long history of forecasts with comparable levels of hype – even at short ranges – becoming historic busts with forecasters eating “humble pie” and blaming it on the models. Just as we’ve had (far too) many “surprise snowstorms”, i.e., not (or grossly under) predicted storms, I’ve referred to the busts as surprise “no snowstorms”.

We’ll soon know whether the current predictions are on the mark or not. I’m hoping for this being a “big one” – even though DC is missing out – if for no other reason it marks the tremendous improvements made over the last few years in computer models/strategies, as well as the skill, expertise, and judgment of professional meteorologists within and beyond the National Weather Service (NWS).

The caveat mentioned above is the forecasts are predicated upon redevelopment of a “clipper” system over the Midwest with this secondary storm undergoing “bombogenesis” (rapid intensification) with an abundant moisture supply. Relatively small differences (errors) in the position and track of the low can be critical with the actual amounts and geographical distribution of snow (snow bands, for example) and winds contributing to drifting. I raise this as just one possibility but one that reduces the level of confidence (uncertainty) to something less than 100%. As I’ve often said, “the only certainty in weather predictions is uncertainty”, which varies from one cast to the next.”

© 2015, 2016  H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/29/15; reposted 1/22/16

weather, weather safety/preparedness

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Major snowstorm looms for the Mid-Atlantic

For days, National Weather Service (NWS) computer and manmade forecasts have pointed to a major winter storm for the mid-Atlantic states. Snow and other associated wintry weather was expected as far south as northern Georgia and as far north as southern New England.

Now, closer to the event, the bulls-eye seems to be the greater Washington-Baltimore area where two feet of heavy, wet snow or more can fall between this Friday and early Sunday. Parts of the nearby Appalachians southward into the western Carolinas can expect between one and two feet of snow. To the south and east of the heaviest snow zone, a mixture of snow, sleet and freezing rain can be expected. An array of winter weather watches, warnings and advisories is posted from the middle Mississippi River Valley to the East Coast (Fig. 1).

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The culprit behind this event is a developing low-pressure system that will be tracking across the Gulf Coast states and then reforming along the Atlantic Coast (Fig. 2). This redevelopment keeps the cold air in place over most land areas and allows for ample Atlantic moisture to be entrained into the storm system. South of the low, across parts of the Gulf Coast states from Louisiana to Florida, warm and humid air, along with a strong upper level jet stream, will conspire to generate severe thunderstorms and tornadoes (Fig. 3).

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As the storm develops, winds will be increasing over both land and water areas. A blizzard watch has been posted for parts of the mid-Atlantic for Friday and Saturday. This means snow and blowing snow, along with high winds can reduce visibility to near zero at times (a.k.a. “whiteout” conditions). Winds will continue, especially along coastal areas from the mid-Atlantic to New England, even after the storm passes.

Offshore waters can expect gale (and possibly storm) force winds by early Saturday. With winds reaching 50 miles per hour or more, seas will build to 15 to 25 feet by Saturday and continue at these levels, even after the storm passes.

With strong onshore winds expected, coastal flooding is a risk from the Carolinas northward.

As is always the case in storms of this magnitude, snowfall gradients and transitions between mixed frozen precipitation and either all rain or all snow can be impressive. That’s why the “50-mile rule” needs to be at play. This means that any point weather forecast can be shifted up to 50 miles in any direction, leading to a significant variance from the forecast weather type and/or forecast snowfall amounts. In Fig. 1, look at the sharp demarcation between the blizzard watch and areas in Pennsylvania that aren’t even under a winter weather advisory. Shift the storm 50 miles to the north and Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey could expect blizzard conditions. Shift the low 50 miles to the southeast and Washington, DC could receive single digit snowfall amounts and miss the highest winds. Keep this “rule” in mind as the storm unfolds.

This is a major winter event and can severely disrupt travel, impact electric service, and pose life-threatening situations across a large part of the mid-Atlantic and nearby locations. There are many safety rules and precautions one should be aware of. I’ll address these later today in another posting. However, common sense should be everyone’s primary safety rule.

Please stay safe!

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/21/16