humor, weather

What’s Wrong With Groundhog Day, The Movie? (H. Michael Mogil, CCM, CBM, NWA-DS*)

How many of you have seen “Groundhog Day – The Movie?” How many of you have seen it over and over again? How many of you have picked up on the myriad of meteorological and other flaws that the movie contains?

Well, my wife and I have been viewing the iconic movie for some 25 years (it was released February 12, 1993 – Fig. 01). Bill Murray (a hapless TV meteorologist), Andie McDowell (his producer) and Scooter (the groundhog) really do make some movie magic. After all, if they didn’t, why would the movie remain an annual staple?

While watching this year, however, my wife’s eagle eye flagged some potential errors in the movie, errors neither one of us had picked up on, before. Most of these were minor and could possibly be explained away by Hollywood movie-making techniques. For example, Gobbler’s Knob is not IN downtown Punxsutawney, but rather, several miles OUTSIDE. Also, the movie was filmed in Indiana because the town there was more scenic than Punxsutawney, PA. The most glaring error, however, always started the ever-repeating Groundhog Day.

As the clock radio changed to 6:00 o’clock a.m. E.S.T., and the cheerful voices of Sony and Cher graced the airways, Phil Connor awoke and raced to the window. Every day, he saw the same people walking the street below, enroute to Gobbler’s Knob. Then, after dressing, grabbing some food, meeting an incessant insurance agent (the infamous Ned Ryerson), and arriving at Gobbler’s Knob, Phil and the news team got ready to see Phil’s emergence from his “burrow.” Alas, all of the above is done in FULL DAYLIGHT. That means that sun had to rise sometime before 6:00 a.m. E.S.T. Yet, according to timeanddate.com, sunrise in Punxsutawney is at 7:25 a.m. E.S.T., with Civil Twilight beginning at 6:56 a.m. E.S.T. In short, the movie is inaccurate, but with cause. All the early morning scenes, if played in the dark, would have lost their visual effects.

This won’t be the first time that Hollywood got its science wrong. And it won’t be the last, either.

Reporting from his home away from Punxsutawney, this is H. Michael Mogil, a meteorologist with a much higher skill level than the Pennsylvania marmot and his brethren.

© 2018 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 2/5/18

* The National Weather Association Digital Seal (NWA-DS) is awarded to individuals who pass stringent meteorological testing and evaluation of written weather content. H. Michael Mogil was awarded the second such seal and is a strong advocate for its use by weather bloggers.

climate, humor, weather

Southwest Florida winter to continue (H. Michael Mogil, CCM, CBM, NWA-DS*)

BULLETIN: Four Naples groundhogs spied their shadows early Thursday morning. Hence, look for six more weeks of south Florida winter. Yahoo!

Punxsutawney Phil does not have a sterling record of furcasting the weather for the last six weeks of winter, even though the official Punxsutawney web site says otherwise. I know because an intern and I analyzed about 100 years of Phil’s forecasts in the late 1990’s. During our research, we discovered that, at best, Phil was accurate only about 10 percent of the time. Phil just kept getting it wrong…and getting it wrong…and getting it wrong, much like Bill Murray did in the movie, Groundhog Day.

Phil’s forecast accuracy is far below chance and offers stark testimony to the inability of the Groundhog legend to really offer any hint about upcoming weather. Still, the legend is fun and offers a great escape for mid-winter blues. And even with a spate of Johnny-come-lately Marmota Monax’s (Phil has many ancestors and bretheren), groundhog weather prediction simply doesn’t cut it.

One reason these groundhogs keep getting it wrong is because of media coverage. No, the furry critters aren’t creating fake news. Rather, as Al Roker noted on the Today Show, Thursday morning, there are simply too many camera lights. Hence, the only forecast possible is ongoing winter. Not surprisingly, even with cloudy skies (Fig. 1), Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Thursday (Fig. 2). I didn’t even bother to see what the other nationally known groundhogs predicted. I knew the answer.

Instead, my focus was on four Naples groundhogs. Okay, so they are Ty babies™. They are still groundhogs! And I can report, unequivocally, that no camera lights were at play. It was pure sunshine that allowed these marmots to see their shadows (Fig. 3).

While folks in northern climes are dreading six more weeks of winter, we in Naples are thrilled about winter’s continuance. The reason is that in southwest Florida, winter means lovely weather. Average daily climatological temperatures start in the mid-60’s in early February and only rise into the lower 70’s by the end of March. The daily range spans about ten degrees above and below these values. In short, it’s almost like late Spring in northern states. With minimal rainfall chances, it’s the weather southwest Floridians crave.

The only drawback to the lovely weather is that southwest Florida could use a few days of steady rainfall. Southwest Florida and much of the Florida peninsula, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, has been (and is expected to continue to be) abnormally dry.

Wherever you may live, and whatever the weather brings, please, enjoy. Summer heat and humidity, for most of us, are just over the distant horizon.

© 2017 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 2/4/17

* The National Weather Association Digital Seal (NWA-DS) is awarded to individuals who pass stringent meteorological testing and evaluation of written weather content. H. Michael Mogil was awarded the second such seal and is a strong advocate for its use by weather bloggers.

weather, weather safety/preparedness

Long duration lake-effect snow event underway (H. Michael Mogil, CCM, CBM, NWA-DS*)

The National Weather Service has issued “lake effect” snow warnings and advisories for areas to the east of Lakes Erie and Ontario through Sunday evening (Fig. 1). These forecasts call for locally heavy snow and wind-blown snow with associated hazardous driving conditions. Forecasts for areas in New York State downwind of these lakes indicate that snowfall amounts will be within a 15 and 40 inch range (locally higher amounts expected) along with wind gusts to 45 miles per hour. The heaviest snowfalls are expected in the Tug Hill Plateau area (downwind from Lake Ontario, near Watertown and Montague, NY), with 12-hour snowfalls, throughout the period, frequently in the six to 12 inch range. Already, early this Friday morning, Watertown reported wind gusts in excess of 40 miles per hour.

While not yet issued, look for similar forecasts to be posted for other downwind areas of the entire Great Lakes region during the next several days.

This entire weather scenario is linked to a quasi-stationary surface and upper air low-pressure system across eastern Canada (Fig. 2). The system’s counter-

clockwise circulation will send winds across the Great Lakes, mostly from a west to northwest direction.

With the Great Lakes mostly ice free (Fig. 3), colder air, moving over relatively warmer water, can gain heat and moisture. This allows clouds (often low-topped) to develop in bands across the lakes (Fig. 4). As these bands make landfall, the air they are riding on experiences increased frictional drag

(friction is higher as winds blow over land than water). The result is a low-level convergence effect, adding uplift to the clouds. In areas where terrain increases inland, there is an added orography-lift effect (e.g., the Tug Hill Plateau area). In a snowfall event earlier this winter season, parts of the Tug Hill Plateau were targeted with over four feet of snow in a three-day period.

Due to the nature of “lake effect” snow events, the National Weather Service in Buffalo, NY noted early this Friday morning that, “…in lake effect snow, the weather can vary from locally heavy snow in narrow bands to clear skies just a few miles away. If you will be traveling across the region, be prepared for rapid changes in road and visibility conditions.”

© 2017 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 1/27/17

* The National Weather Association Digital Seal (NWA-DS) is awarded to individuals who pass stringent meteorological testing and evaluation of written weather content. H. Michael Mogil was awarded the second such seal and is a strong advocate for its use by weather bloggers.

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Welcome to spring and some spring snowstorms!

It’s only a couple of days into spring and the big weather news involves SNOW. In fact, we are talking about a lot of snow.

Wisconsin is bracing for a foot of snow or more across central and eastern sections between now and Thursday. The northeast corner of Colorado (including the Denver metro area) is on tap for about a foot of wind-driven snowfall. Blizzard warnings have been posted here, as well as in nearby areas of Nebraska and Wyoming (Fig.1). Look for some major airport and highway travel delays in these areas.

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The culprit behind this “out of whack” weather is a low-pressure system that has formed over the western High Plains (Fig. 2) and is expected to move to near Detroit by late Thursday. To the north of the system, heavy snow and gusty winds will be the rule. To the south of the system gusty, warm and dry winds will lead to a high fire danger across the southern High Plains. Then, to the east, with more abundant Gulf of Mexico moisture, showers and thunderstorms will begin to develop later today. According to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, some storms may reach severe limits today from Missouri southward to eastern Texas and tomorrow across parts of Tennessee and Alabama.

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Behind this storm system, another low is expected to head southeastward and spread a swath of snow across parts of the northern Plains later this week. If that’s not enough “Spring” weather, yet another storm is expected to affect Colorado by the middle of next week.

In the wake of each of these storm systems, chilly air will spread southward.

So, if you live in a region that includes the Intermountain West, the central Plains and the Great Lakes, think Spring, but expect Winter!

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 3/23/16

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Almost all the weather, all at once

This morning’s national watch-warning map (Fig. 1) shows almost all the weather you’d ever want to see, all at once. Some extreme weather hazards (e.g., hurricane, severe weather, flash flooding and blizzard) are absent; however, just about everything else, “weather,” is expected to occur somewhere across the 48-states.

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Wind advisories and high fire weather alerts (on the west side of a strong high-pressure system) cover much of the Central Plains and parts of the Mississippi River Valley; on the east side of the high (and within the high), frost and freeze alerts had been posted for early today. We won’t be seeing these again, so far south and east, anytime soon.

A storm system coming out of the Rockies is expected to spread snow across the north-central Plains eastward to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by tonight into Wednesday. As expected, the winter weather advisories from this morning, were upgraded to winter storm warnings today. Some parts of Wisconsin may see eight inches of snow or more.

Out west, a potpourri of wind and winter weather scenarios is scattered across highly variable terrain.

Stay tuned. More swings and extremes in weather are on the horizon.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 3/22/16

weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Spring has arrived or has it?

Spring (astronomical spring, that is) officially arrived over the weekend and the weather pattern is definitely taking on a springtime appearance (well, sort of)! Temperatures may be above average in many places, but don’t discount winter, just yet.

During the past few days, many forecasters focused on the potential for a significant snowstorm across parts of southeastern New England. Right now, it appears that mostly light snow will affect that area, with heavier amounts further north along coastal Maine. In the storm’s wake, milder air will quickly return to the region.

However, the real Spring news involves the development of a northern tier storm track (Fig. 1) and yo-yo weather across the southern Plains. Severe weather potential, however, appears to be limited during the next few weeks.

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NOTE: As with any outlook spanning a two-week period, weather conditions and patterns can shift for many reasons. Always monitor the latest short-period forecasts.

A series of storm systems is expected to develop across the western High Plains and race toward the St. Lawrence River Valley in eastern Canada. Depending upon the track, these storms will bring a swath of snow to their north. Right now, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois seem to be in the target zone. Some places in Wisconsin could get a lot of Spring snow!

In addition to the storms, an arctic cold front is expected to move southward from Canada and stall just south of Wisconsin toward the end of the month. This could set up a multi-day overrunning snow event for the area.

The same arctic front may disrupt the otherwise warm, dry and windy pattern (one that favors a high fire danger) across the Central and Southern Plains. Instead, a snow event (along with some potential for freezing rain), could stretch from Colorado across the Plains states. This could become a cruel April Fool’s day joke for many.

Otherwise, California’s wet El Nino period could be over, as a strong upper level ridge persists along the West Coast.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 3/21/16

Uncategorized

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Snowfall gradients

Yesterday’s winter-spring storm produced lots of severe weather on its eastern flank, but it also generated a band of heavy snow to its west. Just to the east of Chicago, IL, the infamous “rain-snow” line helped to create a rather large snowfall gradient. That gradient (0.44 inches of snow per mile, across a 34-mile distance) gave the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Chicago an opportunity to play up such gradients (Fig. 1). Bravo!

NATL001-ORD-snowfall-gradient

Yet, much larger gradients came into play for the Jan. 26-28, 2015 snowstorm in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. I refer readers of this blog site to an article I wrote after that event – THEWEATHERMOGIL:: Looking back at an almost perfect winter storm forecast (1/26-1/28/15). Gradients in that storm were some two to three times larger than the one near Chicago yesterday (Fig. 2).

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What’s important is that people realize that weather-related gradients (e.g., snow, rain, temperature, wind, cloudiness) can be large and affect the viability of current, highly localized forecasts. They can also play a role in how weather is treated in legal and insurance matters.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally posted 2/25/16

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).

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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

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.

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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.

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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):

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– 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:

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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