Browse Month

January 2017

Are meteorologists forecasting ice too much?

Summary:

Over Christmas break, my brother (who lives near Boston) asked me a very interesting question that I don’t have a definitive answer for. His question was about ice forecasts, and why it seems like meteorologists forecast it way too often compared to what actually happens.

Opinion:

I’m torn on this one. Being in the Boston area, my brother does not get many “good” ice events compared to areas further inland in the Northeast. Inferring that my brother was basing his question mainly on storms that have a quick transition from snow/sleet to freezing rain to rain, I want to attempt to answer this as logically as possible.

I think the answer varies based on perspective. Whether you’re a meteorologist, Joe Q. Public, an emergency manager, a utility company, etc., ice accumulation and its potential impacts can be a huge problem for some, and a minor nuisance for others.

Meteorologists try to verify a forecast to the best of their abilities. If it looks like even a couple hundredths of an inch of ice is possible before a changeover to rain, it will likely end up in the forecast. Then the ice happens and the meteorologists pat themselves on the back for a job well done. But is it a job well done?

Verification aside, what did including ice in the forecast actually accomplish? Assuming the storm quickly changed over to rain after the brief period of freezing rain, did that minor, short-lived ice accumulation actually do anything? Was it even noticed?

And this is the point where my opinion becomes split. As a meteorologist, not only do I want the forecast to verify, but I also want to build in a contingency to my forecast in case something goes awry. What if the freezing rain lasts an hour or more longer than I expected, and it becomes much more of a problem than I had anticipated? What looks more foolish, mentioning ice with little to no impact, or not mentioning ice and then having some scale of disaster happen due to a more prolonged ice event?

For me, the answer depends on the storm evolution as well as the forecast confidence. Unless it’s a high confidence forecast with a very short transition period from snow/sleet to rain, it’s probably better to include ice accumulation in the forecast. Given how little ice it can take for things to go from okay to really, really bad, I think most people will forgive meteorologists for being a little overcautious.

Winter Storm Threat: January 6-7 (Final Call)

As the event is unfolding, time for a final update. A slight shift north and west, but overall similar thinking to yesterday’s forecast.

20170106-07_final

I think that there is a little more room for this to shift a bit further north and west compared to moving it south and east. The area of significant snowfall seems pretty locked in at this point, with concerns about mixing on the southern edge of the snow accumulation in the Carolinas.

Winter Storm Threat: January 6-7 (Initial Call)

A legit winter storm is finally coming to the southern Mid-Atlantic, but it probably won’t be a huge hit for D.C. residents as this suppressed storm system aims for areas south and east of I-95, instead of the usual jackpot areas.

20170106-07_initial

There is still a chance for this system to drift a bit more north and west, but for the past few days, forecast guidance has been pretty consistent in keeping any notable snowfall in the Southeast and in areas east of I-95 from Richmond, VA northward. Another concern is how much snow ends up falling over North Carolina, where some places will be battling with rain and a wintry mix before changing over to snow on the back end of the system. All-in-all, it looks like a solid hit for the more southern folks that get included in my snow forecast maps.

Change how you battle bad weather information

Summary:

Yet another Facebook post containing bad weather forecast information is being shared by people who don’t realize that it’s bad information. You know, the same thing that happens with every notable or potentially-notable weather event.

Opinion:

Getting a screen grab of the Facebook post and sharing it to your social network saying “THIS IS BAD! DO NOT SHARE!” won’t get you anywhere in the battle to suppress/end the creation and proliferation of bad weather information. There is no stopping it. There will always be someone out there posting bad weather information. Calling them out to your own followers time and time again will not yield much in terms of stemming the flow of bad information.

Instead, try something different. Be more direct. Go to the post in question and call out the person who made the post. Tell the people sharing the post that it’s bad information. But PLEASE don’t just mock/insult them. Many times it’s some gung-ho weather enthusiast or a kid who’s trying to learn and be like the people they look up to. Provide constructive criticism and explain your reasoning. If they insult you, block you, or reject you, then leave it at that. Or maybe at that point just flat out shame them, it’s your call.

What most people are doing now to battle bad weather information isn’t working. Change it up.