“I got an idea that I wanna share. You don’t like it? So what? I don’t care.” -Rob Base.
Every year, the big cities in the Mid-Atlantic and/or northeast US are treated to hype for a big storm that ultimately busts for those cities and inexorably, the post-storm shit show of finger pointing happens. It took until Tuesday, March 14 this winter, but the same broken record finally played again with the all-too-familiar song where the main refrain wails “we need to be better at communicating uncertainty in the forecast”. In case you were in a cave and missed it, a potential blizzard was set to blast DC to Boston with actual blizzard warnings for the Philadelphia and New York city areas. The storm formed, but formed west of where models and forecasters thought it would resulting in mixing for the major cities with the heavy snow inland.
The post-storm shit show kicked off with an AP article that stated weather forecasters thought on Monday afternoon that the big cities would be spared of large snow accumulations but decided to keep the forecast and blizzard warnings in place to ensure continuity and not confuse the public by flip-flopping the forecast.
Not too long after that article, opinion pieces popped up in various places blasting the National Weather Service for its decision to keep the large snow forecast in place if they thought it wasn’t going to happen. One of the more notable ones came from the Capital Weather Gang (paywalled), complete with an obligatory dig at Trump. Social media, such as twitter, then lit up with every Tom, Dick and Harry injecting their opinion on the subject.
First of all, the general public can go fuck themselves with whatever opinion they have on anything. Their primary concern is what exactly is the size of Donald Trump’s hands. And those are the smarter ones. While I would be considered a member of the general public, I have more of a stake in storms like this because I issue actual forecasts to friends for the Mid-Atlantic for winter storms such as the one being discussed. Thus, the reason for my opinion in this post.
Second, the National Weather Service forecasters have always been and always will be in a no-win situation with these storms. It doesn’t matter if the forecast is even slightly off, or entirely correct, people are going to bitch and moan anyway because bitching and moaning is woven into the very fabric of American society. Plus the danger in going to school, work, driving, etc. was all still there in the heavy sleet and freezing rain instead of heavy snow. What people were actually pissed about was the fact that they couldn’t have a good snowball fight or build a decent snowman prior to going back in the house for hot chocolate on their snow day off.
The general public, with their need for everything reduced to 140 characters or less, isn’t going to care about the uncertainty of a forecast, so fuck them. Nobody who has stumbled across this post is reading it several paragraphs in, only search bots archiving it are. (That’s the reason for posts like this and ones in my prior iterations of blogs – they’re for when humans kill themselves from their own stupidity and a future intelligent species or aliens are able to uncover these writings, they’ll understand I wasn’t part of the problem.) Anyone remotely enlightened about east coast USA weather understands that every coastal low, regardless of forecast, is uncertain in its strength and track. So the constant calls in the weather community for communicating “uncertainty” better are a meaningless circle jerk.
Given the very cold air mass in place (did you notice how cold it was the day after the storm?) and the likelihood that it would stay below freezing for the duration of the storm, I agreed with the National Weather Service for keeping the warnings up. But then, our local National Weather Service forecast office downgraded our winter storm warnings to winter weather advisories despite ongoing heavy frozen precipitation. As I noted here, this was baffling to me and the first time I’ve ever seen this occur. So if I’m understanding the AP article correct, the NWS kept the warnings in place because they didn’t want to confuse the public by flip flopping, then flip flopped the forecast for the Mid-Atlantic mid-storm, potentially confusing the public, despite no need to flip flop, by definition.
Our local NWS is deserving of criticism for this flip flopping in my opinion. Also, as hard of working as the NWS forecasters are, I believe most of the actual professional meteorologists can go fuck themselves too with their post-storm opinions on the forecast of these storms. Most (but not all) professional meteorologists have stood by and said nothing for the past decade as money gets pumped into the great global warming fraud rather than weather. On the exact same date as this blizzard-that-wasn’t back in 1993 was the March, 1993 Superstorm. People who paid attention to the weather at the time would know this was a watershed moment for meteorology. Models predicted the massive storm over three days in advance and all of the professional meteorologists patted themselves on the back for the model performance. Now exactly 24 years later, the models have crazy fast computers to work with, very tight grids, and a crap ton of data to work with and the performance in these types of storms for real world forecasts is exactly the same as it was in the 90s, on average.
Politicians, too, can go fuck themselves. Why the Post even wasted typing clicks on Jabba the Hutt, I mean Chris Christie’s opinion on the subject is beyond me (“thought leader” ? LOL!). As for Trump, I don’t have that much of an issue with what he said, because he’s right – these storms usually turn out to not be as bad as they are forecasted or hyped for the big cities. That’s the reason the weather community has this discussion all the fucking time. Remember when Major Hurricane Matthew caused catastrophic damage on the Florida peninsula and Orlando last October? Me neither, because the center stayed offshore the entire time despite hype that it could go inland. And incredibly, NOAA plans to update the GFS model in May with one that is known to be inferior for forecasting hurricanes.
The real people here who require an accurate forecast are emergency managers and planners. What is their opinion of the situation? I have no idea thanks to a media who for eight years said “look how cute Obama is using a selfie stick” and now says “Trump has allowed the Russians to overthrow the United States”. The media refusing to do its job for the past 20 years and the dumpster fire that social media has turned into means that the voices of the people whose opinion counts aren’t heard.
Finally, a number of professional meteorologists, as well as hobbyists, who were basing their forecast on the euro model, claimed their forecast and the euro model forecast verified. This is idiotic, to say the least. It was only starting with the 12z March 13 euro when it became very clear that the euro had the storm hugging the immediate coastline. That was only about eight hours away from the start of the storm by the time the model was finished around 2pm eastern. Emergency managers and others need days of lead time to prepare cities – if there was no blizzard forecast and then one forecasted to occur within 8 hours, an even more massive shit storm would have ensued. This is exactly what happened in the epic fail storm of January 25, 2000, except many people had already gone to bed when the warnings were issued for heavy snow prior to them waking up. This article here reads just like every modern storm bust article saying uncertainty needs to be communicated better and it’s 17 years old!
Others are claiming that because a number of model runs showed sleet over the I95 corridor that the snow accumulation forecasts verified because it was still mostly sleet. This is cringeworthy too. What causes the difference between snow, sleet, freezing rain, and plain rain isn’t even meteorology 101, it’s junior high school weather. All of those precipitation types are related to one another in a winter storm and saying the snow forecast verified in this storm is like saying the snow forecast verified when plain rain fell. It’s simply not true.
Many of the people claiming this are the same ones who are saying the euro verified. What they’re not saying is that the euro recently upgraded its model to include a wide range of precipitation types, even more so than any other model. Meteorologists and hobbyists were assuming the precipitation types factored into the snow maps from the euro being produced by different outlets and that if the snow maps were showing reduced snow it was because of sleet. These precipitation types weren’t factored into the snow maps, so when people thought the euro was forecasting eight inches of snow for our area when looking at the maps, these maps were actually a 10:1 QPF (Quantitative Precipitation Forecast) map of its output of snow and sleet combined. The euro’s later runs for the east coast verified pretty well in its QPF, but the snow forecasts from people did not as a result of this assumption. To give Dr. Ryan Maue of Weatherbell credit, he admits to this in this series of tweets here:
For a moment, I thought ECMWF had lost its way w/NYC #blizzard2017 forecast like 2015, but then I remembered they fixed that issue:
— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) March 15, 2017
The one model that consistently forecasted the storm’s track and mixing along the I95 corridor was the NAM, but the NAM has performed so horribly the past five years or so that apparently nobody, even professional meteorologists, pay any attention to it at all anymore. This included me, as I didn’t factor the NAM into my forecast at all. Ironically, the NAM was built specifically to model the nuances of a storm such as this.
To summarize the state of weather forecasting we’re in and some of the surrounding issues:
- We have professional forecasters who rely too much on models.
- The models and forecasts have stagnated, perhaps getting worse depending on the specifics, over the past decade.
- The general public is as dumb as dogshit and is getting dumber every day, every hour.
- Our politicians are dumb as dogshit and are getting dumber every day, every hour (probably because we’re governed by we, the people).
- Actual news reporting and investigative reporting is dead and long gone in America.
- It doesn’t matter if emergency managers, schools, etc. believe the forecast or not, they have to go with the worst-case forecast, otherwise their ass would be on the line.
- Money has been poured into climate “science” for the past decade, rather than meteorology, and most meteorologists have said nothing.
It’s been my long-standing opinion that forecasting storms such as this won’t begin to improve until we exit the current climate science paradigm. So, here’s an idea that I wanna share: why don’t we admit that the doomsday predictions of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and climate change haven’t come true and that it was all just politics, then start allocating some funding to improving the physics of models when it comes to weather, because short and medium range weather models are the primary tool used for weather forecasting. As someone who has paid good money in taxes over the past 20+ years with a keen interest in weather, knowing that money has been thrown into the black hole of climate science, I believe my voice should at least be heard.
But with the current mentality across America, I don’t see that happening and I see no reason why this broken record won’t repeat. Again. And again. The next one will occur either this coming hurricane season or next winter storm season, or during both. I’ve already got the image lined up for it.