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March 2016

Are Weather Hobbyists Undermining the Credibility of Meteorologists?

CredibilityMy interest in the weather is historical in nature and the posts I publish focus on comparing today's weather conditions with those of past years.  However, many of my fellow weather enthusiasts are interested in the science of meteorology and forecasting.  And while their enthusiasm is heartening I fear they undermine the credibility of trained meteorologists in the public's eye because all too often they build up storms much too early, storms that, more often than not, don't live up to the early hype


Amateur forecasters tend to lack the discipline of patience, wanting to be the first to announce a big storm when it's still in the embryonic stage.  Call it a case of  "premature prognostication".   Time and time again, at the earliest indication that a storm is forming they make wild pronouncements about a major snowstorm or hurricane striking a week or more in the future.  And nine times out of ten the storms don't live up to their billing.  So what we have is many boys crying "wolf!", or, rather, "snowstorm!"  Then, maddeningly, after a storm doesn't live up to its hype they're right back at it touting yet another potential blockbuster event that might happen two weeks down the road.




But it's not always the hobbyists who come up short.  With more than half a dozen or more competing forecast models available (e.g., European, NAM, GFS, GFDL, NCEP, WRF, and Canadian) even experienced meteorologists risk appearing foolish when they talk publicly about all of the models and their sometime conflicting forecasts.  These models create a Tower of Babel effect.  Whom to believe?  The public doesn't want uncertainty or need to know "how the sausage is made".




Stop the madness!



Winter 2016 Recap - Mild, With Cameo Appearances by Old Man Winter



This was a most unusual winter.  It began with the mildest December on record, followed by the second biggest snowfall of all time in January, and then capped off in February by the City's first sub-zero temperature in more than 20 years.  (Ironically, last winter was much harsher but it couldn't boast of a monster snowstorm nor did it have any readings below zero.)  However, despite January and February's brief flings with Old Man Winter, December set the tone for the entire season, which ended up as the second mildest meteorological winter on record (behind the winter of 2002).  And although it wasn't the mildest, it has the distinction of having the most days with highs of 50°+ of any winter.



December was the warmest on record by a wide margin (following the mildest November).  No day had a temperature of 32° or colder - a first for December.  Eleven days had highs of 60° or warmer.  The warmth peaked on 12/24 when the high/low was an incredibly mild 72/63 (33 degrees above average).



The first measurable snow of the winter didn't fall until 1/17, and then it was just 0.4".  Then less than a week later, on 1/23, a paralyzing weekend blizzard stopped the City, burying it under 27.5" (considerably more than had been predicted).  This made it the biggest accumulation on record, surpassing the previous record from February 2006, when 26.9" fell.  (However, at the time of the storm the total was reported as 26.8".  It wasn't until the end of April that the National Weather Service revised the total upward to reflect a final band of snow that moved through after midnight on 1/24 that, inexplicably, went unaccounted for.)





A rather mild, uneventful month was upended mid-month when the Northeast was plunged into the deep-freeze, with the temperature dropping to 1° below zero at daybreak on Valentine's Day (wind chills were between -10° and -20°).  Not only was this the first sub-zero reading since the winter of 1994, it was the first below-zero reading in February since 1963, and the latest date for a sub-zero reading since 1943.  This Arctic outbreak was experienced in a month that had 11 days with mean temperatures 10 degrees or more above average, giving this February the distinction of being the mildest of any month with a below-zero reading (there have been 36 such months).






And although meteorological winter is over, the calendar has a mind of its own as March has been known to act as a refuge for Old Man Winter on occasion - 2015 and 2014 being perfect examples.