January Forecaster of the Month

As it turns out, we don’t have any more verifications scheduled for the month of January, so we already know exactly who will be named the forecaster of the Month. With a clipper moving through New England today, and the potential for another significant system moving though the northeast at the beginning of February, it seems like this is an appropriate time to chat about this, so we can focus on real time weather conditions over the weekend and into next week. So, enough about all that. The top forecaster is the same one who dominated the end of 2014 and is now off to a great start in 2015. Accuweather had the top forecasts for the first month of the year, securing the title of forecaster of the month. The newcomers, Forecast.io nearly finished in 4th, but a rough forecast in Bellingham bumped them down to 5th, behind the NWS. Congrats to Accuweather for the continued dominance of the forecast game!
trophy

Clear as a Bellingham

Clouds and rain were indeed on the menu in Bellingham on Tuesday. It was only a little bit of drizzle, but enough to verify the forecasts of those who called for rain. Temperature forecasts were pretty good across the board, as there wasn’t much variation through the day. The real problems came on Wednesday. Skies cleared out fairly early, and temperatures, expected by some to be cooler than they were on Tuesday, actually climbed a few degrees and outpaced every forecast. The clear skies then led to a significant drop in temperature. Those that called for non-standard days were correct, but they didn’t anticipate just how much it would cool off. Temepratures ended up in the mid-30s. Accuweather and the Weather Service collected the top forecast for the day.
Actuals: Tuesday – .03 inches of rain, High 52, Low 44
Wednesday – High 55, Low 35

Grade: B – D

How much snow did fall?

Rather than go site by site and regale you with the individual storm reports, I thought it would be much easier if I shared an image from the NWS with aggregated snowfall totals. IF you actually want to dig into the numbers, you can find some of them here. If not, you can simply marvel at this map. Note the stretch northwest of Boston (which saw over two feet as well) where accumulations were up to 3 feet.
dumped upon
All that snow with winds of 40-50mph through the day. Sheesh. Here’s what it looked like from Boston (via Jim Cantore)

The Blizzard and the sort of bust

There are a lot of outlets and people complaining on social media about how badly forecasters missed on the forecast for the blizzard that hit New England last night (and is still ongoing in some regions). Let’s address what went wrong for meteorologists (and this was indeed a loss for meteorologists, and not just those that had an incorrect forecast) and why it happened.
Snowfall everywhere from New York City on west and southward was overestimated by 10+ inches, which is a pretty unforgivable offense. It will be pointed to as proof that weathermen have no idea what they are doing from this day forward, perhaps for all time. The storm of the century in New York City instead just turned into the storm of the week. In Philadelphia, it was just a nuisance.
So what happened? The weekend issuances of the European model were what happened. The Euro shifted things further west than it had when the system started showing up in forecasts, and more significantly, stared pumping more moisture into New York and Philadelphia. New York still wasn’t getting 30″ in these new forecast models, but the threat was there. The “up to” part of the “up to 30″” wasn’t heard loud enough, certainly, but that’s hardly the biggest problem.
The Euro gets a lot of credibility because it has a better track record than many American models, and outlets, most notably the National Weather Service, were quick to latch on to its shift towards a robust, western track scenario. The newly revamped GFS was much more conservative in its forecast for New York City and Philadelphia. I’m sure many foreasters aren’t ready to trust the GFS yet, but the Euro started trending away from the monumental snow totals as early as yesterday morning as well. Why weren’t the forecasts tempered then?
I think the problem here is two fold. First, it’s stubbornness, and second it was hype. Sure, maybe it is a failure in communication, like the Washington Post asserts, but an unwavering regard for increasingly questionable series of model runs is not an error in science, but rather a lack of maturity. It’s OK to be wrong sometimes so long as you can admit it. Secondly, the way the media latched on to the NWS forecast, mostly because it was the most dramatic. The government fueled the panic in this storm more than the media did. In a strange reversal, The Weather Channel tempered their forecast opposed to the cataclysmic forecast the NWS put out. Heck, nearly everyone tempered their forecast. That said, all anyone heard about was the high end forecast. It spread like wildfire. Even though I didn’t think there was a chance for that much snow, all anyone will talk about is the 30″ forecast in New York City.
Just because the snow didn’t build up in New York City as had been so widely advertised, it didn’t mean that the storm was any weaker than forecasts had indicated. The onus was always on southeastern New England as far as I’m concerned, and places from downstate Maine to eastern Connecticut have already seen or will ultimately end up with 30″ or more. Worcester, just west of Boston saw more than 2 feet. Heck, Long Island, as near to the city as Massapequa saw 20″. Those 20″ accumulations were only 30 miles from New York City. It’s not like the storm didn’t happen. It just didn’t happen in two very high profile locations.
Additionally, the terrifyingly high forecast winds out of this system were indeed borne out in the observations. Nantucket has seen winds of over 50mph through most of the day, while Boston has registered more than 40mph through much of the day. Even in New York City, winds of 30+mph were reported through much of the day yesterday and through this morning. 8 inches or 30 inches, winds of that nature with snow falling hard creates treacherous travel conditions. The crazy snowfall forecast likely ended up keeping people off the roads, and even saved lives. Sure, the NWS made meteorologists look silly in the process, but the net result was a safer city.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that for residents of Connecticut, Long Island, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, the forecast was spot on, all anyone will remember is the whiff in New York City. Will people heed weather alerts in the future? Not until trust is rebuilt with some high profile correct forecasts. What are lessons for meteorologists to take from this event? First, be willing to adapt and change as guidance and observable conditions change and unfold. Second, ensure that you communicate the most likely scenario with the worst case scenario available to those who need to prepare for it, but not the main headline. Last, continue to relay the fact that forecasts are often area forecasts. Just because you didn’t see a bunch of snow doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a ton of snow seen nearby. And don’t just focus on the snow totals in a dangerous winter storm.
Hopefully, meteorologists’ reputations within the public eye aren’t completely ruined over this system, and forecasters everywhere aren’t too proud to learn something from it all.

Overwhelming overcast

Thick clouds kept temperatures in check after a cold front moved through Columbus overnight Sunday into Mondy. High temperatures were suppressed, and ultimately, when the clouds cleared out late last night, temperatures dropped like a rock. It wasn’t supposed to be a non-standard day, but that’s just what it turned out to be. Accuweather came into the forecast with the lowest low temperature forecast for yesterday, and that played to their advantage, as they secured a narrow victory.
Actuals: Sunday – High 62, Low 29
Monday – High 48, Low 33

Grade: C

Bloomington, Indiana to Bellingham, Washington

It took a long time, but the active clipper pattern finally turned into a massive Nor’easter out east. We were able to track it from the upper Midwest and Great Lakes all the way through the Ohio Valley to its present state, where it is crushing the east coast. Let’s see if we can find any other clippers or looming disasters on the way from Bloomington to Bellingham. It’s a 5 day, 2402 mile journey. The 5th day will be shorter than the first 4, which will cover 512 miles. Our pace will be about 64mph. Let’s rock and roll.

DAY ONE (Tuesday)
BloomingtonIN
This is fun. You know that nasty, historic storm headed for New England? Well, it’s being chased out by a pretty strong ridge. It will be cool in Bloomington as we leave, and we may even be under a fine dusting of recent snowfall, and it could be a little cool as we head northwest through Illinois, but we will pass into the surface thermal ridge around the Quad Cities, and rather than temperatures cooling off after sunset, they may even sneak up as we head west West Des Moines, Iowa.

DAY TWO (Wednesday)
There will indeed be another wave moving into the northern Plains as we head west through South Dakota. The best news of all, though, is that on Wednesday, this wave will only draw warm air north, as opposed to bringing precipitation to our route. There will be a splash of rain out in the Black Hills very late in the day, but our day will be marked by unseasonably warm temperatures and partly cloudy skies. Winds could get a little brisk, so keep an eye out for swaying semi trailers. We will nearly make it to Wyoming by the end of the day, stopping in North Spearfish, South Dakota.

DAY THREE (Thursday)
That system over the northern Plains, the one that will kick up some light precip over the Black Hills Wednesday night will indeed blossom over the Great Lakes, and then move into New England as a decent snowmaker in New England late in the week. For us, hardly a thing. By the time we get going Thursday, there won’t be anything to worry about. Time to don the jacket though, as it will be a bit cooler through Wyoming and eastern Montana. We’ll make it to Livingston, which is in the south central part of Big Sky country.

DAY FOUR (Friday)
A wave will be moving through Canada, and a deep system setting up over the Four Corners will be impacting the Rockies rather significanty on Friday. Between those two features lie the northern Rockies and interior Pacific Northwest. We shouldn’t have any problems, save for fog in the Spokane Valley, and we will make our way to Warden, Washington, without really struggling with anything beyond visibility and elevation.

DAY FIVE (Saturday)
We’ll be arriving along the Puget Sound at an opportune time. For once, there won’t be a Pacific system slamming into the coast, not at the time we head from Seattle north to Bellingham. Kick back and relax and enjoy a pleasant day of mostly cloudiness with little chance for drizzle. That’s a good day in western Washington in the winter! Especially when New England willj ust be getting done with another snow storm.
Bellingham

Bellingham, Washington

We’re going clear to the other side of the country from a massive system slamming New England. Let’s check out the situation on the west coast and see if we can’t catch some other outlets sleeping.

At 753PM, PT, Bellingham was reporting a temperature of 46 degrees with dense fog and low clouds. A weak ridge has moved over Puget Sound, leading to a persistent, unwavering inversion over the north end of the sound, Everywhere from Victoria to Bellingham was seeing the dense fog.Further to the south and north, dew points were slightly depressed and winds weren’t off the Sound, and fog was not as dense.
As the tail of a jet departs the region, overall flow will become westerly off the Pacific Ocean. This will help to eliminate the inversion, but it will render the region cloudier at higher levels, with some showers in the higher terrain to the east of town. Temperatures will continue to be cool.
Tomorrow – Cloudy, High 52, Low 45
Wednesday – Cloudy, High 49, Low 40

TWC: Tomorrow – Cloudy, High 52, Low 46
Wednesday – Mostly sunny, Highh 52, Low 40

AW: Tomorrow – Mostly cloudy with a bit of rain; areas of fog in the morning High 52, Low 44
Wednesday – Mostly cloudy Mostly Cloudy, High 53, Low 41

NWS: Tomorrow – A 40 percent chance of rain. Cloudy, High 52, Low 44
Wednesday – Mostly cloudy High 54, Low 42

WB: Tomorrow – Cloudy with a chance of rain High 52, Low 42
Wednesday – Mostly cloudy.High 53, Low 42

WN: Tomorrow – Mostly Cloudy with Scattered Showers High 52, Low 43
Wednesday – Partly cloudy, High 52, Low 43

FIO: Tomorrow – Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High 49, Low 44
Wednesday – Partly cloudy throughout the day. High 48, Low 41

I feel it’s necessary to point out the NWS, Weatherbug, WeatherNation and Forecast.io are calling for calling for non standard days tomorrow. That’s something. Here is the fog imager, showing some bright spots up by our forecast site.
Bellingham

A splash between systems

Did you already forget that there was a fairly decent snow storm in New England just a couple days ago, or has the pending blizzard overwhelmed your perception of all space and time? The system, the first one, not the crushing system to come, was just sneaking past Augusta and south Georgia on Saturday morning. In the wake of the first system, and as we awaited the passage of the clipper-turned Nor’easter, temperatures fluctuated from below normal on Saturday with clouds and cool air, to a bit warmer as the next wave drew a little bit warmer air to the north. Overall, though, temperatures were a little bit warmer than anyone had anticipated. The Weather Channel handled these changing times better than any of the other competitors.
Actuals: Saturday – .07″ of rain, High 56, Low 42
Sunday – High 62, Low 38

Grade: B-C

Columbus, Georgia to Bloomington, Indiana

Today we embark on a 603 mile road trip between Columbus and Bloomington. It will be a long trek, but we’ll be able to fit it in a single day. Have to get a moving though, gotta leave early if we’re gonna accomplish it!

Columbusga

It will be a cloudy morning as we head out of Columbus towards Birmingham, AL as an area of low pressure pushes through the Central Appalachians and intensifies off the East Coast into our Monday night/Tuesday blizzard in New England. Precip should remain off to the north for the morning, generally getting hung up over the Southern Appalachians as we dodge it to the west in Nashville. There might be some breaks in the clouds as we head through western Kentucky, but they’ll be short lived as another system starts to work in from the northwest. The remainder of the trip between Evansville and Bloomington should remain dry, but there is an outside shot of a few snow showers. They shouldn’t slow us down much as we wind down our long day in Bloomington.

BloomingtonIN

Columbus, Georgia

Back to back days in the same state, but I can assure you that our outlook is going to be so much different than the one for Augusta.

At 1151AM, ET, Columbus was reporting a temperature of 47 degrees with clear skies. There were still some lingering clouds in the wake of a strong cold front that swept through overnight over the southeastern part of the state, but cool, dry air was pumping into the western portion of Georgia. This cooler, drier air mass will remain in place through the day tomorrow.
The next major system for the country will start merely as a clipper swinging through the Midwest. It will charge through the upper Midwest tonight and really start to get organized over the upper Ohio Valley through the day tomorrow. Overnight Sunday into Monday, the system will reach its southernmost point in its journey, and will begin to begin to round the trough back to the northeast. The trough will be sharp, however, and the upper level segment of the feature will continue to drive to the southeast. A mostly inactive cold front will move through Columbus early in the day, introducing some cloudy skies. The low will explode as it hits the warm Gulf Stream, and will begin to wrap moisture into the upper levels of south Georgia, keeping things cloudy Monday evening, preventing a massive heat loss over night.
Tomorrow – Mostly sunny, High 61, Low 32
Monday – Early clouds thin a bit in the evening. High 53, Low 38

TWC: Tomorrow – Sunny, High 62, Low 32
Monday – Partly cloudy, High 50, Low 42

AW: Tomorrow – Mostly sunny High 60, Low 32
Monday – Partly sunny and cooler High 52, Low 36

NWS: Tomorrow – Mostly sunny, High 61, Low 35
Monday – Mostly Sunny, High 52, Low 39

WB: Tomorrow – Sunny, High 60, Low 32
Monday – Mostly Sunny, High 52, Low 38

WN: Tomorrow – Partly Cloudy High 61, Low 36
Monday – Mostly Sunny High 52, Low 39

FIO: Tomorrow – Partly cloudy overnight. High 58, Low 32
Monday – Partly cloudy through the day (light rain early), High 51, Low 39

So FIO is the only outlet to have rain in the forecast. Interesting. You can see the remanants of the previous system right here on the satellite image.
Columbus

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