Hype VS Reality
As expected, the Internet and social media has exploded with chatter about the potential for a significant winter storm this weekend.
I have been fielding questions on this system for several days already, but with the new week has come a bigger wave of questions and concerns.
This blog post is designed to not only give you a sense of what is true and what is hype, but also to prepare you for the onslaught of information that will be coming over the remainder of the week. This post will be as useful to you on Wednesday evening as it is today, Monday, when I am writing it.
What Is Known
As of Monday evening, we meteorologists already have several days of model data to consider with this system.
There is a high degree of agreement among the models, and consistency from run to run of the models, that a significant storm is expected. This does not make it a certainty, yet, but confidence is as good as it can be this far in advance.
Fact: An impactful storm system is possible in the Northeastern United States this weekend.
Also known is that this storm system will have a lot of cold air to work with thanks to a persistent high pressure system over Eastern Canada. This is not to say that all the storm will be snow, but much of the heaviest precipitation with this system will probably do so.
Fact: Cold air should keep heaviest precipitation snow.
What is Not Known?
Any time there is potential for a big storm, it does not take long for maps and screen shots of models to start circulating the Internet. This is already occurring, despite the storm being 5-7 days away.
It is far, far too early for these types of maps and graphics. Meteorologist posting images from a single model run is irresponsible at best and a deplorable grab for attention at worst.
A single image from a single model ignores the host of other models, other runs of the same models, and the scientific process of creating a weather forecast. It gives the public no credible, usable information. Its only purpose is to generate hype and panic.
Likewise, snow maps at this early stage are not worthwhile and will certainly need significant adjustments as time goes on.
While the general idea of a storm is true, the strength and path of the storm is not certain. The models are still wavering greatly and lack consistency with these details.
HYPE: Maps showing the path and strength of the storm.
This can especially be seen in the European Ensemble runs. For those unfamiliar, I use the Euro Ensembles heavily in diagnosing potential weather scenarios.
The European model is consistently a top performing model and routinely outperforms other models that many other meteorologists rely upon heavily, namely the GFS model. The Ensemble takes the European model and runs it through 51 different combinations of data and algorithms.
The result is a range of possible outcomes. When the ensembles are in good agreement with one another, they can be a good tool to assist with forecasting. When the spread is large, it is indicative of a volatile situation that could unfold in many ways.
Here in the Finger Lakes, the Ensembles currently have a tremendous spread. Total snowfall in Ithaca this weekend based on the Monday morning ensembles literally ranges from 0 inches to nearly 30 inches.
It is impossible to know at this point where in that range we will end up. However, the average of the ensembles has been on the increase over the last several days, lending more credibility to an impactful storm.
HYPE: Any maps, model images, or early estimates of snow amounts until at least Wednesday evening.
Where Do We Go From Here?
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For the next several days, I will be watching the trends in the models to see if they begin to consolidate on any ideas.
In a best-case scenario, there will be strong agreement in the models on a single idea by late Wednesday or early Thursday. Then, snow fall estimates would begin to come into play.
More likely, however, will be a less certain scenario. The system that will eventually be responsible for this storm will not move inland over North America until sometime Thursday afternoon or evening. Once that happens, the models will have a wealth of new observational data from weather balloons and surface stations to incorporate into their projections.
Friday morning will therefore be an important time in the evolution of the forecast. This will be the first good look at the structure of the actual storm over the Pacific Northwest and the subsequent model projections.
The storm should reach its peak late Saturday night into Sunday so that only gives a 36-48 hour window where forecasts should be rather reliable.
What to Expect from FLX Weather
For the next few days, it will be business as usual for FLX Weather. My blog posts Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning will be focused on the day-to-day weather during those times, especially with additional chances for snow Wednesday and late Thursday. This blog post will be my go-to response to inquiries about the storm during this timeframe.
Behind the scenes, I will be working hard on the forecast for the weekend so, if necessary, I can produce one or, at most, two versions of a snow map late in the week. I strongly believe in making an accurate forecast the first time and not issuing a series of maps with varying forecasts. Consistency in the forecast is beneficial for the public in planning and understand the threats and reduces confusion.
Should the Finger Lakes come under the gun for a major winter storm, I would likely host a series of live question-and-answer video sessions. The first of these would be on Friday evening, with additional sessions Saturday and even Sunday, if necessary.
- Now-Thursday AM: Focus on day-to-day weather and smaller snow events mid-week
- Thursday PM: Earliest possible snow map
- Friday AM: Most likely first snow map
- Friday PM: Live video Q&A If necessary, final snow map update if necessary
- Saturday-Sunday: Additional updates as necessary, including live video Q&As
As always, my goal is to bring you unrivaled personal coverage of any storm without any of the hype. If I do my job well, the services you will get from Finger Lakes Weather will vastly outperform any other local or national weather provider.
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