A Collection of Thoughts
A long duration winter storm that will impact the Finger Lakes in two phases is approaching the Finger Lakes this morning.
Here is a collection of my latest thoughts on the system as a whole, the forecast process, and points I especially wish to stress. This blog is more conversational and a longer read. If you are looking for “just the facts”, check my Snow/Ice Report from last night for Phase 1 of the system…and check back this afternoon after 3 PM for my Snow/Ice Report on Phase 2. Of course, if you have specific questions, just ask.
10 AM UPDATE
Conditions across the Finger Lakes have rapidly deteriorated to the point where travel is becoming nearly impossible. DO NOT TRAVEL IF YOU DON’T HAVE TO. If ambulances and salt trucks are having a hard time staying on the road, you will have a hard time, too…and if you get into trouble, someone else has to come out to help you.
There are a host of uncertainties with this system due to its complex nature. Very small differences of a degree or two can have huge impacts. Add in the extra travel going on today, and the situation is very difficult, both from a forecasting perspective, and a communications perspective.
As I have been stressing, there are two phases to this storm. The first phase will take place today as precipitation works into the Finger Lakes out ahead of low pressure over the Great Lakes.
About a mile above the surface, a tongue of warm air is tracking northeast through Pennsylvania, melting the precipitation aloft. However, cold air at the surface is causing it to fall as either sleet or freezing rain. Sleet falls as ice pellets, while freezing rain falls as a liquid and freezes on contact with the surface.
One of the biggest questions of Phase 1 is where will the precipitation get too far ahead of the warm tongue and thus remain all snow.
Radar trends this morning have a first, light band of snow and sleet out ahead of the main area of precipitation. This is currently (9AM) moving through the Finger Lakes. The steadier precipitation seems to be a bit delayed, but there are still slick roads already being reported.
Still, several hours of sleet and snow are expected during the late morning and first half of the afternoon, making travel increasingly difficult. The precipitation will come down hard and road conditions will quickly deteriorate.
In between Phase 1 and Phase 2, there is another concern: freezing drizzle. While the precipitation will be very light, it will still cause serious travel concerns with black ice becoming common later this afternoon and early this evening. Do not get lulled into a false sense of security just because it does not appear to be precipitating as heavily.
Phase 2 has a number of forecasting headaches of its own.
Energy from the low pressure center over the Great Lakes will transfer to a new low just off the coast of New Jersey.
Imagine grabbing a ball of slime and pulling it in two. As you pull the two sides apart, there will be a stringy part in the middle that stretches and eventually breaks. A similar phenomenon will occur in the atmosphere as the new low develops and the old low decays.
To the north of the connecting, stretchy part, heavy bands of precipitation are likely as winds set up a conveyor belt of Atlantic moisture. Nailing down where this happens, as well as how that band pivots and moves, will have a huge implication on snow amounts for Phase 2.
Another less talked about complication with Phase 2 will be the change over from an icy mix to snow this evening. This is mainly a complication for roughly the I-81 Corridor and points east. My experience tells me that time and again, the major models tend to be too cold and thus too snowy in these scenarios.
Making Snow Maps
Even now, I do not have a map for Phase 2 of the storm, as I continue to investigate these complexities. This attitude is one of a number of major differences between the work I do and that of other weather services.
I hold off on producing a snow map until I either have a clear idea of the forecast, or until I am simply out of time and need to give my best prediction. My goal with every system is to produce one map for the storm, or in this case, one map for each distinct phase of the storm.
Others churn out new maps with every run of the weather models. Some do this because their snow maps are simply output from the weather models or a computer generated blend of the models. You can easily identify these maps by the jagged edges between snow amounts and seemingly random splotches of higher or lower amounts.
Serving up computer models as a “forecast” removes the human elements of experience, knowledge, and science out of the equation. Part of using models in any science is understanding the strengths and weakness of the models and using them as a tool to compliment actual science. Sadly, this point is lost on many larger weather providers, whose primary goal is to generate revenue for stockholders or TV ratings.
Not only is this poor science, but it is poor communication. Every new map reaches a new subset of the population. As these subsets converse with one another, they swap conflicting bits of information. Those subsets that see multiple maps over the course of days will see many different predictions. This leads to confusion and frustration and a perception of poor forecasting.
Providing one, hand drawn map has become a major point of dedication for me. I will have my one map for Phase 2 of this storm this afternoon.
Weather Forecasting Done to Serve
I mentioned this a few weeks ago in our first winter storm in early November, but for those that are still less familiar with Finger Lakes Weather, it bears repeating.
My mission with Finger Lakes Weather continues to mature and evolve over time. The main point of my forecasting, however, is to serve you. It is not to get views. It is not to get shares on Facebook. It is not to get advertising money or donations.
No where is this more evident than in my interactions with the public. I make sure I read every comment, answer every question, and investigate every problem that you have so I can give you the best information available.
Take a look at any other weather page on Facebook and look at the comments on their posts. You will see hosts of unanswered questions and ignored comments. This is not serving the public.
Especially with a system this complex and with this high of an impact, it is impossible to get everyone the information they need without interacting one-on-one, especially with the confusing methods of snow map making outlined above.
I find it telling that these larger organizations with dozens or hundreds of employees cannot find the time and resources to help individuals, but I as a one-man operation can…while also usually outperforming their forecasts.
I do not say this to put down others. There are many great meteorologists out there that do genuinely care and do great scientific work. Many of the other local meteorologists in our area fall under this category and I have great respect for my colleagues in the field.
At the end of the day though, it is important for me to discuss what makes Finger Lakes Weather different from the rest. My goal is not social media stats or money…but those are nonetheless important parts of running a business. Without them, I would not be able to serve you with this level of focus and dedication.
To this end, I must stress again how important donations are to the success and future of Finger Lakes Weather. As more and more people become aware of my business and realize the advantages of my style of forecasting and communication, I must put more time and resources into these services.
The many generous donors who have contributed have played a vital role in getting these services running and sustainable. My donor base needs to continue to keep pace though.
Even small monthly donations, when added to a large number of other small donations, make a huge difference. Please, if you are able to contribute, do so. It will ensure I will have the ability to continue serving you to the best of my ability.
Be sure to check back later this afternoon for the full forecast on Phase 2 of the storm, which runs from this evening through most of Monday. Stay safe.
Finger Lakes Weather Needs Your Support
Please consider a monthly or one-time donation to help Finger Lakes Weather to ensure I can continue my mission to SERVE you. Thank you for helping me so I can help you!
Not comfortable donating online? You can send a check to Finger Lakes Weather LLC, PO Box 326, Groton, NY 13073