Hype VS Reality
With weeks of mild, not snowy weather, the mere possibility of accumulating snow is turning into a media firestorm.
The system in question will impact the Finger Lakes region on Saturday (not Friday, which the hype prematurely predicted). 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 Thursday as it is today, Tuesday, when I am writing it.
What Is Known
Models continue to indicate that a moderate winter storm will cross the country between Thursday and Sunday, impacting the Finger Lakes region primarily on Saturday. This general idea has been showing consistently for days and has across-the-board support from all the major models.
This system will move onto the Pacific coast on Thursday, redevelop over the Plains and Midwest on Friday, move into the Great Lakes on Saturday, and redevelop once more along the New England coast Sunday.
Fact: A coast-to-coast winter weather event is possible across United States late this week and this weekend.
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. Meteorologists posting images from a single model run is irresponsible at best and a 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 most importantly 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 amount predictions 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. Especially here in the Finger Lakes region, the track will play a huge role in what we see as warm air makes a run at the region.
HYPE: Early predictions of snow amounts.
The strength of this system will depend on a phenomenon called “phasing” that will take place high in the atmosphere. This occurs when energy from two or more different sources combine into a single, more powerful weather event.
In this case, the main system will move across the Rocky Mountains and into the Plains on Friday as a second piece of energy moves north from Mexico. This energy from Mexico will be out ahead of the primary system. The longer it takes for the two to phase, or if they phase at all, the smaller the chance for a big snow.
Phasing is a tricky phenomenon to predict, and the models often over-exaggerate phasing in the 5-10 day period before an event, and sometimes even closer to the event. This frequently leads to false alarms of snow events that never come to be or are far diminished from the original hype.
That being said, phasing does sometimes occur and lead to significant systems, so just because the models have a bias at getting it wrong, does not necessarily mean they are wrong in showing it this time.
UKNOWN: Amount and timing of atmospheric energy phasing.
I have been overly surprised at some of the things people have been telling me they are hearing already. Terms like ‘blizzard’ are being thrown about as if this has potential to be a crippling event.
However, that is not what the models are showing.
Most models have a moderate event unfolding, with an upper limit somewhere in the 10-15 inch range. Much more common on the models is a 4-8 inch storm, and lower amounts are certainly in play (see below). Contrast this with the storm we had almost exactly a year ago, when the models at this point were showing 20-36 inch snows.
Yes, even eight or twelve inches of snow would be meaningful, especially as many college students return to school. But the hype this time around seems to be especially inflammatory.
HYPE: Promoting the idea that this will be a monster event for the Finger Lakes and surrounding areas.
As hinted at above, one of the biggest unknowns and most significant unknowns at this point is in regard to the path of the storm and thus its temperatures.
There is plenty of cause for concern that sleet, freezing rain, or even plain rain may mix in, greatly reducing snow amounts.
We have seen time and again the models underestimate the northward progression of warm air in these borderline scenarios. To simply assume this will be all snow this early is folly.
UKNOWN: Precipitation type during the duration of the event.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Stay Informed with FLX Weather Emails!
If you rely on social media to see my blog posts, you might miss out! Please fill out this form to get on my email list so you will never miss an update! This is completely free, secure, and spam-free.
For the next several days, I will be watching the trends in the models to see how they change and evolve. Given the very sensitive nature of our weather on the track of the storm, I do not anticipate a great deal of improved certainty between now and late Thursday.
Once this system moves inland over North America on Thursday, 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 and the subsequent model projections.
The storm should reach its peak Saturday afternoon and evening so that only gives a 36-48 hour window where forecasts should become more reliable.
What to Expect from FLX Weather
For the next few days, it will be business as usual for FLX Weather. My blog posts Wednesday, and Thursday morning will be focused on the day-to-day weather during those times, especially with lake effect snow likely on Thursday. This blog post will be my go-to response to inquiries about the storm during this time-frame.
Behind the scenes, I will be working hard on the forecast for the weekend so, if necessary, I can produce a single 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.
- Now-Thursday: Focus on day-to-day weather and smaller snow events mid-week
- Friday AM: Normal blog post, detailing where the storm is and how it will impact our region. Earliest possible snow map reveal.
- Friday PM: Most likely time for snow map reveal, possibly including a live video session in addition to a Snow Report style blog post.
- Saturday-Sunday: Additional updates as necessary.
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.
If you are able, donations, especially recurring monthly donations, help support Finger Lakes Weather and ensure it continues. Over the last year, the generous support of my donors have closed the gap on my funding and given me a solid foundation to continue my work. Still, additional support is needed as costs continue to rise and some donors are unable to continue their support.
Your generosity makes this service possible and compensates me for the equipment, web server space, and countless hours it takes to do what I do. You can easily donate using the form below via PayPal or Credit Card, or mail a check to Finger Lakes Weather LLC, PO Box 326, Groton, NY 13073.
If you are interested in advertising on FLXWeather.com, now is a great time to jump onboard with the possibility of tens of thousands of views this week alone. Please get in touch ASAP to get your ad up and running. Advertisers are also vital to the continuation of Finger Lakes Weather.
Beware of hype! Do not share the hype! And please let everyone know about Finger Lakes Weather so they, too, can get the real story behind what may or may not happen with this and future weather events.
Support Finger Lakes Weather
Finger Lakes Weather needs your support to ensure these unrivaled local, personalized service continue! Please consider a monthly or one-time donation to help Finger Lakes Weather. Thank you for supporting Finger Lakes Weather!
Please email donors [at] flxweather.com with any questions or technical difficulties.