Weekend Winter Storm: Sorting through the early hype

finger lakes weather forecast special report tuesday january 14 2020 weekend snow saturday
The weather hype machine is working full force due to an expected snow event this weekend. Here are the details on what is and isn’t known at this point.

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?

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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.

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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.

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Follow Meteorologist Drew Montreuil:
Meteorologist Drew Montreuil has been forecasting the weather in the Finger Lakes region since 2006 and has degrees in meteorology from SUNY Oswego (B.S. with Honors) and Cornell (M.S.). Drew and his wife have four young boys. When not working or playing with the boys, he is probably out for a run through the countryside.

2 Responses

  1. Jane Russell

    I am always impressed Drewcwith your information. I have a Finger Lakes catering business with staffing and our foods at a ski slope near Naples. Your information has been critical for my team. I am a financial supporter. Thank you for your expertise and accuracy.

    • Meteorologist Drew Montreuil

      I am so glad to hear my information is very useful for you and your business! I am always doing my best to get people the information they need, so it is nice to hear it works 🙂 And thank you so much for your financial support so that I am able to do this!