Brining for flurries? An open letter to Gov. Murphy and NJ DOT
Dear Governor Murphy and Transportation Commissioner Gutierrez-Scaccetti,
As I drove to work early Wednesday morning, my jaw literally dropped as I drove past brine trucks and variable message signs along the highway ominously warning of "Winter Weather Today". Our listeners reported these signals of an impending winter storm across northern, central, and southern New Jersey.
I had flurries in my forecast, expecting any threat for accumulating snow and ice to stay well north and west of Garden State. Did I miss something?
Nope. Yet again, we experienced a grossly overblown overreaction to a non-snow, non-freeze event.
While the State of New Jersey clearly has a responsibility to be "safe, rather than sorry," the responses to the past three winter events (or non-events) were just plain inappropriate. Those who were stranded in their car for hours during the November 15 nor'easter will never forget that hellish commute. Not to mention the blatant waste of resources and taxpayer dollars for fog on November 19 and flurries on November 28
Our listeners and followers have elucidated their serious concerns on the air and on social media, declaring this debacle #BrineGate. On behalf of New Jersey, I pose the following questions and commentary for your consideration:
1.) What is your official source of weather forecast information?
For the record, I am not conceited enough to demand that state officials pay attention to my weather forecast.
However, I would hope that your decision-makers are leaning on some source of competent weather guidance. National Weather Service warnings and advisories serve as official advance notice of inclement weather. Even though NWS is an arm of the federal government, their mission specifically is to protect life and property. The 122 weather forecast offices throughout the country — including those in Mt. Holly, NJ and Upton, NY — constantly work closely with state governments to prepare for potential severe weather events.
No warnings, watches, or advisories were issued for wintry weather on Wednesday. No threat for snow and ice was even mentioned for New Jersey in the Hazardous Weather Outlook product.
It has also come to my attention that the NJ DOT and the NJ Turnpike Authority also hold hefty contracts with private weather companies, to provide highly specific forecasts and consultation. A potentially great investment! But I would love to know what their specific guidance suggested here, to warrant brining operations and winter weather notices for most of the state.
2.) What specific weather conditions trigger pretreatment of roads?
My forecast admittedly called for "a few snowflakes" on Wednesday, on the tail end of a powerful storm system over New England. Do you really think it's appropriate to go brining for flurries?
Winter storms are challenging beasts to forecast and navigate. A single degree on the thermometer can mean the difference between snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain. The difference between wet roads and icy roads.
So each winter weather event naturally should force a specifically tuned response to fight the elements. A blizzard will be different than a small-scale snow storm, an ice storm, freezing fog, or a flash freeze. A storm that progresses from rain-to-snow requires a vastly different strategy than one that changes from snow-to-rain.
I think it's clear that the threat of flurries — or even a light snow shower that has zero chance of sticking to asphalt surfaces — does not require a massive statewide response.
3.) Who ultimately makes the decision to dispatch brine trucks, salt trucks, and snow plows?
Governor Murphy and Mrs. Gutierrez-Scaccetti, unlike some of my co-workers and fellow New Jerseyeans, I do not blame you personally for the less-than-stellar performance by our road crews during the November 15 nor'easter. Nor the overreaction to the two "non-snow" events that follows.
But you have to recognize there are major issues here with our state's winter weather response. And so, you should be first in line to ask these (and more) critical questions. Hold your staff accountable. Make the system work better for next time.
New Jersey is waiting for answers. And we've got a long, cold, snowy winter ahead of us.
Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow