Why You’re Wrong to Complain About ‘The Weather People’ Today
When yesterday's forecasts started to change and it seemed more and more likely that we'd see more rain/sleet than snow...I knew I had to brace myself for what was coming today.
The amateur meteorologists and media critics are out in force today, and while I COMPLETELY understand the frustration, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what 'the weather people' actually do. Bear with me for a minute.
"How do these people still have a job???"
Among the complaints of "weather people just make stuff up" (no they don't) and "the media is in cahoots with stores to sell more milk/bread/shovels" (absurd and VERY untrue) and "I'd like to be wrong all the time and still get paid," (I'll get to that) a friend of mine asked a seemingly valid question/statement:
It's 2017...we don't have technology to predict weather correctly, or even close to accurately? It doesn't make sense. We have so much knowledge and technology, and yet meteorologists are allowed to be so wrong. Weather is a science, there should not consistently be so much inaccuracy."
Yes, we really do have some incredible technology these days, but this fails to take into account one very simple thing: meteorology - the study of the atmosphere - is a science, but it is not an exact science.
Forecasters do not have a crystal ball, and cannot actually predict the future. Meteorologists use model guidance and conditions they are observing to basically make a ‘best educated guess’ at what is likely or probable to happen.
This means that sometimes a storm will track slightly more or less in one direction or another which can drastically change what we experience.
The importance of confidence...and it has nothing to do with self-esteem.
I asked Meteorologist Dan Zarrow what else goes into forecasting, and he said, "no weather forecast is complete without a measure of confidence - an expression of how sure I am that given conditions will happen, and considering how a forecast might need to change (or might bust). The final forecast blog I posted before the storm Monday evening dedicated an entire section to confidence (#9) which pretty accurately detailed how this forecast fell apart."
"I am still concerned about the forecast challenges I have discussed extensively over the past few days: storm track wiggle, the extent of rain/mix in southern and coastal NJ, the sharp snowfall gradient that wintry mix will produce, and the omnipresent unpredictability of mesoscale snow bands. These features are admittedly impossible to predict perfectly — all I can do is try to cover for their inevitability in my snow forecast map above."
That pesky rain/snow line.
Let's also note that every forecast I saw DID address the fact that north and west of the rain/snow line from today's storm would see significant snow. Mixing and rain would be a factor on the other side of that line. That is exactly what happened. There was and is no way for meteorologists to predict exactly where that line was going to fall. People in North Jersey are in fact getting socked with a lot of snow today. Hackettstown in Warren County, for example, had about 18" of snow at last check.
Let's not forget the intense winds we experienced this morning, which has led to power outages all around Monmouth and Ocean Counties. And even with "just rain," there's been plenty of ponding on roadways, as well as some coastal flooding this morning. The roads were still dangerous this morning, especially in northern and western parts of Monmouth County.
"It's all just hype!"
Additionally, I want to address the word I see bandied about most: "hype."
I, as a media personality, do not hype up any storm to help some random grocery store sell more milk, or bread, or whatever. (In fact, I have often said it's really stupid that people by any perishables at all before a big storm.) I hate standing in line at stores before a storm as much as you do.
What I do want is for people to be safe. I would rather you over prepare for a disaster that never happens than be caught be completely off-guard and wind up in a dangerous situation.
Say the forecast didn't include the possibility of massive snow fall, and today's storm tracked east instead of west. 12+" of heavy, wet snow would have fallen on Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and we would have gotten the 'WHY DIDN'T ANYBODY WARN US???' complaints.
Yes, it's an inconvenience for parents to have to call out of work because school was canceled, but it would be worse if schools decided NOT to close and then the storm tracked east causing a blizzard to roll through putting you and the kids in harm's way.
I don't know about you, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. If you disagree, maybe don't look at ANY weather forecasts from now on, and see how that works out for you?
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