Blizzard 2016 Thoughts

While it is still fresh, some thoughts on this storm.

1.) Give New Jersey the record it deserves. Being a native of New Jersey, I sincerely hope NWS investigates the 33″ Morris Plains and 35″ CoCoRaHS ob from Mine Hill. The 24 hour record for snow in Jersey was 32″ in 1915 in Rutherford. Based on the timing of snow obs at Morristown (MMU) and Somerville (SMQ), I suspect almost all this snow fell within a 24 hour period, and if the totals can be vetted and verified, a new state record should be established.

2.) Kudos to forecasters and communicators. While this was a challenging storm to pin down, I thought almost *all* forecasts for this event were incredibly well done. Everyone deserves credit. Unless you bought the NAM literally and took 1-2′ of snow to I-90 in Massachusetts, or unless you completely ruled out any chance of New York City seeing major snows, you did well in this event.

Between the uncertainty of the northern fringe gradient, the potential for epic snows around DC, the coastal flooding potential, there was a lot to communicate in this event. In my opinion, it was all done very effectively by so many within the weather community, from the NWS, TV, private sector, and social media types.

3.) It’s not the model, it’s how you use it. The amount of “modelology” surrounding this event was…annoying to say the least. So many people declaring the NAM victorious. At one point or another, most major global models indicated enough variability and risk on the northern fringe of the snow to include most of New Jersey and New York City within the “margin of error” so to speak. The NAM did not “win.” Again, judging by the map above, if you lived in Hartford or Springfield, MA or Boston and used the NAM, you had a lot of egg on your face. That’s not an inconsequential populous. Yes, the NAM was the more aggressive model in New York City and on that metric alone, it did well. But it didn’t win. No model “wins.” As a forecaster, it’s your job to objectively analyze the models…all of them…use every tool in your toolbox and make a call. If you blended the NAM with the RGEM and the Euro/GFS, well then you did *damn* good in this event with your snow forecast most likely. Likewise, if you outright dismissed the NAM because of last winter’s NYC debacle, you probably failed too. Recency bias will kill you. Many of us joked about the NAM being the NAM…and that is certainly exaggerated by some of us (including me…I do use the NAM daily when forecasting for Texas and Louisiana, and I have used it aggressively at times). It has a reputation for being sketchy, but I know most rational forecasters do use it and consider it.

We just can’t turn this into some training camp competition. If you use the NAM alone for the next event, I guarantee you your forecast will have serious shortcomings. Use all the tools; know their strengths and weaknesses in the areas you care about and leverage them to your advantage as a forecaster. And don’t fall prey to recency bias.

4.) Can we please figure out snow measurement? This is not a uniquely DC thing. It’s been a problem in New York City in the past. It’s a problem in Denver. It’s a problem in so many places.

Fully understanding weather and changes in climate in places is heavily dependent on having a long set of reliable actual measured data at those places. When we can’t depend on data being reliable, what use do we have for it? Why do we have a top 10 list of snowstorms? Why even bother? It’s time for someone to step in, standardize, and properly coordinate snow measurements at places. Cost isn’t an issue. The way I’d approach it: You know how many people would volunteer to do it correctly and love every second of it? Find a spot representative of a city (not an airport across from it and adjacent to a river), probably on state or federal property, and have a team of volunteers at the ready, able to coordinate, trained properly by NWS, and eager to jump in when snow is predicted. Adjust the site as needed for changes in population distribution, new construction, etc. We’re making this a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

5.) Storm names are fine, but we don’t need 30 of them. When they started, I was skeptical of The Weather Channel naming storms, though I believed from the beginning that it would be a successful venture. I think to this point, the storm name concept has worked. I get the frustration, but that ship has sailed and it’s not coming back. So we either do it right or we continue doing it this way, where there were at least 6-7 different storm name hashtags for the same storm. It’s a patchwork free-for-all, and it would be nice if we could streamline it. It would be better for everyone. The research argument is simple: How on earth can we find pictures and tweets from this event without searching through eleventy different hashtags? Instead of still griping about the fact that it’s done, come up with a way to do it better and get everyone to agree. It will be less difficult than anyone thinks, but to make it universal, it can only come from the NWS. It’s time.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Follow me on Twitter: @mattlanza.

Jonas 2016: ♫ People Are Blowing Snow ♫

If you haven’t thought of the Weezer song with regard to this storm, you’ve failed me. It deserves some parody. I tried. Oh well. Onward…

What’s changed since yesterday, Matt?

Not much. Other than bread and milk supplies in the grocery store being dwindled.

  • The storm is still coming.
  • It still appears the metro Washington, DC area is the bullseye for snow.
  • Coastal flooding is still a serious concern.
  • Blizzard Watches have been expanded to include much of Jersey, Philly, and the New York City area and Blizzard Warnings are posted for DC and Baltimore.
  • The northern edge of the storm is still going to drive most meteorologists to their local bar.

So how much snow for me?

Here’s my updated map:

012116_Snow_Forecast
My own personal snow forecast as of 5:30 PM ET Thursday. Again, not official, but my way of expressing it.

Again, I’ve highlighted the two key areas of uncertainty. The northern fringe is going to be a royal pain. There are some models that still bring good snow 8-12″ to NYC, but I don’t personally buy that scenario right now. Based on my experience, these sorts of storms have disappointed on the northern fringe, so I’d rather take a conservative stance there.

From Philly into Baltimore and DC, it gets complicated too. You’ll have a number of factors driving snow totals. I expect there to be issues with mixing in spots. Convection (thunderstorms…yes, thundersnow) will also be likely with this storm. In those cases, sometimes strong bands of snow setup over one place and effectively “rob” another of snowfall. So it’s possible that the final snow totals will not look this uniform. You could easily go from 18″ one place, to 10-12″ a couple towns over, back to 18″ a couple towns over from that. It’s chaotic. Snow forecasts aren’t meant to be simple.

What about the blizzard part?

Yes, Blizzard Watches and Warnings are posted all over. Fun fact: The amount of snow you see has 0 factor in whether or not a storm is defined as a blizzard. Why is that? My honest answer is because we like to make things difficult on ourselves as forecasters and communicators. That aside, it has to do with impacts mostly. A blizzard is supposed to mean wind, which limits how many storms meet the criteria of one…thus making it special and making it stand out.

For a storm to be a blizzard, it has to have 3 hours of winds sustained at or frequently gusting to 35 mph and visibility below 1/4 mile. That’s all. So we’ll see if that gets achieved, but based on model data, yes, it looks like blizzard criteria will be met at many places. For the sake of yourself, stay home Saturday.

How about the coastal flooding?

Here are the very latest tidal forecasts for Cape May, Atlantic City, and Sandy Hook. You can select others from those sites.

I heard this was going to be like Sandy?

Here’s something that agitated me today. I heard from several people somewhat panicked, thinking this was going to be Sandy II. Sandy was a 940 mb monster storm to the south of NJ, that was dragging days of water across the Atlantic Ocean directly into Jersey and New York. This storm will be strong, but it will be moving away from the coast. It won’t have nearly the same characteristics as Sandy did. Meteorologically, it’s like comparing apples to oranges.

But in terms of actual impact what does it mean? It means something worse than what you saw back in October with Joaquin, but short of what you saw in Sandy. It means a lot of water, yes, and major coastal flooding and a top 10 event perhaps. It means problems. The coast is more vulnerable now than it was 5 years ago.

That said, it does not mean mass devastation like was seen in Sandy. So you are right to be preparing and be concerned. But should you panic? No. Make your preparations as you would for any major coastal storm. Remain calm and heed the forecasts of the National Weather Service.

This will likely be my final forecast post on this storm. Thanks for reading and hope you have some time to enjoy the power of nature without being impacted too hard.

Follow me on Twitter @mattlanza.

Jonas 2016: Make Snow Forecasting Great Again

I don’t have any mom texts to run with today, but I do have a map. We’ll get to that shortly. Let’s break things down.

So what’s changed since yesterday, Matt?

Honestly? Not much really. We still have a storm. It’s still early in the game for snow forecast maps, but we can at least make some assumptions. We still have a major coastal flooding issue to deal with. We do have blizzard watches posted, among other NWS watches and warnings. All this means is “prepare for a snowstorm.”

Where are the watches and warnings?

Glad you asked. Here:

012016_snowwarnings
National Weather Service Watch/Warning Map as of 5:45 ET Wednesday

In the East, the purple are winter weather advisories, the blue winter storm watches, the pink winter storm warnings, and the green near DC is a Blizzard Watch. Consult your local NWS office website for what it all means exactly, but the bottom line is a major winter storm is going impact places from Central Arkansas to New York City.

Has the coastal flooding idea changed?

Not really. There have been some forecast tweaks, but overall you’re still looking at a top 5-10 coastal flooding event along the Jersey and Delaware Shore, and possibly for places south and north of there also. Basically, this should be the worst you’ve seen since Sandy. It should *not* match Sandy in most places (though in Cape May and Delaware it’s going to come close), but I don’t want that to diminish the significance. The coast is far more vulnerable in spots now than it was then, so just because it’s not Sandy II, does not mean it’s going to bust. This is a big deal. Here are the very latest tidal forecasts for Cape May, Atlantic City, and Sandy Hook.

This flooding event will rival some of the great nor’easters in memory. Think Ash Wednesday 1962, Halloween 1991, December 1992. This storm will have elements of those storms and it should be treated seriously if you live on the coast or back bays.

Alright, so talk to me about snow.

Here is *my* snow forecast thinking. This is not an official forecast. It’s subject to change, and you should always consult the official NWS forecast or local TV for the most up to date info. Yes, I’m a native of Jersey and spent 5 winters drawing snow maps in Upstate New York when I worked in Syracuse and Utica, but I live in Texas now. I can only do so much.

012016_Snow_Forecast
My snow forecast as of Wednesday evening. Not an official forecast, just my own opinion.

What do I think? Some key points.

The northern fringe of this storm is an absolute nightmare. If you live north of I-195 in NJ or I-76 in PA, this is going to be an incredibly difficult forecast to peg down. The tight gradient in snowfall that I spoke of yesterday is going to wreak havoc. A 20 mile shift in track of the storm (highly possible) could lead to a 6-12″ difference in snow totals, if not more. This is going to be a big problem for North Jersey, possibly the Harrisburg metro area, New York City and extreme southern Connecticut/Long Island.

The Jersey Shore is oscillating between a total mix scenario and a thumping snow. I don’t think this is like the storms of 2009 and 2010, where coastal South Jersey absolutely raked in snow totals. This will be more complex, and I’ve cautiously gone about 3-6″ there, but I do see risk for higher amounts depending on the exact final track.

The thump zone for this will be Northern/Western Virginia through DC and Baltimore. While I don’t expect a uniform 18-24″ in that zone, I do expect some locations to push 30″, contingent on mixing and thunderstorm potential. Other areas will see less than 18″. That’s the nature of snowstorms like this.

Yes, thunder is going to be likely from VA through NJ with this I think.

Winds of 30-50 mph are likely, and some gusts could be even stronger. This will create blizzard conditions. I would not be shocked to see Blizzard Watches expanded tomorrow.

Anything else I should know?

Snowstorms are fun. This one is going to be big, massive, and historic. While fun, it has a very serious element to it that should be respected. If you have plans on Saturday, I would strongly consider rescheduling them. Heed the warnings from NWS. They’re not just throwing this stuff out there. It’s serious.

And please consider taking pictures of something other than your patio furniture. Seriously. Get creative!

Follow me on Twitter @mattlanza.

Historic Early Season Snowstorm

Snowfall forecast for Saturday - click to enlarge!

Sometimes, you just need to call it what it is. This is straight up a bonafide snowstorm, the likes of which not many people have ever seen or probably will ever see again…because of when it’s occurring. If you showed me these maps, I probably would have guessed mid to late November…still early, but more reasonable. If this storm occurred in December, we’d be talking about a blizzard for the Northeast Corridor. It’s remarkable by every stretch of the imagination.

The snow map is above, and here are a few things to note…especially the 3rd one…

1.) Wind: It will be strong, with our models today suggesting we see some 20-30 mph winds in the interior, with perhaps some 40-50 mph gusts on the coast. This will cause havoc inland, as any sort of wind > 10 mph with heavy, wet snow on trees that still have some leaves will lead to trees coming down and likely widespread power outages in the red area, numerous power outages in the purple area, and scattered outages in the dark blue area.

2.) The Northwest Connecticut into Western/Central Massachusetts corridor looks to be absolutely crushed by this storm. It will likely be an extremely severe hit there and could be one of the worst snowstorms in terms of problems and inconvenience for them in recent memory.

3.) Elevation will play a MAJOR role in this storm. While I have opted to unfilter things a bit regarding snow amounts, I can’t help but feel that there may be a wide and sometimes unbelievable disparity in snow totals in some areas…especially in and around Hartford, CT, Morris County, NJ, the area between Reading and Pottstown in PA, north and west of Baltimore…all places where terrain tends to transition from the more flat Coastal Plain to the Appalachian foothills…this may occur elsewhere as well, especially in valleys, like the Lehigh, Susquehanna, and Connecticut Valleys. You may see some areas with 2-3″ of wet snow…travel 5 miles north to slightly higher terrain and see 6-10″ of snow. It will be that kind of storm…the kind where a truly accurate snowfall forecast map is next to impossible.

4.) The Big Cities will likely see flakes…especially Philly-Boston, but mostly at the tail end of the storm and any accumulation should be minor and mostly on grassy surfaces….though Saturday evening could be comical in some places.

So go load up on supplies for Sunday’s football games, enjoy game 7 tonight, and enjoy the snow while you have it, because warmer air will start melting this stuff as fast as Sunday afternoon.

Facebook Us…Oh, And Snow.

It’s been a disruptive month for State of Occlusion! Transitioning my life offline from the West Coast to the East Coast, so haven’t had time to blog. I’ve discovered Facebook to be an extremely useful tool to communicate short bursts of information and post maps quickly. I will occasionally use this blog to elaborate on various significant events, but in the meantime, for the latest thoughts and information from me, like the Facebook page and tell your friends. We’ve already got 100 fans…let’s go for 200!

Follow State of Occlusion on Facebook for the latest!

In the meantime, while many in the Northeast enjoyed record warmth this Friday, winter is around the corner ready to take its season back. It will be cooler and extremely windy Saturday, followed by a leveling off of temps Sun and Mon. One storm will swing through Monday, potentially dropping heavy snow on Upstate NY, far N PA, into Connecticut and Southern/Central New England. Round two will affect areas south of I-80, somewhere between DC and New York, bringing the potential for very heavy snow on Tuesday as colder, Arctic air pours in. Right now the best odds for this appear to me to be between Baltimore and Allentown, back west across all of PA into Ohio and east into NJ. Potential does exist for 6″ or more with this storm, so this may cause significant travel issues in the Mid-Atlantic on Tuesday. Cold Wednesday followed by another semi-thaw (though not to the extent you saw this week).

I will post updates on Facebook through the holiday weekend.

So About Next Week…

Tonight's 00Z European Model Forecast for Next Wednesday Evening (http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~gadomski)

I’m not one to go bonkers when it comes to any particular storm (in fact, you read me discussing how I would be apt to NOT hype next week a couple days ago). But I think now it’s obvious we have something rather significant showing up here. The three major models tonight all went nuts for the middle of next week, showing an absolutely massive storm slowly rolling up the East Coast. When all three models lock in on a massive storm, that very often means that they’re right. Models struggle and they can be a bit inconsistent at times, but when it comes to the extremely large, widespread or historic sized events, they are usually quick to hit on things. I’m not saying that next week’s storm will be historic, but there’s no question we’re now looking at a significant to major event for much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Tonight's 00Z GFS Model Forecast for Next Wednesday Evening (http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~gadomski)

So what are the details? Well, it’s far too early to speculate, but we’ll do just that because we can. Based on tonight’s model runs, we’d be looking at a snow to mix/rain ending as snow event from I-95 to the coast (and even a little further inland from there), with extremely heavy snow/mix possible from the Smokeys north into Upstate NY and interior New England. The storm is also extremely slow moving. For example, the precip begins in Philly on tonight’s Euro run at about Midnight Wednesday and does not end until about 9-11 AM Thursday. Snow moves into the Albany area around 9 AM Wednesday and doesn’t depart until after Noon on Thursday. These aren’t forecasts…they’re just examples of what the model is showing and emphasis on a 24+ hour event.

Tonight's 00Z Canadian Model Forecast for Next Wednesday Evening (http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~gadomski)

The other issue then is track. Tonight’s runs are up along or just inland from the coast. That is extremely unfavorable for heavy snow from DC-Boston…that’s a wet track, not a white one. However, if you look closely at each model’s ensemble mean, you’ll see the track is still fairly far offshore. What does this mean? That the operational models *may* be on the extreme west edge of the track forecast envelope. I wouldn’t go shouting from the rooftops just yet, but it’s something to keep in mind.

We’ve seen a lot of storms the last couple winters, but this one I think is the most impressive looking in terms of physical size and slow track. We’re in a powder keg pattern right now, and this may be the fuse that helps things explode. I’m not going to get into details of the meteorology behind what’s happening right now, but we need to watch things very closely over the next few days. But each model run has looked more impressive with this storm, not less impressive, and that trend may continue as we get closer.

Unfortunately, I’m heading out of town Friday afternoon…well, actually I’m moving, but taking a week or so to drive to Texas, so my updates will be much more infrequent. However, make sure you “like” State of Occlusion on Facebook, as I’ll post updates each night/morning with the latest information. This really could be a big time event, so stay tuned!

Briefly Updating Snow Chances

Just wanted to throw down a brief entry to outline snow chances more specifically.

Snowfall Forecast for the Friday Storm (click to enlarge)

To the left is my first and last call snow map for the Thursday night and Friday “storm.” Again, this will be a quick mover and really not a big system at all. It may get its act together to throw back some briefly heavy snows into New England, and dump mainly a 2-4″ sort of snow back in the red area. Most other areas will only see a coating-2″, with an isolated 3″ amount report or two possible. Timing…arrives in the Philly area after midnight Friday and exits the Boston area Friday after sunset. Quick mover.

Next week’s storm continues to show up on the models today. It does look as though this will be a rather large and strong storm. But the overall track is going to be what is impossible to nail down for several more days. I do expect someone in the interior Northeast to see a decent shot of snow, some areas with potential for a mix, and some areas with a cold, raw rain potentially. I still would avoid hyping this one in the big cities, as it’s far too early to even try and guess how it will unfold specifically. A lot of what does happen is dependent on how a system plowing into the Northwest US this weekend behaves. I’ll be traveling much of the next week, and I’ve been watching forecasts for northern New Mexico fluctuate between sunny and dry to heavy snow for the last several days. Why do you care? Because that shows you the volatility of what that Washington/Oregon storm will be doing…we simply can’t say, and in order to peg down who gets the snow next week in the Northeast, we need to know what will happen out west. So stay tuned.

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State of Occlusion is on Facebook! I’m posting some additional cool links and videos, quick model status updates, and snow maps earlier than you’ll get here. All kinds of cool stuff available on our “Like” page. “Like” the blog by clicking here!