Jesse Ferrell

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What Happened to the November Blizzard?

November 13, 2013; 9:56 AM ET

My stepdaughter said to me this morning, "Isn't there supposed to be a blizzard today?" We were, but today's weather map is completely boring -- about as calm as you can get. When positioned next to AccuWeather's map from last week, it does beg the question:

What happened? I can give you common disclaimers that we meteorologists do...

- This map did say "potential"

- All forecast weather maps are that - predictions that may or not be wrong

- By Friday, half of our meteorologists were against this idea, and by the weekend, we had dropped this forecast (in plenty of time for planning purposes)

- The Northeast (and even Carolinas!) *did* get *some* snow yesterday (from the front that would have later combined with the coastal low to create a nor'easter today)

- When it's a big snowstorm, you note we're wrong, but we never get credit for partly cloudy days predicted correctly (short-range forecasts are about 90% correct, according to a study by Brad Panovich, but the range of studies is generally lower; in college they told me about 85%)

But truthfully, as the public sees the forecast, we (and most meteorologists) were wrong. Why? To greatly simplify it, the majority of meteorologists (and nearly all weather enthusiasts) believed the European (ECMWF) model's prediction last week, because it's often right, and demonstrably beats the U.S. (GFS) model. The "Euro," of course, is also known for predicting Hurricane Sandy's landfall a week in advance.

The truth is though: Models *always* do well with record, extreme storms like Sandy (I remember in college that the Blizzard of 1993 was predicted days in advance by both models we had, though we didn't believe it at the time). In addition, what some people don't realize is that the Euro doesn't *always* beat the GFS for any particular storm, and until we can identify what situations those are (it probably has to do with whether or not there is a "zonal flow" (straight across the nation winds)). Until those are pinned down, weather enthusiasts (who generally look only at what the model predicts, not the overall pattern, historical trends and meteorological trends with the storm) will keep guessing, and the meteorologists have a tough job explaining the possibilities with the public's short, headline-oriented attention span (for more on my opinion on this, see my blog from 2009 "The Weather Will Not Be Censored.")

As far as my stepdaughter, she should have monitored the forecast better and I should have updated her over weekend to say yes, there's a chance, but it's not looking good, and she would have less of a disappointing face this morning.

I think Elliot Abrams said it best:

"My basic aim is to rein in the weather factors to help precipitate appropriate decisions. If the forecast is flaky or I try to snow everybody, it's hard for people to crystallize their ideas about what to expect. If I cannot condense the details, people's interest evaporates. Then troubles really accumulate. Or, if I give a boring weather report, you can see people's ice glaze over and they're ready to fall back to sleet. There is a chance for a major northeaster in the middle of next week. Computer models are punishing us because they have solution ranging from sunny to stormy! I guess now it's time for me to clear out."

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.