Sunday, January 31, 2010

The January 2010 I-40 Big Kahuna:
What really happened

"The amount of snow which falls during the storm is inversely
porportional to the amount of hype before the storm."
- An old forecasting rule from Tom Heil, Mr. Foot's stepfather in Lancaster, PA

4:00 PM SUNDAY 1.31.2010  Though some in the Mid-Atlantic were spared the aftermath of this storm, a quick scan of news reports reveals much heartache for commuters and heartsong for children. The Salisbury Times reported  areas of the eastern shore received up to 14 inches, paralyzing small communities which have little or no snow removal equipment. All of eastern Virginia saw between 8 and 12 inches, crippling traffic but creating an historic day for powderhounds there whom seldom see snow of this magnitude. Way down on the tip of Virginia's Northampton County, even the small town of Exmore, VA saw six fluffy inches. Perhaps next time hype will do the trick.

Similar headlines were  repeated in newspaper after newspaper: "Nature fools forecasters" touts; "Quick snow blankets area" says the Philadelphia Inquirer. In southern York County, PA the National Weather Service claims snow was predicted the previous night.* Yet nearly 4 inches caught so many commuters on Interstate 83 by surprise so quickly a multi-car pileup occured mid-day, shutting down the busy artery for hours. Why did all these things have to happen? Can we just blame it on the quirkyness of Mother Nature? Sometimes yes. This time, not really. We'll explain why after all our storm data is posted. *The State College, PA NWS stated in their forecast discussion at 6:44 PM Friday that several models had trended north, and still others showed increasing higher moisture content, but let the public go to sleep believing a falsehood was the solution.

MARYLAND STORM GRADE AVERAGES The snowfall projections shown below were generated by Stormcaster Ryan K. of Sparrows Point High School, and posted on this site starting Thursday 1/28. The team revised some numbers slightly on Friday 1/29 and approved final publication Saturday morning 1/30 before the snow began falling.

Observations on this chart were assembled by Forecasters Dakota and PasadenaMatt using NWS Local Storm Reports and Public Information Statements as found in the sidebar links. Where a location we forecasted was not listed, we selected the nearest town and noted this in the comments. We are compiling results from Virginia, New Jersey and original calls made by BCPS Crossroads Center students.

SYNOPSIS OF OUR FORECAST RATIONALE Thursday night 1/28 from 10:00 PM to 12:00 AM, the team was watching storm reports, data, the radar, and much more. We all began to see the same thing: The storm was indeed trending MUCH farther north. Snow was breaking out in places no one expected it, including central Kansas. We noticed that the polar vortex in southern Canada was loosening its grip. By 11:00 PM it was plain to see that millions of people and hundreds of forecasters alike were in for a big surprise. Mother Nature had played her cards, but did so late at night when few were paying attention. Forecasters relying more on computer models than careful observation of readily available data all fell for the belief that the storm would deliver an inch at best north of Washington, DC. Next storm, we'll be doing the same exact analysis, using the computer models as a guide and not as gospel. Will they?

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