If you look hard enough, you’ll always find things that go wrong with a snow forecast, even the ones that appear seemingly flawless. I’ll be the first to admit you don’t have to look very hard with this one.
I don’t judge a meteorologist solely on how accurate they are. Over the long haul, you’ll never find perfection. I judge a meteorologist on their desire to want to seek out WHY a forecast went right or wrong. The more you study how events played out, the better you’ll be able to recognize similar circumstances in the future. Being wrong stinks. Being wrong and not learning from it stinks more.
WHAT HAPPENED? An area of low pressure tracked from the Deep South into WNY. Ahead of this low, widespread moisture produced a swath of accumulating snow beginning largely late Monday night. Most of the reliable guidance we used suggested areas north of I-90 would stay all snow with sleet/freezing rain cutting into accumulations south of the Thruway. To a large extent, this is how the overall evolution played out. Except it was off by about 20 miles.
That low ended up tracking farther west than we thought. This allowed a tongue of warmer air aloft to nudge farther north, changing our snow to sleet and freezing rain. That’s a big uh-oh with regard to snow accumulations. Snowflakes accumulate efficiently. Sleet does not. Freezing rain does not. All of a sudden, our foot snowstorm turned into a several inch sleet storm, the product of being off by a few miles. On the surface, such an error might seem insignificant. Last night proves otherwise.
COULD WE HAVE CAUGHT IT? Yep, I believe we could have. And that’s on me. There were signs Monday that forecast guidance and reality weren’t synced up. In fact, we actually started pulling snow totals back slowly Monday. Here’s one of our original snow maps:
Here’s the map we adjusted late Monday night.
That’s all fine and dandy, but it took us way too long to get to that final snow map. In hindsight, it would have been better to recognize that models were starting to latch onto the idea of more sleet and less snow and back off totals earlier in the game. This logic will almost certainly not work every time, but it would have worked this time. We still have lake effect snow on the way for some into the night, which will help add additional inches. It is worth noting, parts of the area will indeed have a foot of snow by the end of the night.
We failed to nail this forecast. And for that, I am sorry. Know that as frustrated as you might be, we’re right there with you. We’re an enterprise built on accuracy, and it’s a poor business model to not be accurate. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. But with each miss, our shot gets smoother.
Thanks for listening,