TV newscasts used to be the biggest offenders when it came to hyping weather events. Not so much the meteorologists, as the surrounding elements of the show. I don’t have to document the silliness here – you’ve seen it. (My favorite is when they have the reporter standing outside somewhere and it’s dry and they say something like “if it was actually snowing right now, this traffic would be really bad”). The constant “teases” and insinuations of pending doom before and after the actual weather segment, etc.
I believe now, however, the TV hype machine has been dethroned by social media. Turns out that many people (most?) actually like the hype. Although I have been waging war with hype for years in an effort to get straightforward weather information out, it seems to be a losing battle. There are more sources of weather information now than ever. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, and everything in between. Sensational weather posts (SOMETIMES IN ALL CAPS!) are shared and retweeted ad infinitum. We have websites and Facebook weather pages now being run by teenagers that sometimes receive thousands of new likes overnight after an especially alarming forecast! I have never been asked more about storms that are supposedly threatening us more than a week later than I am now. My answer is the same as it has always been. You can lose sleep about threatening weather that’s more than a week out. I’ll be sleeping like a baby.
Social media has lit up recently with a buzz about the mega storm that’s going to hammer us in early March. Let’s take a look at some of the modeling:
00Z ECMWF Forecast For 7 AM EST March 1
To the left is last night’s run of the European model. The Euro is now, apparently, a household word (almost as famous as the polar vortex), but don’t get me going. Side note: Until a couple years ago when I mentioned the European model, many people thought of Claudia Schiffer. Last night’s Euro depicted a major east coast storm threatening millions. But this is over a week away. The chance of that storm actually materializing in that location at that time is small. It would be like pressing the pause button on your DVR right when the placekicker’s foot makes contact with the football on a 65 yard field goal attempt and trying to predict exactly where the ball will land (not if it will be good or not, which is 50/50). To put it another way, forecasting the weather is similar to watching the blobs in a lava lamp and predicting where each one will be and what shape they will be in, an hour later. It’s fluid dynamics and there’s a lot that can change/go wrong. In fact, extended range forecasting actually includes reviewing numerous “ensemble members” of each model, not just the “operational run” that usually gets posted. Each of these members has a slightly different solution to the same problem – but lets not get tangled in the weeds here.
12Z ECMWF Forecast for 7 AM EST March 1
To the left is the money shot. This is the morning (operational) run of the Euro forecasting for the same time frame as the image above (7 AM EST March 1st). Where’s the storm now? Oh, it’s about 500 miles further south. This model run actually takes the storm out to sea sparing most of the northeast. The GFS model also takes it out to sea. Does this mean that’s what is going to happen? I don’t know. These models could trend it back in during the next few days or do something totally different. The point is 500 mile fluctuations in weather systems on extended range models is commonplace. This is why I don’t get too excited when someone tells me breathlessly about the big storm coming a little over a week from now – EVEN IF THEY TELL ME IN ALL CAPS!!! It’s also why the Climate Prediction Center did not accurately forecast this Winter’s weather in advance and why I don’t lose sleep over someone’s climate model saying that global temperatures will rise several degrees during the next century. Will a significant storm form within 36 hours of March 1st? Probably. Will it have an impact on New York? Philadelphia?, Roanoke?, D.C.? Pittsburgh? I don’t know. Nobody does at this point. But how many of the people who have been exposed to the buzz about this, or been tipped off by a friend that was, still think the northeast is due to be clobbered March 1st? Who’s going to tell them that it’s no longer modeled that way?
That doesn’t generate likes or followers.