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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 12/ 8/2010

A white Christmas for Santa?

By Steve Tracton

Dateline: North Pole, Santa's Workshop

It's just over two weeks before Christmas. Santa and his elves are working anxiously 24/7 to prepare for timely delivery of Christmas gifts by Santa on his sleigh pulled by a team of flying reindeer led, of course, by red-nosed Rudolf.

Off in the corner is Dr. Doc, on leave from Snowy White's cadre of "little people," perusing all the different factors that must come together for a white Christmas. Doc is known as the natural leader of the "little people" and the one usually responsible for deciding any course of action that needs quick resolution. But, right now, Doc is in a complete quandary as to how to ensure a white Christmas in the Washington, D.C. metro area as Santa insists. Santa, spoiled from last December's Snowpocalypse, insists upon at least a SnoCalypso, a "big one" with intense cold during the week or so leading up to Christmas Eve.

(Note: According to LikiWeaks, one of Santa's elves claims Santa spends much of the post-Christmas portion of winter in Washington, out of uniform and without a beard. Like so many readers of his favorite weather blog, the Beltway Weather Group (BWG), he is an ardent snow lover. On his instructions, Doc is working on a secret plan, code name Snolady-gaga-gon, to ensure another Snowmaggedon-like the winter in the D.C. area.)

Unlike last winter's El Nino, Doc is confronted with La Nina conditions, which are much less favorable for storm development, track and moisture supply necessary for significant snowfall over the mid-Atlantic. The usual clues from weather folklore, such as fuzzy caterpillars and gathering of nuts by squirrels, offer no solace. Nor does the official National Ocean & Air Association (NOAA) winter outlook or that from his boss's ole reliable, BWG, provide much hope. Both agree the odds are strongly stacked against anything close to the record snowfall last winter.

What to do? In desperation, Doc calls upon his Weather Wizard, who is still on a high from his recent notoriety, even if a subject of mockery, in the practice of weather sorcery. The wizard assures him there is no need to worry. All it will take (for an unspecified price, of course) is a wave of his magic wand to evoke just the right ingredients, including a negative North Atlantic Oscillation, to assure cold enough air and a well-timed SnoCalypso for a white Christmas (and Snolady-gaga-gon on a longer time horizon).

As a hedge on the Weather Wizard's optimism, Doc consults PreciseWeather's foremost long-range weather guru, Joey Fearless. Joey is often maligned as over-hyping forecasts and tending to cry "big one" more often than proves warranted after the fact. Sure, he did hit a home run as the first to forecast - from his high perch somewhere in Weathernut, PA - that last winter would be the snowiest in over five years in the Washington area. Never mind that anyone who goes into every winter calling for a "snow bomb" capable of paralyzing the I-95 corridor is bound to hit pay dirt eventually. Of course, when a charlatan like Joey is right on, he'll never let you forget it. If the forecast busts, do not expect so much as a tweet.

None of this seems to deter Dr. Doc from being an unabashed believer in Joey's long-range forecasting prowess. Not surprisingly, his spirits rise when he learns that Joey is highlighting the potential for a "blockbuster" snowstorm around a week before Christmas, with as much as a foot of snow from D.C. to Boston. (One wonders whether Doc is confusing long-range forecaster with the Lone Ranger coming to the rescue with just what he wants to hear).

As it turns out, Doc is really not as dumb as it appears. Deep down inside, he knows reality dictates that at best, the prediction of a "blockbuster" so far in advance must be an ultra-low confidence forecast, regardless of the ultra hype attached to it. However, he says to himself, why voice concerns that might undermine wishful thinking of a white Christmas? After all, if it is a white Christmas, his reservations about long-range forecasts would be discarded while Joey vociferously claims all the credit for success. And if the snow doesn't materialize, then Joey's silence would leave him accountable for Santa's disappointment. But that doesn't really concern Doc, for he knows that Santa being Santa never holds a grudge, and that he'll be back next year helping out in Santa's workshop again.

And, besides, as all children in snow-denied areas know, Santa's flying reindeer don't really need snow on the ground to deliver those Christmas goodies.

By Steve Tracton  | December 8, 2010; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  Humor, Latest, Tracton  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Climate change can be a conversation killer
Next: PM Update: Still very cold through tomorrow

Comments

Wait, so, theres a storm coming christmas week?


;)

Posted by: KRUZ | December 8, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

steve,
i'm guessing part of this is a not-so-veiled criticism of joe bastardi's penchant for predicting big storms etc...

it would really be interesting if someone did a study of his predictions. i don't doubt that he was the first to predict last year's december storm would be a doozey. i bet he was also the first to predict the same for that huge january storm we (DIDN'T) have last year.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | December 8, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Steve,

I was wondering when they would publish the article. I thought it humorous probably because it mirrors my sentiments about anyone who indulges in self promotion though hyping events.

Posted by: wjunker | December 8, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Get ready and get networking at http://facebook.com/Snowpocalypse

Posted by: ChadwickWDC | December 8, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Walter, I'm not aware of any independent appraisal of Joey's winter storm predictions. I do know that PreciseWeather does its own internal verifications, but repeated requests for them to be made known beyond it's HQ in Weathernut, PA inevitably prove futile.

ChadwickWDC, Are your two scenarios one or the other, or do you include anything in between, beyond or outside these bounds, and possibility of no meaningful storm. Without that info, the projection is incomplete and of limited value.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | December 8, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Nice write-up, a creative and clever poke at JB.

An interesting side note is that the Washington Post published a piece on Monday by Annie Gowen.

In it, she says:

“The folks at AccuWeather are also predicting the possibility of a "blockbuster storm" in the middle of the month that could dump up to 12 inches of snow from the Washington area to Boston, harking back to last year's pre-Christmas blizzard, which blanketed the area in about 24 inches of snow.
We could be in for another white Christmas.”

Posted by: jaybird926 | December 8, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

This blog was well-written. I enjoyed reading it.

I do feel somewhat uncomfortable with how you're poking fun at Joe Bastardi, and the post was a bit too snarky for my taste. I thought the CWG was better than that -- do they really need to pull outsiders down, if they happen to differ on certain issues?

Yes, we have freedom of press and all that, but there's also civility.

Aside from all this, here's to another White Christmas! *fingers crossed*

Posted by: JSTF | December 8, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Jealousy is so unappealing.

As I recall, two weeks ago Joe was forecasting a major outbreak of cold air at this time, and let's see - looks pretty cold to me. Joe was calling for increased chances of snow deep into the south right about - now - and last hour Macon Georgia was reporting snow.

CWG was calling for "we don't know yet and won't speculate." Which was pretty much the CWG forecast for the entirety of last winter. Pick your storm - the forecast was the same: if more than a day before the storm, then "too early to tell" and if it is already snowing, then 1"-60% 5"-30% 10"-10% 20"+-5% (no need for probablilities to add to one - that just complicates things).

Joe and others were way out front and remarkably accurate last year - but to end on a positive note, I'd like to say "thank you" to Wes Junker for finally bringing some substance and insight to CWG!

Posted by: manatt | December 8, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Whats the point of a meteorologist if he/she isnt gonna try to predict some long range stuff (5 days+)?

All this talk about a storm being too far out and only forecasting 3 to 5 days out is the equivalent of my grandfather predicting rain because of his foot pain :/

I have to second what @manatt said, even if Bastardi is 50% accurate in his long range, its still better than 95% of mets out there since most mets arent skilled enough to get the long range correct 5% of the time... Or in some cases they dont even get the short range correct.

Posted by: KRUZ | December 8, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Here's a third vote for manatt's post.

And I would especially endorse a warm welcome to Wes ("usedtobe") Junker. He adds a lot to this board (as he does wherever and whenever he posts) and I hope he will continue to share his insights with us.

Seasons greetings to all.

Ubimea

Posted by: ubimea | December 8, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

well, CWG, that (those last 3 posts) sounds like a challenge or something... i say again, it sure would be nice to track jb's wild, but admittedly well-ahead-of-time, predictions and see how he does.

i bet he predicts a lot of storms that don't happen, but some people just remember the one he did predict.

one prediction i remember from this year is 50% of the u.s. will have a white christmas. now, i don't recall if that was referring to geographical area or population.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | December 9, 2010 6:56 AM | Report abuse

Gee, if getting the long range forecast right only 50% of the time is acceptable, as Kruz indicates, then who needs Joey Fearless, BWG, or any other met. Just toss a coin!!!

And, if mets (other than Joey, of course) can get it right just 5% of the time, who needs them? Just predict climatology of snow for any given period. I'm not sure what that the precise value is in DC during winter, but it's more than 5%.

Weather forecasts have skill only when they hit the mark more often than some knuckle head control (toss of a coin, climo, nuts collected by squirrels ) which do not require trained (UNBIASED) forecasters, sophisticated models and super computers.

Would you use a stock broker who hits a bulls eye no more than a monkey throwing darts at the target? Perhaps yes, if you were very confident the monkey's darts would strike the bulls-eye 50% of the time - and could afford the consequences of being wrong 50% of the time.

Or, would you be better off with an expert dart thrower who could RELIABLY discriminate
those occasions when the odds are 50% from when they are 5%, 80%, etc. Think about it. That's the difference between Joey and BWG!!


Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | December 9, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Walter, as you suggest, I'm confident that any unbiased observer of Joey's long range forecasts of winter storms (and seasonal hurricane predictions, for that matter) will recognize that Joey misses the mark many times more than he hits it right. If the case were otherwise, I'm equally confident that PreciseWeather would not hesitate to provide objective, convincing evidence of hits versus misses, etc.

Walter, or anyone else, give it a try - contact PreciseWeather and let us know the answer you get. This is where the real challenge lies.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | December 9, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

well, steve, i don't think we can count on them providing us w/damning evidence against themselves. as you say, surely they'd effectively "plead the 5th".

i don't even go to their site. and i don't plan to. i'm not quite at the level of weather geekiness (that's a compliment) as some posters here. i consider CWG my one-stop-shop for weather info. plus, i seem to recall learning that part of jb's site is "pay for access"?

i am basing my appraisal of jb on the numerous times a CWG poster reports on what jb is reporting: and it ALWAYS sounds really good - like we're ALWAYS in for exciting weather....

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | December 9, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Knowing Steve, his piece was not written because of personal jealousy. he had a pretty good career in his own right with plenty of accomplishments. He is also a big believer in ensemble forecasting and couching forecasts in terms of probabilities.

I agree with Steve, forecasts should be couched in probabilistic terms especially in the longer time ranges when skill is not that great. It's fine to say the probability of getting a snowstorm is greater than normal during a particular period as sometimes the pattern is more favorable to snowstorms than at other times. I don't think it serves a purpose to jump on every day 8, 9 or 10 day model forecast and then make a call saying that a big storm may be coming as then you end up with a huge bias problem.

All are entitled to their opinion regarding the Doc's met. I'm not a fan but that's me. I think he does overhype but since I don't regularly read his articles and since he doesn't publish verification scores, that's just my perception and opinion.

Thanks for the kind words, I certainly equivocate much more than JB so some will probably get frustrated by some of my posts.

Posted by: wjunker | December 9, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Im pretty sure Joey is wrong with his long range forecasts more than he is right. But is there a forecaster out there who gotten long range forecasts right as much as Joey?... Thats a stat Id like to see. Who done better than Joey percentage wise (right vs wrong) than Joey.

Bigger question is, whos done long range forecasts as much as Joey?...

No one can be right all the time and no can be perfect. But criticizing someone for something you dont and/or cant do just seems ridiculous IMO.

Of course, when it comes to criticizing the Redskins and some of their players, well thats a different story ;)

Posted by: KRUZ | December 9, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Im pretty sure Joey is wrong with his long range forecasts more than he is right. But is there a forecaster out there whos gotten long range forecasts right as much as Joey?... Thats a stat Id like to see. Who done better than Joey percentage wise (right vs wrong) than Joey.

Bigger question is, whos done long range forecasts as much as Joey?...

No one can be right all the time and no can be perfect. But criticizing someone for something you dont and/or cant do just seems ridiculous IMO.

Of course, when it comes to criticizing the Redskins and some of their players, well thats a different story ;)

Posted by: KRUZ | December 9, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Kruz, you acknowledge that Joey busts more often than he hits. Sorry, when a yes/no situation, you'll do better by tossing a coin than buying into Joey's alarm razing (and marketing) hype.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | December 9, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

kettle... meet Steve T

How many CWG forecasts last winter amounted to a 50% chance of over 2" and a 50% chance of under 2"? The only CWG 5% versus 80% forecasts were busts on the low side for accumulations - so I guess I'd go for the expert dart thrower who at least predicted the potential for a major storm a week or more out.

And 50% would be pretty good if you're talking about long range forecasts - not whether it will snow in 12 hours or be sunny. A long range forecast is verified when the potential materializes - not in whether it actually snows or doesn't snow. It predicts trends which suggest an increased or decreased probability of events - not the event itself. So if you're disappointed a two week forecast doesn't result in a blockbuster snow storm, you're missing the point. But if it turns out to be 70 degrees - that's a long range bust - and I suspect under that measure, JB's forecast are way above 50%. In fact, so far this year he has been spot on for the US cold and the wintry weather across Europe.

Posted by: manatt | December 10, 2010 1:57 AM | Report abuse

For the record, I think Joe has a lot of talent as a long-range forecaster. But I think the calls for a White Christmas and a 6-12" blizzard along the I-95 corridor were just ploys to generate page views and buzz on AccuWeather's website. The more responsible thing to do, IMO, would simply do what manatt recommended - indicate the pattern appears to be more favorable for cold and snow in the East and explain. Even with Bastardi's long range forecasting chops, that's about all the science can allow him to credibly say. But the specific predictions about amounts and snow cover simply don't have much legitimacy IMO. It's the same deal with his seasonal hurricane predictions about where storms are most likely to make landfall, which have been pretty abysmal. Almost every year he hypes about hurricanes hitting the Northeast - still waiting for that. You can give him credit for trying and he knows his stuff - but when he takes bigger swings than necessary and misses (presumably for PR) - he opens himself for criticism.

By the way, many long range forecasters saw the cold in the U.S. coming in late November and early December - not just Joe. Our winter outlook, issued November 4, called for a colder than average December and a fast start to winter. I think NOAA's long range outlooks also showed high chances for cold. Let's not pretend Joe was seeing something many others weren't.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | December 10, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Jason is right on

Manatt, so what's your definition of "potential" for long range forecasts - 1%, 5% 20 % chance, or a whatever percentage best accommodates justifying Joey's and Precise Weather's message?

It's easy to say that a real bust is when the temperature hits 70 when the long range forecast is for the "potential" for a snowstorm. But, that's clearly a red herring.

In verification of weather forecast (which I'll be writing a new post on) the measures of skill, accuracy, and value of forecasts should be defined, uniformly applied, and objectively interpreted (unbiased). Not acceptable are adjustable imprecise and qualitative statements to suit the hype and sales pitch of a weather provider, such as PreciseWeather.

CWG routinely posts an honest appraisal of its forecasts, unlike as I said above, PreciseWeather. Anyone so enamored enamored with Joey's prowess at long range forecasts should try to get objective performance measures from PreciseWeather. While you are at it, ask for the verification statistics of their 10-15-day single valued forecasts of its large list of weather parameters. Good luck!.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | December 10, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

I agree there is an entertainment factor that gets played up - but that's part of the appeal. If it wasn't, then you should replace the CWG with a link to the NWS text forecast and daily discussion. On accumulations I see little support for the idea that potential can be assigned a precise figure of 1%, or 5%, or 20%. If it were a math problem, you wouldn't need a forecaster to interpret the data. So "potential" is an interpretation an experienced forecaster provides, hopefully based on his/her own professinonal standard of confidence, and likely varies depending on the significance of the prediction and the amount of lead time.

I agree there should be objective standards for forecast verification, but first you need to define what criteria a forecast needs to meet to be a forecast. CWG's "forecast" of a 50% chance of 2" or less and a 50% chance of 2" or more will be verified 100% of the time. Does that make it a "good" forecast?

And on the topic of verification, for those clearing snow this morning or stuck in traffic, here's a reminder of the CWG forecast from last night for today:

Tomorrow (Friday): Mostly cloudy skies may continue into the morning, but the day should feature a clearing trend. Other than that, we stick with the lighter winds and temperatures warm higher than we've seen of late. Overall, it might feel kind of pleasant as highs reach near 40 and into the lower 40s.

Well... it was mostly cloudy too... so did the forecast "verify"? Look forward to seeing the post on how to evaluate a forecast objectively.

Posted by: manatt | December 10, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

@manatt

Thanks for your feedback. Even though we've had our disagreements, your comments are constructive and challenging. Obviously, you prefer a more aggressive approach to forecasting whereas we've taken a more conservative approach.

One of the reasons I brought Wes aboard is because we needed an expert on medium range pattern recognition to provide more useful forecasts at that range. Some of the challenging questions you raised last year helped me identify this need. That doesn't mean we're going to go swinging for the fences like Bastardi or that we're going to stop probability forecasts for snow (I recognize you're not a fan, but a lot of folks find them useful) - but I hope the insight Wes provides moves us in a direction to your liking.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | December 10, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

i think it's time for somebody to start cataloging joey's forcasts now.... (steveT? BWG?)

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | December 11, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

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