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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 03/ 2/2011

My perceptions of winter, a review: Part I

By Wes Junker

The path to Nomageddon

This three-part series is a review of the winter season forecasts, reader comments and my thoughts and perceptions - my first as the Capital Weather Gang's winter weather expert.

A meteorologist's view of winter is often driven by how difficult and challenging the forecasts were during the winter. This year they were difficult compared to last year.

My perception of a winter is directly related to how well my forecasts verified and by how others viewed the forecasts. The season offered one spectacular success, one abysmal failure and one other forecast that most would consider a bust. Most of the thoughts and ideas about other potential storms worked out reasonably well.

The paragraphs below summarize my perceptions of the winter season. It's kind of lengthy, so Jason has edited it into three parts, to run today, tomorrow and Friday. I'd be interested in your favorite blogs and comments (including your own). Readers and commenters are the lifeblood of the CWG. Without you, we wouldn't be here.

Keep reading for the rest of the first chapter...

For me, the season started out inauspiciously with an email from long-time friend and colleague Steve Tracton (also a CWG contributor) when he learned about me joining the group. He wrote, "Introducing a Winter Weather Expert brings with it the near certainty this winter will be disappointing for snow lovers." His comment was made tongue-in-cheek but certainly was prescient.

This year, there were a number of snow threats in the three to seven day range that vanished as the supposed snowstorm was to approach. The constant stream of threats kept the Capital Weather Gang busy but, with one exception, did little to satisfy the cravings of the dedicated snow lovers.

My first post about a threat was made on November 17 (mostly in response to the suggestion by other media outlets that snow was possible for Thanksgiving.). The Capital Weather Gang was never particularly enamored by that threat which ended up bringing mostly rain to the area with a few reports of sleet at the onset in the western suburbs. The next threat discussed was a clipper for December 5th. It produced a few flurries but, like so many others this year, was a miss.

The next threat discussed in one of my blogs was a potential snowstorm being forecast by some of the long range models for December 12th. In the blog, I made a guess that the storm would initially track west of the mountains putting the area on the warm side of the storm which elicited a wide variety of comments, mostly groaning ones from snow lovers but not all of them.

Throughout the winter, some readers liked to post their own thoughts about storms. With respect to the Dec. 12 threat one wrote, "The NAO is negative and it is hard to have GLC's [Great Lakes cutter]. That just does not make any sense to me. This is where I think the models are wrong." Another reader posted "That forecast is good enough for me. I'm heading for the store to stock up on provisions!" That comment left me amused as I wasn't very bullish about our snow chances in the blog. I guess the commenter was using the contrarian method that allegedly works with the stock market. Kruz, a frequent commenter, wrote "This is what I like to hear! A meteorologist taking a stab at weather!!!." Little did he or I know that later in the year I would consistently equivocate and at times get criticized for it.

A clipper that produced one to two inches of snow was the first snow threat that actually materialized. Our forecast pretty much nailed the amounts. One of my favorite comments of the winter came during the lead up to that storm. "I'm a 1st grade teacher and I can ALWAYS tell when weather is brewing by the behavior of my kids (full moons, snowstorms and hurricanes make them a bit bonkers) - I'm pretty sure something is coming!." The first graders were right. Who needs meteorologists anyway, aren't they usually wrong?

Another fantasy that fizzled as it approached was right around the corner. Again CWG was never very impressed by the storm.

Mid-December had passed and snow lovers were getting discouraged. One wrote, "Ouch...had a bad feeling about this one as a snow lover, but the explanations are very cool to read." Another, blogged "if all the model runs kept dumping tons of snow on us i'd be worried this thing would bust.... one thing that's highly likely is that where the sweet spot is now in the models won't be where it ends up in actuality." While his statement is often correct, in this case, the models and the Capital Weather Gang got it right. Somewhere in that time range the first of many a war or words started amongst snow lovers and snow haters that I'm sure will continue into next year. People passionately love or hate snow.

The next storm, the infamous Boxing Day miss, also known as "Nomageddon" (by popular vote, first suggested by frequent commenter walter-in-fallschurch), was one of the two storms that generated the most comments this past winter. The prognostications by all media outlets (including ours) were also the worst of the season. Initially, the models were scheduling the storm to give us a white Christmas which helped stoke snow lovers' expectations and travelers' nightmares. Our initial thoughts on the storm (here and here and here) were far better than our later ones as we originally leaned toward us not getting that much snow.

However, when the models shifted well to the west with the storm, the CWG forecasters fell into their thrall and ended up predicting a significant storm while cautioning that there still was potential for the storm to graze or miss the area. Just prior to the storm, I also uttered the infamous quote "I'm pretty bullish for this event." Our forecast of 3-6 inches of snow ended up being a miss, though accumulating snow did fall as close to the city as Calvert county and produced 12" or more from Virginia Beach to Boston.

After the non-storm, I wrote a piece documenting what went wrong. In our defense, we did note that there was a 25% chance of getting less than one inch. One thing I learned from the storm is to be more judicious in the use of the term bullish. Another is to pay more heed to radar and satellite though giving them too much credence can also produce forecasting problems.

Snow cover following the Boxing Day "Nomageddon" snowstorm.

That storm was painful and, for CWG, the low point of the winter. The storm prompted a number of negative comments. One irate poster commented, "I canceled tickets to ICE! today at National Harbor and watched my sister and her husband from PA pull out of our driveway last night TWO DAYS EARLY to avoid THE STORM...... And here we sit in SE FfxCo watching several windswept flurries this morning...... I'd probably be just as happy choking the nearest met[eorologist] I could get my hands on, just for pure satisfaction."

Another remarked "It's one thing to say something is uncertain, but highly another to say it's uncertain and then have one of your mets get pretty "bullish" about the forecast less than 24 hours out (cough, Wes Junker).......How can forecasters seriously be excused when AMATEUR weather hobbyists can see, clear as day, THE NIGHT BEFORE THE STORM, that the precip is OBVIOUSLY moving south and east of us."

Countering the negative comments was a wave of comments from a number of our regular readers who were very supportive of our efforts even though our forecast was less than stellar. Firedragon helped keep things light with a facetious post "I think Wes should personally apologize to every single juvenile snowlover in the WashPost area. It's the only thing that will satisfy us... personalized groveling." Firedragon also demanded my head.

Forecasting certainly is humbling as your next bust is always just around the corner...

Stay tuned for Part II, "One shining moment", tomorrow, and Part III "You're only as good as your last forecast", Friday

By Wes Junker  | March 2, 2011; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Capital Weather Gang, Latest, Winter Storms  
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Next: Global warming & snowstorms: not a yes or no link


It was a typical DC area winter weatherwise. last year was a one in a 200 years winter. I have lived in this area most of my life and 5ft+ of snow for a DC winter is not normal.

Last winter had decimated the deer herds in VA especially those areas away from NOVA.

Now my favcrite weather forecaster is Maria Molina on Fox News. She is hot. Now if there is a meber of the Capital Weather Gang who looks as good in wrap dress post your pixs. Forget Doug, Bob et al. Channel 7 would see a ratings spike if they put Bob and Doug on waivers and hired her.

Posted by: sheepherder | March 2, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Paper-mache Wes Junker effigy to be burned at noon on the vernal equinox.

Seriously, Wes is quite the sport to put up with all of our CWG poster's snow withdrawal abuse.
Coming back for more next November? Would you consider wearing a "wrap dress" & a really nice pair of heels to entice more readers?

Posted by: FIREDRAGON47 | March 2, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

"Introducing a Winter Weather Expert brings with it the near certainty this winter will be disappointing for snow lovers."

Excellent...let's hire additional experts every year from now on! I did my part and bought a snow blower last year to guarantee (almost) no snow this year. Will have to think of another major purchase for next year to keep the lucj going...

Posted by: Efren3 | March 2, 2011 12:57 PM | Report abuse

of course I meant "luck" not "lucj." Just giddy from thinking about all the snow we did not get this year...

Posted by: Efren3 | March 2, 2011 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm not familiar with Maria Molina, but Stephanie Abrams [TWC] is probably the weather hottie of the year for 2010/2011.

Like CWG I predicted one big snow this winter, but it was supposed to be most likely on Presidents' Day weekend, not in the late January Commuteageddon time frame.

Commuteageddon was a disappointment mainly because of the abnormally low 4:1 snow/water ratio. This storm should have dumped 8 to 12 inches of snow at standard ratios, and as much as 16 inches at the powdery 15:1 ratio!

The real highlight of this winter came not here but in Chicago...wish we could get a 36-hour thundersnow blizzard like THAT right here in D.C.! Out here on the East Coast that blizzard would qualify as a SUPERSTORM--probably a HECS!!!

Posted by: Bombo47jea | March 2, 2011 1:08 PM | Report abuse

he is a good sport. and sadly, i bet he'll never use the term "bullish" again.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 2, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Wes, I remember there was one event where you commented that it was not a situation that was likely to trend colder... and I recall you were right. A couple weather questions if you have time:

Is the event this weekend one that could trend colder as we get closer?


Posted by: spgass1 | March 2, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

spgass1, it is not one that is likely to trend cold enough to produce snow. A rule of thumb concerning storms. When the nao is positive and the pna negative when the 850 low tracks north of dc on the models, it is not likely that the storm will be cold enough for snow.

Posted by: wjunker | March 2, 2011 4:42 PM | Report abuse

That's gotta be one of the ugliest maps ever produced. That is, in the sense that South Carolina and about half of Georgia are covered with snow and there's one big green spot in the northern half of the country, right over the DC and Baltimore areas. (I don't consider myself a true snowlover per se, but that was ridiculous.)

Posted by: mkarns | March 2, 2011 5:53 PM | Report abuse

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