Have We Become Snow Wimps–And Why That’s OK

Are we really that scared of running out of milk, bread and eggs? Is this 1952? We have plows. We have salt/sand and ice busting chemistry. Many people have 4-wheel drive vehicles.

just-an-inch.jpgGrowing up in New York City in the 50s and 60s I seldom got to experience school cancellations or delays. If it snowed we went to school. The official pronouncement from the Board of Education was, “tough nuggies.”

I hear similar stories all the time. People muse over the fact that this is New England and it does snow. “When I was a kid…,” they’ll begin. No need to finish the sentence. We all know where it’s going.

Is today’s reaction to a tiny snowfall prima facie evidence that we’ve gone wimpy? No! No emphatically.

Schools weren’t canceled as quickly 30-40 years ago (and more recently as well) because we just didn’t know what was coming! Yes, there were weather forecasts, but they were awful compared to today’s (and today’s have room for improvement).

We just don’t have “Blizzard of ’78” scenarios anymore.

We still get blizzards, but we’re not surprised by them. 1978’s storm was by-and-large unexpected. Sure the exact snow forecast timing might still be off or we’ll blow the amount of snow, but it’s been a long time since snow snuck in totally unannounced or a forecast of flurries became a dumping.

School superintendents wake up with “actionable intelligence,” to steal a military expression. That leaves them with a quandary. What’s the potential downside for having school versus canceling–especially with the huge percentage of kids who bus in?

There is no upside having school on a snowy day and plenty of potential downside. That’s why they’ve developed hair triggers and why schools are shut at the drop of a hat. It’s also why “snow days” are already built into the calendar.

Pity the superintendent who keeps schools open and has a bus slide off the road, even without injuries!

Weather forecasts have more utility and they’re being used. That’s a good thing. On the other hand old habits die hard. That’s bad.

Because we have better forecasts (and much, much better mechanized technology) your chances of being stranded somewhere for more than a handful of hours because of snow have become very low. Still the mere mention of snow causes a panicked run on supermarkets!

Are we really that scared of running out of milk, bread and eggs? Is this 1952? We have plows. We have salt/sand and ice busting chemistry. Many people have 4-wheel drive vehicles.

The real wimps aren’t running schools. The wimps are at the grocery store!

The Storm’s Over — The Numbers Are In

The dry air was the wild card. Radar showed moderate snow over all of Connecticut for hours-and-hours before anything hit the ground.

snow-shovel-on-the-steps.jpgThe snow has come and gone. There’s never a bullseye, but the forecast was reasonably close. If success is judged by number of complaints, or lack thereof, I’m doing fine. Here are the final DOT numbers. I have also added the Boston and New York NWS snow totals, which include Connecticut, for the Dec 20-21, 2009 storm at the end of this entry.

Not everyone was as lucky. A friend who forecasts in Springfield sent a text message saying he’d received nothing! “Bust of the decade,” he said. Ouch. Been there. I know exactly what he’s going through.

I was right about Southeastern Connecticut getting the most snow followed by the shoreline in general. The snow was fluffy and windblown as predicted. Accumulations were generally in line with my numbers. My call for the Northwest Hills and most of the area directly adjacent to the Massachusetts line was a few inches higher than the actual totals.

I wrote about this last night, but it bears repeating the most unusual and interesting part of this storm was the exceptionally dry air. During the summer we sometimes see 30 grams of water content per square meter. Last night it was around 1 gram per cubic meter!

The dry air was the wild card. Radar showed moderate snow over all of Connecticut for hours-and-hours before anything hit the ground. Once the atmospheric column over any location became saturated light snow turned to heavy snow. I’d never seen a situation quite like this before. It cut inches off all the accumulations.

It’s a shame this storm will impact Christmas shopping. Otherwise we’re lucky it came on a Saturday night when travel is usually light.

And now the dig out begins.

(NWS totals after the jump)

Continue reading “The Storm’s Over — The Numbers Are In”

How Hurricane Tracking Has Changed Since Bob Hit

I went to get a tracking map to double check my memory and was surprised to see Bob was tracked with pencil and paper!

huricane-bob-track.gifA viewer wrote a while ago worried Hurricane Bill would be comparable to 1991’s Hurricane Bob. Nah. Little to compare.

Bob struck near the Connecticut/Rhode Island border. Bill will be well out to sea.

I went to get a tracking map to double check my memory and was surprised to see Bob was tracked with pencil and paper (click the map on the left for a full size view)! Was 1991 that far into the computing dark ages? It was at the National Hurricane Center!

This really looks old school.

Read This Book

1900 Galveston hurricane

Isaac’s Storm. 1900 Galveston Hurricane. Amazingly scary true life story.

You can thank me later.

My Return To WBT

Whoever listens to AM radio on a Monday night at 10:40 PM will be interested.

In the early 1970s, my radio career took me to WBT, Charlotte. It was one of America’s truly great radio stations–never to be replicated. Tonight, I’ll be on again.

John Harper, who’s filling-in for the normal nighttime talk host, has asked me to spend a few minutes talking about Hurricane Bertha, the Category 3 storm in the Atlantic. More than likely, that’s where Bertha will stay.

Though well inland, Charlotte has been zetzed by storms. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo creamed the Queen City with strong winds and torrential rain.

Hopefully, whoever listens to AM radio on a Monday night at 10:40 PM will be interested.

First Named Storm – So?

I’ll answer his rhetorical question: Of course it wouldn’t have been named.

ZCZC MIATCPAT1 ALL

TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

BULLETIN

TROPICAL STORM ARTHUR SPECIAL ADVISORY NUMBER 1

NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL012008

100 PM EDT SAT MAY 31 2008

…TROPICAL STORM ARTHUR…FIRST STORM OF THE 2008 ATLANTIC SEASON…QUICKLY FORMS NEAR THE COAST OF BELIZE…ALREADY MOVING INLAND.

Tropical Storm Arthur formed yesterday, and has deteriorated enough to now be ‘just’ a Tropical Depression.

It’s not all that unusual to have a named storm before the official opening of the hurricane season. I don’t draw any inference from that. However, with “A” given to a minimal storm, the season takes one quick step toward being more active than usual.

That brings up a great point made by Jeff Masters at Weather Underground.

Would Arthur have been named 30 years ago?

Arthur is one of those weak, short-lived tropical storms that may not have been recognized as a named storm thirty or more years ago. Arthur was named primarily based on measurements from a buoy that didn’t exist 30 years ago, and from measurements from the QuikSCAT satellite, which didn’t exist until 1999. There was one ship report that was used, though, and ship reports were heavily relied upon in the old days to name tropical storms.

I’ll answer his rhetorical question: Of course it wouldn’t have been named.

This is something many meteorologists point out to those who worry about an evolving atmosphere. As weather observations become more sophisticated, historical averages become that much less meaningful.