When In Doubt, Blame The Weatherman… Again

georgia snow

When in doubt, blame the weatherman! Maybe there was a time that worked. It doesn’t anymore. The governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, understands that better today than yesterday.

Tuesday at 10:00 AM, as a crippling snow and ice storm was moving through the south, Governor Deal said,

“At that time it was still, in most of the forecasts, anticipated that the city of Atlanta would only have a mild dusting or a very small accumulation if any, and that the majority of the effects of the storm would be south of here. Preparations were made for those predictions.”

Except those weren’t the predictions.

Here’s a segment of the NWS Area Forecast Discussion from Tuesday at 4:11 AM:



The governor has now been taken to task by pretty much everyone who knows the definition of the isobar!

Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist with the University of Georgia and president of the American Meteorological Society, said neither meteorologists nor the forecast for the Atlanta area was to blame.

“The buses had a tough time getting kids home, but meteorologists should not be thrown under the bus,” he said.

At 3:39 a.m. Tuesday, Marshall said the weather service issued a winter storm warning for the entire Atlanta metro area, expecting 1-2 inches of snow. “Overall, the Atlanta event was a well-forecasted and well-warned event,” he said. – USAToday

This reminds me of Connecticut’s Halloween snowstorm of 2011. You remember Jeff Butler, the president of CL&P.

“But I will assure you, when we had the weather forecast and everything we looked at in preparation for this storm, the amount of snow, which ended up being the problem, was far more significant than what had been forecast,” he said.”This event as it came in Saturday started earlier and lasted longer, with more snow accumulation–and remember, all the trees still had their foliage on them.” Butler’s comments stood in stark contrast to the dire warnings issued by local television meteorologists and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday, more than 24 hours before the first flakes fell. “If we get the amount of snow that’s being forecast, a lot of people are going to lose power, and power is going to be out for an extended period of time,” Malloy told reporters at a news conference at the Legislative Office Building late Friday morning. – Hartford Courant

I don’t think so. Here’s what I wrote in my blog a few days before that storm hit.

Whatever falls will be heavier inch-for-inch than a typical storm. The snow to water ratio will be low. It’s the kind of snow that’s good for snowballs and extra slippery for drivers!

There’s one more element of this storm which is worrisome. Sustained 20-30 mph northeasterly wind with higher gusts is likely. If this wet snow clings to trees and leaves we’ll have enough wind to bring down limbs and power lines. – My Permanent Record

I wasn’t alone. NBC30’s Ryan Hanrahan’s early take:

“One of the reasons I’m unusually concerned about this storm is that the amount of leaves on the trees make them particularly vulnerable to damage. If the snow is of the heavy and wet variety we could have major and widespread power outages. We’re in uncharted territory here in terms of this type of storm this early in the season.” – Ryan Hanrahan

This same excuse was trotted out after Hurricane Sandy left Long Island powerless! Are we that easy a target?

What happened in Georgia is truly a tragedy. It would have been nice to get a really long lead on this forecast, but sometimes science doesn’t cooperate. However, once the forecast is there you can’t stick your head in the sand and you can’t blame the weatherman.

Well, you can, but we’ll call you on it in a hurry.

Yes, It’s Still Winter Damnit!

I’m not sure how she and the family are living in Wisconsin this winter. It’s the kind of weather that tries men’s souls. Lots and lots and lots of snow. There’s enough that some towns have run out of money and stopped (or sharply curtailed) plowing and treating roads!

I just got an email from my sister:

Why (in WI in the winter) is it sunny on bitterly freezing days, and gray on warmer days?

The simple answer is, it’s Wisconsin. Hello!

Actually, denser air creates high pressure. High pressure sinks. Clouds can’t form.

I’m not sure how she and the family are living in Wisconsin this winter. It’s the kind of weather that tries men’s souls. Lots and lots and lots of snow. There’s enough that some towns have run out of money and stopped (or sharply curtailed) plowing and treating roads!

We’ve had very little snow in my part of Connecticut (there is a huge variability within the state this year). I can’t tell you how relieved I am, especially since my friend Bob, the meteorology professor, says Northern Hemisphere snow cover is way above average!

Earlier today we got what’s in the attached photo – graupel. It’s not unknown, but it’s not an everyday occurence either.

graupel–Heavily rimed snow particles, often called snow pellets; often indistinguishable from very small soft hail except for the size convention that hail must have a diameter greater than 5 mm.

Sometimes distinguished by shape into conical, hexagonal, and lump (irregular) graupel.

That definition, from the American Meteorological Society, would be much shorter if it just said, “snow that looks like Styrofoam.”

It snowed (actually, graupelled) for a few minutes this afternoon while the wind howled. This small accumulation was gone within five minutes. Today, it’s weather my sister is jealous of.

More On The Seal

Tonight on the news, right next to my name was the American Meteorological Society’s Broadcast Seal of Approval.

It was actually cooler than I thought it would be. Is this ridiculous?

Let me explain. The seal’s purpose has, in my eyes, changed over time – not necessarily for the good.

Originally, the AMS Broadcast Seal of Approval was given to anyone who showed their broadcast was based on sound scientific principles. I’m sure the wording was a little different, but that was the gist.

About 20 minutes after I started doing the weather in Buffalo, that changed. In order to get the seal you needed to be a meteorologist. For most people, mature in their careers, that was a real sticking point.

Of course, necessity is the mother of invention – and so the distance learning course from Mississippi State was born. Three years, nine semesters, 53 credits and you too can be a meteorologist, all while in your pj’s!

I took the MSU course and immediately found adult Geoff was different than kid Geoff. I’m not sure why, but the passing grade for me became “A.” It’s ridiculous, because no one really cared whether I finish with honors (I did) or by the skin of my teeth. But, 55 is not 18! I was a motivated student.

I finished MSU last summer and almost immediately started getting my act together for the seal. In order to apply, you have to send airchecks from three consecutive day’s broadcasts to a panel of AMS certified broadcast meteorologists.

The panel is very critical (or so I’ve been told). No bit of minutiae is too small to get by. I haven’t received their comments, but word on the street is, they’re always somewhat brutal – pass or fail.

I sent my material to the judges in the beginning of November 2005. That I need to post the year gives you an idea of how ponderous this process is. I received word today – though if I had waited like the patient guy I’m supposed to be, word wouldn’t come for another week or two.

Why does it take over six months? I’ve not a clue. There’s nothing in the process that should take so long. Each member of the panel got his/her own individual copy of my airchecks.

More importantly, isn’t it in the public’s best interest for the AMS to do this quickly? If this is to tell the public someone’s got the goods, why wait?

There is some frustration on my part and I intend to find out why it takes so long.

So, what does this seal certify? From the American Meteorological Society’s website:

the stated goals of the program will be to ensure that meteorologists who hold the Seal of Approval exhibit scientific competence and effective communication skills in their weather forecasts.

In other words, I’m not longer just a schlemiel giving the weather. I’m an actual meteorologist whose scientific competence has been established. Wow.

My mom said she was proud. My wife complimented me on the accomplishment. I’m pretty happy myself.

AMS Seal

I am working on obtaining the American Meteorological Society Seal of Approval for Television. It is a hoop jumping affair.

After getting airchecks from three consecutive days and compiling them on a DVD, I’ve written a cover letter to explain what I can and cannot do on-the-air&#185. Actually, those steps were done six times, once for each reviewer and the chairperson of the board.

After the DVDs are received, I will undergo a subjective appraisal by each of the reviewing committee members based on specific criteria. I’ve copied the form that will be used and posted it here.

The process should take about four months! Four months… that’s longer than it takes to get a rebate back in the mail. I have no idea what takes so long.

I am but a mere cog in the machine and will wait. I’ve got no choice.

Meanwhile, I hope they like my work.

&#185 – Without getting into the specifics, every station has a format so the graphics and other parts of the presentation are similar from newscast-to-newscast, person-to-person.

Pleasing the Society

I am now a meteorologist – a full fledged meteorologist. I would be lying if I didn’t say I felt some pride when one of our anchors announces me as Meteorologist Geoff Fox.

Now I move to the next step, getting an AMS Seal.

First, an explanation of terms. AMS stands for The American Meteorological Society. The ‘seal’ is the AMS Seal of Approval for Television Weathercasting, and it’s awarded by the Board of Broadcast Meteorology. Phew – no wonder they shorten it to AMS and seal.

The AMS would like to preserve the integrity and scientific efficacy of weather forecasting. My boss wants me to present an understandable and useful forecast. Sometimes those two are at odds with each other.

In order to get the AMS Seal, I must submit three airchecks (tapes of a weather broadcast) from three consecutive days. Actually, that’s a great idea. It seems important to watch a candidate’s forecast in context. My tapes are distributed to members of the board who individually pass judgment. My understanding is, this is not an easy group to please.

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, just got his rejection note within the past few weeks. The comments were brutal – and I think this guy is very good.

Once your tapes go in, the board takes months to come up with its verdict. I have heard lots of grousing over this. I have no clue what takes so long, and I’m a little new in the organization to complain, but there are few things in this modern era that take six month, especially when the actually work of judging takes a few hours at most. I’m sure I’m missing some nuance which explains the timeframe… maybe not.

I started collecting my airchecks last night. I’d like to have my three before the week’s end. My plan is to have this out the door as soon as possible, but first have some folks with experience (my friend who’s just been shot down, a former member of the board, etc.) look and make sure I’m on the right track.

There is lots of talk on some weather bulletin boards concerning the relative value of having the seal. After 21 years on the air here in Connecticut, will more people be inclined to watch because of it? I don’t know. But, I’m sure I’ll enjoy seeing the ‘seal’ on the air next to my name the same way I enjoy hearing meteorologist.

Going To School From Home

I am now in my eighth of nine semesters of broadcast meteorology at Mississippi State University. Other than driving through, I’ve never been to Mississippi. Even then, I’ve never been to Starkville&#185, home of MSU.

Of all the school courses I’ve ever taken, going all the way back to 1955, I am currently taking the toughest – Thermodynamics. It’s heavy on theory, often using examples that don’t or can’t exist in the real world.

I’ve always been good at looking a theoretical problems from a real world perspective and using that to shape my understanding. So far in this course, that doesn’t work.

I will pass this course. In fact, I hope to do well in this course. The first homework test was a killer – exceptionally tough. Because it was a homework test, I had unlimited amounts of time to formulate my answers to the questions before I opened up the timed portion, I was able to get a 96%.

Trust me, it was still crushingly difficult. I’m petrified about the midterm which is timed but without the opportunity to answer the questions in advance.

This is one course where there would be an obvious benefit to being in a classroom where I could raise my hand and say, “What the hell are you talking about?” Getting my lectures on DVD makes that impossible.

I’m not sure where my knowledge of thermodynamics will lead. There is probably a good purpose for this which will become obvious later… or not. Sometimes a school’s curriculum just doesn’t make sense. The academic and professional worlds are often far apart.

I have become more sensitive to this course and others I’ve taken, because of a proposed law in Texas. I’m not going to fool you, this proposition is already dead. Still, the fact that someone tried to push it through is pretty upsetting to me.

A Keller lawmaker’s bill regulating TV weathercasters stirred up a whirlwind of opposition in Austin. But the dust-up between scientists and TV personalities hasn’t lost speed and may show up soon on a radar screen near you.

Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, triggered a gust front when she sponsored a bill requiring math and science college studies before a person can use the title of meteorologist.

Under this proposed legislation, my 53 college level credits in meteorology and related subjects would mean nothing! Behind the scenes, it looks like this was pushed by a degreed meteorologist who didn’t feel my coursework was enough… and probably didn’t want to compete with the likes of me.

There is no doubt I am a biased observer. However, I can say absolutely, this course will give me enough knowledge to call myself a meteorologist and much more knowledge than I’ll ever need to be on TV. It was actually devised to pass the scrutiny of the American Meteorological Society and their Broadcast Seal program. Like academia, the AMS is also sometimes out of touch with the professional world.

When I first started the course, my wife asked if I had learned anything new. When I said yes, she asked, “How important could it be if you didn’t need it for the last 20 years?”

This summer, after all my courses are finished, I will head to Birmingham, AL&#178. Birmingham in August – pinch me.

After a few days of on-site seminar lectures I will be done with my schooling. Hopefully no one else will make an end around and try to change the rules.

&#185 – Here’s a town name right up there with Marblehead, MA and Peculiar, MO. Starkville is, I would assume, the opposite of Pleasantville. At some point someone looked at what surrounded him and the best word to describe it was, “stark!” Or, it’s named after someone whose last name was Stark… though my explanation is so much more fun.

&#178 – Birmingham is being used because of the size of our group. In some ways I’m disappointed. Who wants to finish their college career without once seeing the campus?

Changing The Rules During The Game

I am not a meteorologist, but I do the same job as the three meteorologists I work with. Over twenty plus years, and with lots of study, I think I know what I’m doing… though that’s for my viewers to judge, not me.

A few years ago my boss thought it would be a good thing if my expertise in meteorology was acknowledged. He offered to pay the cost if I would obtain the Seal of Approval in Broadcast Meteorology from the American Meteorological Society. It would take a commitment on my part to complete a formal course of study to ‘legitimized’ my knowledge.

The best way to go about this was the Broadcast Meteorology program offered by Mississippi State University. I began classes in September 2002.

I am often asked if it’s an on-line program. The simple answer is, sort of. Lectures are given on DVD and video cassette. Tests, quizzes and access to teaching assistants is given on-line. There is a short trip to Mississippi required at the end of the 3 year program.

When I am finished, I will have 53 credits in meteorology and related subjects. The difference between this course and more traditional college meteorology programs is the math requirement. Here, it is fairly rudimentary with some statistics and algebra. In most other courses there is calculus involved.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Mississippi State specifically tailored this program to meet the AMS Seal requirements. Graduates of traditional programs often claim that the MSU program is inferior. However, for day-to-day broadcast meteorology, the MSU program is a magnitude order beyond what is needed.

I have often heard kvetching about how the MSU program cheapens the more traditional meteorology programs. And now, in an end around move, the AMS is changing the Broadcast Seal program in a way that will please the kvetches.

In a few years the AMS Seal will cease to be issued. Current holders (and hopefully I will be one by then) will be ‘grandfathered’ in.

Replacing the seal will be a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist program. The qualifications include passing a test and a degree in meteorology or equivalent. Right now, my guess would be that they will not consider the Mississippi State program equivalent, even though it requires more meteorology related subjects than most traditional programs.

This is a broadside aimed specifically at MSU. If this policy is enacted as proposed, the MSU program will quickly lose its reason for being.

I have been in touch with the director of the program at Mississippi State. A few weeks ago he seemed non plussed. Today I sense he is more concerned about what’s going on.

I have recommended that he make a personal presentation to the AMS boards which will make the final decision. A well thought out and prepared personal appearance might make a world of difference. He says that is his idea too.

Over one third of the broadcast meteorologists in the United States received their training from Mississippi State. Soon, I will too. I will have the qualifications for the AMS Seal late in the summer of 2005.

The Meat of Meteorology

If you read this blog regularly, you probably already know I forecast the weather on TV. That’s my job and I’ve been doing it for over 20 years (and about 35 years broadcasting in general).

I am not a meteorologist. There are three others on our meteorology staff at work, and we all do the same thing. I do what a meteorologist does. Forecasting is a skill I’ve studied over the last 20 years and, hopefully, mastered.

A year and a half ago, the general manager of our station asked if I would formalize my education, become a meteorologist and get the AMS Seal (AMS is The American Meteorological Society). The AMS Seal is pretty much the ‘gold standard’ for broadcast weather forecasters. I said yes and enrolled at Mississippi State University in their distance learning program. When I’m finished, I will have a certificate in meteorology, not a bachelors degree.

Now, with my Summer ’05 completion looming, I see the AMS is changing the rules for broadcast meteorology again. I say again because 20 years ago there was no formal education component of the seal at all.

This time, they will eliminate the seal program and replace it with Certified Broadcast Meteorologist or CBM. In order to receive the CBM, you will need to have a BS in meteorology, not just the core 50+ credits that Mississippi State provides. The seal program will continue until 2008, meaning I will be able to qualify and receive one, though not the CBM.

Why would the AMS care if you have other credits and a degree beyond the core courses? My guess is, the more traditional universities have seen the MSU program and realize the only way they can compete with it, or have their graduates compete with it, is to change the rules and (possibly) eliminate it.

I have just had an email conversation with the director of the MSU program. I don’t think he realized how this rule change would affect what they’re doing. I think he does now.

The question is, what is the reason for having the AMS Seal in the first place? If it’s to help viewers shop for a scientifically based presentation, with this move the AMS has gone too far. Even the current qualifications provide more than enough screening.

If its purpose is to promote the fortunes of the traditional schools of meteorology, and their students, this change will achieve the goal.