Blowing The Forecast

This entry has been edited because, it has been pointed out, most of the state was properly forecast by me… just not the city where the station sits.

I went to work Sunday night, handling the forecasting details on-the-air. A storm was brewing.

Though my call was significantly below the Weather Service and was the lowest snow prediction in the state (as usual), the forecast busted on parts of the shoreline&#185. Thankfully, my low number call was good for most of inland Connecticut.

After two hours of sleet and mixed precipitation, New Haven had six straight hours of snow at the airport… but no accumulation. The ground was too warm or too wet and the snow was already close to melting as it approached the surface.

Schools were closed. People cancelled appointments. There had been snow in the sky, but without impact.

Here’s part of an email I received:

I’ve been watching WTNH more years than I care to remember. I think the habit you have of hyping a storm coming our way is unacceptable. I’m at the point now where if I watch the weather forecast and you are the weather forecaster, I can rest assured it won’t happen. May I make a suggestion, refrain from the excitement you seem to possess, when a storm is headed our way make sure you are reasonably correct before you announce the worst scenario. With all your modern equipment you are no more correct than my father was when he went outside and looked up at the sky.

My first words at 11:00 PM were, “My wife asked me not to scare everyone,” which is what I tried to do. Of course with the Weather Service’s “HEAVY SNOW WARNING” in effect, it was tough to avoid.

Yesterday, I went on the air and apologized. I don’t know if it will make the viewers feel better. It helps me.

Bill Evans from WABC was quoted in the NY Daily News today:

“I feel like I let the public down. We didn’t get it right. At the same time, we worked as hard as we could to get it right.”

Exactly, though Bill’s bust was orders of magnitude bigger than mine.

It’s not just the forecast was wrong. It’s that it was wrong in spite of doing everything we could do to get it right. Going back, I probably would have made the same forecast. In fact, a meteorologist friend was giving me reasons to raise the numbers just before air time (I resisted).

This is the most frustrating part of what is normally a fun job. I want people to trust me. No one wants to drop the ball. No one wants to get those emails. No one wants to be quoted in an article, as Bill Evans was, titled “Now that was a flaky weather forecast

&#185 – The rest of the state’s forecast – covering 90% of the landmass and around 75% of the populace, was accurate.

Thanksgiving Recap

I am just beginning to reenter the world of the living. Going to New York was a major shock to my system because of the one day schedule upheaval. I went to work a few hours before I normally wake up.

It was well worth it. Make no mistake about that. I had a great time, in spite of the weather.

Steffie accepted my offer and came along. While I caught a few hours sleep Wednesday evening, she decided to just stretch her day. By 1:15 AM Thanksgiving morning we were getting into a town car for the ride to Manhattan.

The ride started under cloudy skies, but by the time we got to Bridgeport, it was snowing. The snow was light at first, but before the New York line it was covering the road.

The town car blasted along between 65 and 75. I was beginning to get a little panicky. I didn’t want us to be the first Thanksgiving highway statistic!

As we moved through Westchester and into the Bronx, the snow turned to sleet and quickly to rain. Now the highway was just wet.

I asked the driver to stick to the West Side because I assumed some streets would be closed for parade preparations. We headed down the Henry Hudson Parkway, past the beautiful George Washington Bridge. At night the lattice of the bridge’s towers are lit, making it look like a gigantic model bridge. It’s too good looking to be real or functional.

Traffic was light as we transitioned from the Henry Hudson to the West Side Highway. We were doing 74 mph when the cop caught us on radar!

I’ve never been pulled over in New York. It’s an experience. There’s no shoulder on the highway to safely stop, so the cop called through a loudspeaker, telling us to pull off at the next exit.

I got antsy and wanted to intercede. Steffie, wisely, kept me in check. As it turned out, the limo driver had things well in control.

Unbeknown to us, he had a small metal NYPD shield in his wallet. His cousin is a cop in Midtown Manhattan (or so he said – does it really matter). Under the unwritten law of professional courtesy, the officer acted angry, asked the driver if he knew how fast he was going and then walked away. Just like that. Holy cow – those things do work!

My instructions from ABC said to meet at 79th Street and Central Park West. There was no way to drive there, so we got out at 77th and Columbus.

IMG_3112I talked my way past a young guy standing security at Columbus Avenue, only to get questioned again at Central Park West. This person was tall, unhappy, and actually speaking into his wrist! When I asked if he was with the police or Macy’s he said, “Both.”

He was a little more thorough, wanting to see some ID. I don’t have an NYPD press pass, but I did have my Channel 8 ID. He looked at it for a few milliseconds and said OK – but he’d accompany us.

We headed uptown, past workers getting ready to march. We walked by the stately, somewhat Goth, Museum of Natural History. When we got to the next corner it was 81st Street.

There is no 79th and Central Park West! Uh oh.

I called Chika, my producer. She too was on her way. She asked me to stay put until she got there. Steffie and I stood under my umbrella in the rain. We were next to the Manhattan North command post and there was a constant buzz of activity.

When Chika got there, we realized not only was there no 79th and CPW – there was no live truck! I was standing there wondering if we’d get on the air at all. That thought only lasted a few seconds, because this type of logistical miscue happens all the time. Somehow, it always works… well almost always.

IMG_3014The truck ended up on Park Drive South, with a long cable run to the parade. The photographer, Mark, set up and we were ready to go.

Before leaving Connecticut I had cut the audio for a package on the parade. That track was for timing. Now, in the truck, using the strangest looking microphone I’d even seen, I recut it with better audio.

Along the curb, camera after camera after camera set up. All the local New York stations were there, as was GMA (ABC, but separate from us) and Today.

As shot, each reporter stood with the street behind him. Truth is, we were all shoulder-to-shoulder-to shoulder.

IMG_3083Let me take a second to apologize for anyone near me Thanksgiving morning. I project… OK, I am loud. It must have been tough for the reporters next to me, because I’m sure they heard me. Disconcerting, no doubt.

I cut a tag for World News Now, ABC’s overnight show, and then the live shots began.

It didn’t begin smoothly. The IFB system (IFB for interrupt feedback, describes the communications system that allows me to hear both the TV station in another city and its producer) was flawed. I was hearing a few syllables at a time and then silence. Something was there, but it wasn’t usable.

The first few live shots ended up being me fronting my package without interaction with the local anchors. I couldn’t speak with them, because I couldn’t hear them.

It wasn’t long before the IFB was squared away and we started ‘servicing the affiliates.&#185’

IMG_3090Here’s how it works. Chika speaks to the producer via cellphone. My IFB gets switched so I can hear their ‘air.’ We go over the names of the anchors and who I’ll be speaking with. Sometimes, if while waiting to go on I hear a weather forecaster mention local weather, I’d ask Chika to get his/her name.

Once on, I ad libbed a little about what was going on and then tossed to the package. On the way out I’d talk about the forecast of wind or let the anchors see the new Scooby Doo balloon resting across the street.

We did live hit after live hit after live hit. Sixteen separate shots over the morning. It was great!

I suppose you might say I’m a live TV slut. It’s a rush – a seat of the pants experience each and every time. I have called it crack for middle aged white guys.

IMG_3030After it was all done, the folks at ABC NewsOne thanked me. I appreciate that. But, the truth is, maybe they were doing me the favor. It’s a job I enjoy doing and they gave me the opportunity to do it from a great location, on a fun story, on stations all across the country.

The icing on the cake was going there with Steffie. I introduced her early on as my daughter. As the morning wore on, and other people came and went, she was just accepted as part of our crew. It’s nice to see her as a grownup and to see other people see her that way.

Liveshot rundown:

-- 0430 World News This Morning

-- 0515 WFTV - Orlando

-- 0545 WJLA - Washington

-- 0550 WTNH - New Haven

-- 0615 WFTV - Orlando

-- 0620 WTNH - New Haven

-- 0640 WCPO - Cincinnati

-- 0645 WJLA - Washington

-- 0650 WTNH - New Haven

-- 0705 WTNH - New Haven

-- 0720 WLS - Chicago

-- 0740 WTNH - New Haven

-- 0800 KABC - Los Angeles

-- 0820 KXTV - Sacramento

-- 0840 KNXV - Phoenix

-- 0900 KABC - Los Angeles

&#185 – When I ran into Al Roker and told him I was there ‘servicing the affiliates’, we both smiled. It does have that stud horse implication.

Stormy Weather

I was busy yesterday afternoon with some stormy weather that moved into Connecticut. I got an email from someone on the other side of the state who was unhappy I had broken into a soap opera.

That sort of thing comes with the territory. I have heard other weather people describing the same type of call or email. There is no question in my mind that I did the right thing. The writer will probably never agree.

At least the bad weather brought one thing – this unreal picture taken in Northfield, CT by Lou Belloisy. Lou’s an old friend and former chopper pilot for the station. I’ve seen his photography before, so this shot is no surprise.

I am jealous.

This is the kind of photo I’d like to take. Hopefully, I will. I understand the mechanics and technique, but there’s more involved. There will be more pictures like this one over time because more people with digital cameras will be willing to experiment, taking hundreds of photos and getting instant feedback.

Along with our thunderstorms, I’ve been watching two tropical systems closely because it looks like they might affect us – not as tropical storms or hurricanes, but as gusty rainstorms.

My forecast for Bonnie, the first, looks on target. Tomorrow should be very, very rainy. I’m not so sure about Charley, storm two.

Here’s the problem for me as a weather forecaster – I am very dependent upon the computer guidance. Every once in a while I’ll hear a forecaster poo poo the models, but that’s baloney. The reason we can have 5-6-7, even 8-day forecasts is because of computer modeling. No human could discern the weather patterns that far in advance without mathematical help.

Unfortunately, the medium range models, and to a lesser extent the short term ones, don’t see these tropical systems! They are compact, and usually occur in areas where data is sparse. As of this morning I can’t find Charley on the models we depend on for the first few days of the forecast, much less the extended forecast.

I know Charley will be there, so everything in the models he could interact with is probably wrong!

I try to look at special tropical models and integrate the data myself – but that’s not a great solution. There’s just too much physics taking place. I’m sure I’m missing things left and right. So, the extended forecast, when there’s tropical weather around, tends to be less accurate – which is a shame.

There’s no ‘level of difficulty’ excuse. If this forecast busts, people will be (correctly) upset. That’s what I get for claiming to be able to predict the future.

My blog – quoted in print

“It’s embarrassing to me,” Fox said. “Forget the movie. This was the perfect storm.”

I got a call from Pat Seremet at the Hartford Courant yesterday. She had heard how I missed my shot at WTIC. The weatherman, unable to attend because of weather. Now that’s news!

I’ve attached her story to the link below.

Let me explain the use of the term “Perfect Storm.” In order for us to have had this teeny bit of snow stop a significant portion of the state, everything had to fall in line in exactly the right order. It was an incredibly unlikely set of circumstances. If any single thing would have changed, we wouldn’t have noticed the snow at all.

Continue reading “My blog – quoted in print”

Facilitator… That’s Me

I’m not sure what the proper term is – emcee, host, moderator? I personally like facilitator, though I can’t give you the exact definition of the word. Whatever it is, I did it today, as I shepherded a roundtable discussion on air quality at Southern Connecticut State University. I think it went very well.

This is a skill I never knew I had until Dave Brody, producer for Inside Space, had me moderate a few “Star Councils”; panel discussions on space&#185. Once, I told a panelist (I think it was Bob Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society), “I’m not calling on you until I actually see smoke coming out of your ears.”

My approach is to be the opposite of anyone I’m questioning. I don’t care what your beliefs are, I’m your antithesis, and I’ll make you justify every position you take. It really forces people to become more passionate and factual as they begin to speak.

It becomes clear from the start that no statement will go unchallenged.

Being contrary is its own reward. So, this is totally fun for me.

When I was first approached to do today’s panel, I was skittish because it looked like the panel members might be all of one mind. A lovefest with no critical thinking would be worthless. I was assured there would be diversity of opinion and I was not disappointed.

Sometimes, I think I’d like to try my hand at doing this at some tech or broadcasting convention, but I have no idea where to go or who to contact to get the ball rolling.

&#185 – I am reminded by Dr. Frank Tavares at Southern Connecticut State University, that it was he who got me to moderate my first roundtable. It had to do with the future of communications. My boss (who I never really got along with) was a participant, as was the GM of the local cable company and a few others. We pulled no punches.

It was Brody who got me to do these in quantity, with world renowned experts, on the road at scholarly meetings, with an audience of opinionated and well informed experts. And, of course, doing the “Star Councils” on-camera made them even more fun.

Continue reading “Facilitator… That’s Me”