- A school bus struggles to navigate snow-covered roads in Arlington. Photo: Eric Mensh
Public perception of a forecast is all that really matters. I have to admit that the forecast and what happened wasn’t a perfect match, but it was right on for the two most important factors of timing and impact. The snow totals fell short. The storm started on time as advertised and created gridlock on area roads.
Despite this, there were many comments on social media stating that people weren’t expecting the snow to be a problem around Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning. In particular, I’m talking about school authorities. As a meteorologist, I was surprised that some schools chose not to at least delay classes yesterday based on the best information available at 5 a.m. This was even before it was clear the heaviest band of snow was setting up right along the I-66 corridor.
As a parent, I was concerned about my daughter taking the bus five miles down winding, snow-covered roads to her school (my son is a walker, so no problem there). In addition, (full disclosure here, my kids go to Fairfax County Public Schools) I was confused as to why my county changed the calendar to build in as many at 15 snow days and yet chose to stay open. Many parents were outraged and expressed their opinions on Twitter. Soon the hashtag #closeFCPS was trending on Twitter worldwide.
So, what happened? I wrote a blog on Monday morning that you can find at this link. The headline is “Snow may snarl the Tuesday morning commute.” The StormWatch 7 Team was predicting snow to begin between “4 a.m. and 6 a.m.” and that “snow showers will continue until about noon.” The snow began at 4:52 a.m. at Reagan National. I also sent out tweets with this information.
ABC7 Futurecast shows snow developing by 4a.m. Tuesday. Give or take a bit on this. Most snow done by noon. pic.twitter.com/Cvghuvzvfd— Jacqui Jeras (@JacquiJeras) January 5, 2015
In each of my weather forecasts on the air, I emphasized that the morning commute would be ugly. I said that while this isn’t a big storm, it will be a big impact while everyone tries to get to work at the same time as the snow is coming down. Heck, around here, just a little rain can make for a bad commute.
The Totals: This is where the message interpretations were likely different. Our forecast snow bands map was short of what fell in the major metro area due to a narrow band of heavier snow. I had most of D.C. in the same color band as southern Maryland in the Trace to Around 1” category. While Northwest D.C. along with Fairfax, Loudoun, and Montgomery Counties in the 1-2” range. While I mentioned the potential for a few spots with higher totals for banding, it's nearly impossible to predict where that sets up. Here is that map we used to forecast snow totals before the storm.
- Snowfall Forecast
Obviously this is short of the final tallies you can find on this map.
- Final Snowfall Reports via National Weather Service
I’m certainly not above criticism and improvement on my forecast. I take full blame for missing the higher snowfall totals. On this one, I’ve learned to watch the snow/liquid ratio more closely and to do a better job warning people about snow banding that can bring higher totals.
- At Reagan National we had 2.4” of snow. If you melt that down, it equals .20” of liquid. That’s a 12/1 ratio. At Dulles, 4.2” of snow melted down to .28” of liquid which is a 15/1 ratio. On average, 10" of snow will equal 1" of liquid. This time around, it was a light, fluffy snow due to drier air and cold temperatures.
- My main disappointment comes with finding that some people didn’t think the IMPACT message was clear. Even after admitting officials were wrong to keep school in session yesterday in Fairfax County their wording still blamed the weather or the forecast, not themselves.
- “We apologize for the difficulties the weather caused this morning," the county's statement read. "Please know that significant area government entities were coordinating at a very early hour. The decision was made with the best information we had very early this morning. Needless to say, the conditions were far worse than anticipated."
- Maybe there was a bit more snow than expected, but the impact was as advertised. The right decision made with the best information available would have been to close schools for the day.