Watch CBS News

Nor'Easter 4 A Forecast Bust - So What Happened?

BOSTON (CBS) -  Snor'easter 2018.  That one clearly didn't work out as planned.

We started getting hints Wednesday evening that something just wasn't right. The snow shield wasn't advancing northward. While Long Island and parts of the Mid-Atlantic were getting slammed, New England waited... and waited. By 8 p.m. we were chopping the numbers on our snow forecast map and raising the red flag.  By 11 p.m. it was clear, this one was going to be a bust.

The storm did still produce wind gusts between 40-50 mph at our coastline (over 60 on Nantucket) and some significant coastal flooding in areas like Nahant, Scituate and Marshfield. But the snow just wouldn't budge. Sure it did arrive eventually, in time for the morning commute, and many communities will end up receiving 2-to-4 inches when all is said and done, but for most folks it was too little, too late.

So what happened?

As usual, minor atmospheric changes can have very large impacts.

1) The storm track was much flatter and more east than northeast. We expected the center of the low pressure to pass over the 40N/70W mark (otherwise known as the benchmark for classic New England nor'easters).  Instead, it tracked about 50 miles south of that area. Small change in track = big impact.

(WBZ-TV graphic)

2) We knew the storm was going to have to contend with some dry air in northern New England, that is why we had such a sharp cutoff to the north in our forecast maps. But anyone watching radar Wednesday afternoon and evening could clearly tell the dry air was winning the day.  The snow was not able to advance northward and "saturate" the atmosphere. Billions and billions of snowflakes were evaporating in mid-air instead of falling and accumulating on the ground.

(WBZ-TV graphic)

3) When it did start snowing, it was too late.  The snow did eventually win out and make for a very snowy Thursday morning commute. But daytime snow in late March has a real hard time accumulating, especially on pavement. So much of what fell Thursday morning was simply melting on contact and NOT accumulating.

2017 Checkmarks
(WBZ-TV graphic)

You will notice that one thing I didn't do here was blame the weather models. Sure, our guidance was terrible for this storm. In fact, we were forecasting much LESS than what most of the weather models were predicting. But that is why we call it "guidance." The atmosphere is an insanely complex place, so complex that dozens of computer models doing trillions of calculations each second, still cannot always get it right.

It is our job as meteorologists to analyze all the data, use our past experience and then derive our OWN forecast. I actually believe that there is too much sharing of these models on social media and TV.  We shouldn't expect or want the public to be able to interpret what the EURO is saying or NAM is saying, that isn't your job, it is OURS! The sharing of all the model output just muddies the waters in my opinion.

Forecasting technology has come a long way over the last several years and certainly over the last few decades, but we are still a long way from perfection. The need for meteorologists to interpret, analyze and deliver weather information is more vital today than ever before. Go online preceding any storm and it is data overload. It's no wonder the perception among many is that "we" are always wrong. If they see 10 different forecasters throwing up 5 different model forecasts, what is the public supposed to think?

Anyhow, long story short, turn on WBZ-TV and you will always hear OUR forecast not the EURO's.  It won't always be right, but it will be clear, concise and understandable (and correct most of the time!).

Finally, with regards to schools and businesses closings 24 hours in advance of a storm, in the old days (man, I sound old), you had to wake up in the morning, flip on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 and wait as the announcer went through a list of school closings. Now, in most cases, you are alerted via text message a day in advance.

Again, forecasting has vastly improved but are we really THAT good now? I think after today, that answer is clearly NO. Sure, everyone appreciates as much advance notice as possible with regards to schools closing. I get it, you all have busy lives, kids, etc. and sometimes there are "slam dunk" storms that are worthy of a days notice. But Wednesday night was not one of those cases.  In fact I was tweeting Wednesday afternoon urging superintendents to wait this one out.

It's hard to blame them for canceling out of an abundance of caution, nothing is more important that our kids' safety. But, I think what people need to realize is that meteorology is still nowhere near an exact science, probably never will be in our lifetimes. Predicting the future just ain't easy. A former boss of mine once told me, "you're only as good as your last forecast." As frustrating as it was to hear that, he was right.

Much like the Patriots, we could have a perfect season, but if you lose your last game or last forecast, that is all folks will remember.

Follow Terry on Twitter @TerryWBZ

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.