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Are TV winter weather forecasts a snow job?

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

A meteorologist once told me that forecasting weather, especially winter storms, beyond the next 48 hours is largely guesswork.

Last week bore that out, when forecasters couldn’t get it right even after the snow began.

Weather forecasters rely on a variety of sophisticated computer models to predict what will happen. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is no model.

That hasn’t stopped all three TV chief meteorologists from peering across the vastness of winter and telling us exactly how much it will snow each month until the end of the season. These much-hyped Winter Weather Forecasts are likely forgotten by most viewers shortly after they air.

But people, we should never forget.

This is the first of what I hope will be periodic reviews of the accuracy of those forecasts.

We’re not off to a good start.

Jeff Verszyla of KDKA told us November would bring 2.2 inches of snow with near-normal temperatures, while WTAE’s Mike Harvey forecast 2.0 inches and temperatures a half-degree below normal.

The fizzle of last week’s storm spared both a blizzard of embarrassment: the actual monthly snow total was 9.3 inches and temperatures were a full 3.5 degrees below normal.

WPXI’s Stephen Cropper didn’t issue his Winter Weather Forecast until Nov. 25. After revealing the monthly snowfall totals we’ll be getting through March, Mr. Cropper transitioned to the shorter-term forecast of the pending storm, with repeated cautions that it was unpredictable and snowfall totals could fluctuate. Yes, he told us precisely how much snow we would get in December, January, February and March, then basically admitted he couldn’t be sure how much it would snow the next day.

Peering into their crystal balls, or maybe they were snow globes, the three produced widely divergent forecasts for December and for the winter season as a whole.

Mr. Verszyla says it will snow 4.4 inches this month with temperatures 5 degrees warmer than normal; Mr. Harvey says we’ll get 8 inches with temperatures a degree below normal; Mr. Cropper says 10 inches with “quick shots of cold air” (a bold call for December) but no specific temperature prediction.

For the season, Mr. Verszyla expects 32 inches, which is well below the seasonal average of about 42 inches. Mr. Harvey says we’ll get 48 inches. Mr. Cropper’s video report began with his assertion that 41.5 inches would fall from December through March; but he went on to give a month-by-month breakdown that added to 42 inches even.

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menatworkMobile signs advertise Route 28 road work “to begin 12-5” but PennDOT’s Steve Cowan said that’s when a contractor will begin mobilizing equipment for the next (and final) phase of the megaproject. The around-the-clock outbound lane closure will start again soon; no date has been finalized, he said.

Alternating one-way traffic will be in effect on Route 30 between Santiago and North Star roads in North Fayette from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through next Tuesday.

Brief lane closures will occur in the Fort Pitt Tunnels from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. today while crews put up signs.

Washington Boulevard will be closed all day Saturday from Negley Run Road to Frankstown Avenue during removal of loose concrete from the Larimer Avenue Bridge above. The work might extend into Sunday, according to Pittsburgh public works.

A huge improvement project at the intersection of Broughton, Brownsville and Curry Hollow roads in the South Hills has been completed, Allegheny County and PennDOT announced this afternoon. While the announcement claimed the project was finished ahead of schedule, our story at the start of the 2 1/2-year project said completion was projected for spring 2013, so we're assuming they finished ahead of a revised schedule.

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