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Bad winter, bad forecasting

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

 

In the fervent hope that the final snowflakes of the season have drifted to the ground, we offer a last look at the accuracy of the long-range winter weather forecasts offered by the three Pittsburgh TV meteorologists last fall.

It was a bad winter for all of us. The snow and howling winds left all our faces red. But for KDKA’s Jeff Verszyla, the shade of red might have been slightly brighter. Here’s what he said on the last day of October:

“Last year, we finished the season with just over 57 inches, which was way above the seasonal average of 41 inches. This year, we won’t approach last year’s total.”

He then served up a prediction that 32 inches would fall for the entire season. The actual total through Wednesday: 62.5 inches. Juuust a bit outside.

WTAE’s Mike Harvey and WPXI’s Stephen Cropper did better, but not by a lot. Neither came very close to foreseeing the above-average snowfalls that fell from December through February; both overguessed what would fall in March.

The breakdown (with actual snowfall totals in parentheses):

Harvey -- December, 8 inches (15); January, 15 (17.9); February, 13 (16.1); March, 9 (4.1).

Cropper -- December, 10 inches (15); January, 12 (17.9); February, 12 (16.1); March, 8 (4.1).

None of the three came close to accurately forecasting the bitter cold that gripped us after Jan. 1.

Verszyla and Cropper said February would be the coldest month (wrong, it was January); Harvey said monthly average temperatures would be from 0.5 to 1 degree below normal (way wrong, the average was 6.3 degrees below normal in January, 5.4 in February and 4.9 so far in March).

So maybe it was an off-year for our weather seers. Or maybe they should just acknowledge that long-range winter forecasts are little more than guesswork designed to build ratings.

One final note: These guys were slam-dunked by the Farmer’s Almanac (and legendary forecaster “Caleb Weatherbee”) and the Old Farmer’s Almanac, both of which warned us it would be colder and snowier than normal.

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With the Pennsylvania Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett having stepped up to improve the state’s transportation system, it would be a shame if they were undercut by the gridlocked Congress, which has not come up with a plan to rescue the Highway Trust Fund, the principal source of revenue for federally supported projects. It is projected to run out of money this summer.

AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, projects that 6,000 U.S. construction projects could be halted if the fund runs dry. It has produced an interesting slideshow about what’s at stake, which can be seen here.

The trust fund has lost more than half of its purchasing power since 1990 because of inflation (the federal gasoline tax is NOT indexed to inflation and hasn’t been raised since 1993), cars that burn less fuel and a decline in driving during the economic slump.

It will be interesting to see if U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, can help pave the way to an adequate funding solution before the current transportation law expires at the end of September. So far, Mr. Shuster has told us he thinks transportation infrastructure is important, and that fiscal discipline is important, but has yet to offer much in the way of details.

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Bridge replacement will begin on Lebanon Road in West Mifflin on Thursday. You think this bridge maybe needs it?

lebanonroad

The $4.6 million project will replace the bridge over the Union Railroad tracks between Lebanon Church Road and Noble Drive. Two-way traffic will be maintained with intermittent stoppages. The work is scheduled for completion in April 2015.

The right lane of outbound Route 65 will be closed at the Interstate 279 split on the North Side from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday during bridge inspection.

One outbound lane will close on Route 28, at the bridge that carries a Freeport Road ramp over the highway in O'Hara, from 9 p.m. Thursday to 2 a.m Friday during inspections.

Also, inbound Route 28 will be closed overnight at the 31st Street Bridge starting at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Traffic will be pushed across the bridge to Penn Avenue and on to the 16th Street Bridge to recross the river. The closure will end by 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and 5 a.m. Monday. Crews will install utility hole covers. Also, single-lane traffic will occur on inbound Route 28 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday between the 31st Street Bridge and the East Ohio Street off-ramp.

Early reminder that North Shore lots will be closed to commuters on Monday and Thursday next week, when the Pirates play day games against the Chicago Cubs.

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