The Anatomy of a Pseudo-Bust

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Since early this week we’ve been talking about a possible snowstorm for Sunday and Monday. The latest forecast isn’t exactly what we had in mind.

So what went wrong? Thursday evening I posted about the storm on my blog. The purpose of the post was the explain the uncertainty that was a bit high for this storm.

But, before we get too excited, this storm is fraught with caution flags.

By Friday morning, our computer models had trended much more bullish on the storm potential. My concerns about the piece of the polar vortex over Canada squashing this storm south were soothed and it appeared that this storm wouldn’t have much of an issue coming north.

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By late in the day the rug was pulled out from under this storm. Our computer models began an abrupt shift south (after coming north Thursday night) and the it was time to stick a fork in this one.

While we had been talking about the “potential” for a snowstorm for a few days that potential was interpreted as certainty by many. Ridiculous forecasts of over a foot of snow had spread like wildfire across social media including a fake forecast that was photoshopped on a WFXT-TV graphic from Boston.

A photoshopped fake forecast had thousands and thousands of shares.

A photoshopped fake forecast had thousands and thousands of shares.

On our station Facebook page we had a number of comments asking where the 12″-18″ of snow went to? Huh? We never even thought that this storm could drop that much snow never mind forecast that much snow. I don’t even know where that came from.

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Social media has allowed bad weather information to go viral. Bad “meteorologists” have a platform to spread bad information. Some merchants of hype that normally were only able to peddle their bad meteorology a few times a week on broadcast TV now have a platform to forecast nonsense 24/7. Teenagers with snazzy looking Facebook pages and a rudimentary knowledge of Photoshop can also produce some pretty fancy looking snowfall maps. Responsible graphics and forecasts don’t get many shares – the bogus or outrageous ones get plenty.

I’ve also noticed how hard it is to provide context to responsible forecasts on social media. Most people don’t read a post and go straight for the graphic. Some just swipe the graphic and then retweet it or repost it without the corresponding text. Without the description or caption many of the graphics TV meteorologists put on social media can be dangerous. A computer model run with snow totals can quickly become “your” forecast even if you write that it’s not what you’re forecasting and only one model.

So was this forecast a bust? In some respects yes but in some respects not really. Posting that odds of a significant snow are somewhat greater than 50/50 doesn’t imply that it’s an absolute lock. We forecasted 4″-7″ of snow on Friday when it appeared that we’d get some impact from this storm. At the time, that was based on the best available information. Here’s what Brad said about the forecast Friday night at 11 p.m.

Watch why I’m so concerned about this forecast. We’ll stop the clock at 6:00 in the morning watch where the northern fringe is – right in northern Connecticut. There’s going to be a really sharp cut off between practically nothing to the north and really substantial snow to the south so you’re going to want to stay with the forecast through the weekend and we will keep you fully apprised of the situation.

We do the best we can. We get a lot right and we get some wrong. We put up a lot of caution flags with this forecast and it looks like those were warranted.

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5 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Pseudo-Bust

  1. Believe me i am MUCH happier with this forecast coating to 2 inches.. After this winter iam sick of all this white stuff, it can go away any day now.. God i hope spring springs soon.

  2. I’m not so concerned about whether you got it right or wrong. My personal history on this particular storm – early in the week I started getting FB posts from “friends” talking about this massive snow/ice event headed towards the east coast. I began paying attention to the local forecasters and they were saying nothing. It got to the point that I became a bit frustrated. Clearly something was happening – but the CT airwaves were mum. Finally on Friday, the hedging began. “Well, something is happening, but we’re not sure….” Then it seemed you guys gave into the pressure and started amping up your forecast. Turns out your initial intuition was correct. My only feedback is that it probably would have been ok to say, there’s s system in California that may impact the East Coast, but we don’t have a good read on what the impact will be locally. Ignoring the rumors was damaging. Reacting to the rumors was damaging. In my book, it’s ok to say we just don’t know. I know you probably feel it was a no-win situation and I’m sorry if you’re getting heat for it I think people just wanted information.

    • Thanks for the reply, Cate. I can really only comment on my personal thoughts on the storm and I was actually off from work Thursday and Friday. We certainly didn’t respond to the rumors – in fact until today I really wasn’t aware that a lot of these bogus forecasts/numbers were going around! Thursday night and Friday morning the odds of a more significant storm did go up quite a bit as our models shifted the storm north. Up until that point any impact was quite uncertain and then by late Friday signals shifted away from a significant storm. I wouldn’t necessarily call it hedging as much as I’d call it us reacting to the available information.

      I personally have no problem saying I don’t know! 🙂

      Thanks for posting

      Ryan

  3. All week long I kept looking at your blog, wondering why there wasn’t any hype or mention. Now I understand why. This is the reason I don’t fall into the social media trap for this and so many other things. Bottom line is you always need to have backup/proof etc before reacting to anything posted on social media. Just a cautious reminder to everyone that everything posted on social media has to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Thank you for keeping us informed, the right way.

  4. I follow you on twitter.I now know way more about weather. I think you are doing a great job and don’t listen to everyone complaining. You can’t ever make everyone happy. Keep up the great work and give Doppler a hug 🙂

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