By Terry Eliasen, Meteorologist, WBZ-TV Exec. Weather Producer

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.

(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

Comments (10)
  1. Chris Burns says:

    Did you not know about the dry air in place ahead of time? I would have thought that would be easy to forecast.

  2. Coating to an inch? Already have 2 inches here, it’s snowing fairly heavily and it won’t stop for 3-6 hours. Nice job forecasting.

  3. Daniel Kozik says:

    Somebody needs to be held accountable!!! millions of dollars wasted, so many school closings. all of you need to be fired for this lie.

    1. “Held Accountable”..? It should be the school admins who should have waited, there was no need to call it the night before… And what “Millions of dollars wasted”..? The forecast was being downsized before it was even dark out Wednesday…

  4. Agree with frustration, especially completely unnecessary Boston school cancellation and in other local communities!
    Given the significant number of snow days already used, you would think these “educators” would demonstrate greater discretion and sound judgement before making a call to cancel before storm even got underway. Gone are the days of waiting until morning to cancel. So much softer now in so many things. Those kids and teachers will be first to complain going to class in late June temps.

    As far as mets, they can make any excuse when these storms “bust” as they will tell you how complex it is to forecast weather. Which is why it would have been prudent to factor in the extremely dry air due to powerful and unrelenting NOAA (Greenland blocking) over the region.
    The previous storms overacheived their forecasts as they generally underforecast snowfall, wind gusts, etc. and mean reversion occurred with this event, lower than expected.
    Over on Channel 7 they were a bit more apologetic to viewers last night but ‘BZ takes its lead from arrogant chief meterologist. You will rarely if ever see him be humble, makes a lot of excuses about how hard it is to forecast……we deserve the “bust’ and I hope we are nearing the end of snow and cold, it is really too much around here.
    And wouldn’t it be great if we got a blocking high providing good weather conditions for a month during the summer. But then the “drought” forecasts would begin, which are a joke as New England always makes up in spades for any rainfall deficits! It’s a FOREST……

  5. You won? How can you win if your wrong? Maybe you should be a meteorologist in Russia..You won’t be wrong often. If you are you are, you will disappear. You cause people to lose large sums of money when you screw up like this! And it wasn’t even a forecast a week in advance. It was the night before! Jeeses!

  6. WCVB predicted more snow that you all. At least you won there.

  7. I don’t think you had a perfect season up until the last storm.

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