Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Top 10 Wx Stories, Part 6: Epic Bust

What arguably was one of the biggest snowstorm busts in Philadelphia history occurred on March 5th, 2001. The infamous "Storm of the Century" brought scant accumulations to Philadelphia and next to nothing to the south of the city. The storm, hyped on one newscast as potentially dropping over a foot of snow, amounted to one whopping inch and whopping frustration over the hype generated for a storm that hammered New England but laughed in our faces.

By all accounts, the storm performed...just not here. It couldn't quite get its act together in time.

You can see the reanalysis graphic above (click for a loop of data from March 5th and for March 6th) depicting a lack of phasing between a potent mid level low over Michigan and a developing low pressure wave off of Virginia. These two features did not interact quick enough to allow for snow to develop in Philadelphia and by the time the mid level feature enhanced the surface low (allowing for the surface low to bomb out), it was past Philadelphia and impacting New England. Because of the slow interaction, precipitation (which almost totaled one inch in Philadelphia) started as rain, transitioned to slop, and then moved back to rain before finally ending as intermittent light snow as the storm could not pull cold air in from the north until the storm generally passed the region by and mild air was infiltrating from the south in the mid atmosphere during the event.

What made this event one of the top stories of the decade is not because of impact from Mother Nature but because of hype-driven impact that lead to school cancellations, people staying home from work, and the anger (perhaps wrongly) being squared at John Bolaris for being the weatherman who was on the night of the infamous broadcast alerting people to the potential for the big snowstorm that did not happen.