Friday, October 18, 2013

Time For The Annual "Buyer Beware" Post Before Winter Sets In

It's October and computer modeling will occasionally show a hint of snow, potentially even show a setup that could produce snow, and the GFS may fire up a run or two that suggests snow in mountainous areas to our north and northwest. It's a part of the annual ritual of season changing -- the first legitimate chilly shot of the year and a favorable trough pattern.

It does not yield historic storms, though.

Sandy was an example of historic. So was Snowtober.

This, however, really isn't.  It's one run from the GFS computer model from Wednesday night, showing a low pressure system firing up and intensifying as it went off the coast. Rain for us in Philly...perhaps even a cold rain, with snow across Northern Pennsylvania northeast into mountainous parts of New England.

However, some choose to partake in hype and blow a cold October storm (again, only one run of one model has shown this) into something much larger...see below.

May this article serve two purposes -- one, be ye careful before believing what you read on social media in the coming months and, two, time for my semi-annual rant about hype.

Hype creep has been a bad part of the weather business for a while -- I bitch (pardon our French) about it frequently and rant and rave about bad or poorly analyzed weather. Granted, we're not perfect but one thing we're pretty damn good at is not hyping up a storm threat unless we see something there. We certainly aren't going to throw out adjectives like "historic" for a paper lion storm seven days out in the context of getting cheap views.

Another good example or two is illustrated in an article that Capital Weather did yesterday...and coincidentally, along the lines of what I wanted to write about but time constraints yesterday prevented me from getting this out there.

Where I will digress slightly from Capital Weather, however, is in their suggestions and questions that should be asked for a couple of reasons.

I think the weather industry, to a large degree, has engaged in too much hype at the expense of accuracy. There's a difference between educating and's in the tone and the content of delivery. Far too often, headlines are designed to capture attention, eyeballs, and pageviews.  Weather forecasters and meteorologists aren't televangelists, shouldn't be snake oil salesmen, shouldn't be dollar-a-holler types.  The industry as a whole, including private sector forecasters, has trended away from just the facts and into hype and social media...hence, even utilizing a single private sector forecaster like The Weather Channel or AccuWeather as "gospel" for your weather is a faulty point of attack.

The whole hype thing is my Abraham Simpson yelling at cloud moment -- and it's a fight that doesn't likely win despite my arguing, griping, and bitching ad nauseum about for the past eight plus years. The internet is largely becoming about he or she who screams the loudest -- I get that -- but it shouldn't give complete and total license to inmates running the asylum and putting out bad analysis and trying to pass it off as "potential" or more. The end user needs to be better about policing themselves and understanding that sharing a bad map, without at least cross-referencing it off of another source, is fanning the flames.

Maybe it comes down to that -- forecasters suggesting a shared approach -- using the public sphere (NWS) along with those in the private sector that are a bit less scream-happy. If the NWS is suggesting a winter storm, as an end user (and taking off my weather writing hat) I would be a bit more inclined to listen than if someone from a random facebook page were throwing a graphic from a computer model out there and screaming "it may be historic!!" without showing what guidance shows...or doesn't show.

I don't want to completely discourage youthful exuberance in learning about weather -- a lot of the "bad" analysis on Facebook comes from pages run by kids who lack meteorological training but are eager to earn...but at the same time, these are the pages that tend to go viral more quickly because of the larger social networks many of these kids possess.  But, the exuberance from the kids should also come with an exuberance in exercising caution and restraint before posting maps on a Facebook page, along with checking what other, more qualified forecasters are saying, before running with it as gospel and posting away on social media.