Snowstorm Forecasting and the Light Down the Road

Why even mention the possibility of snow 6 days out? 

Someone out there in cyberspace is going to bring it up. Light a match, start a rumor, throw up a piece of weather data.  The public wants to know.

When we see signals suggesting a high-impact snow (or any type of high-impact weather for that matter) is developing, we believe it is appropriate to pass it along.

You’re just hyping the storm. What if it doesn’t come?

In our judgement, there is enough of a risk to raise awareness.  Believe me, if I wanted to hype a storm, I would be working in the:


I would argue against that characterization.  Consider:

Suppose you are standing in the middle of a two-lane road, at night, with a blindfold strapped over your eyes and earplugs in your ears.  And I’m there next to you, but I have a pair of binoculars and an amplifier.

After several minutes, I see a distant light and hear a distant sound.  You cannot sense either one of them.

I’m not sure what it is, but I know that it might be a threat.  I’ve been on this stretch of road dozens of times before, and while I know that tractor-trailers don’t come through here often, I’ve seen it happen.

On the other hand, I know there is at least one place between us and the mystery light where a vehicle can turn off the road and harmlessly disappear.

So, do you want me to tell you what I can see and hear? Or do you want me to wait until it gets closer?  Because right now, it’s too far away for me to tell if it is a Mack Truck or a Toyota Prius.

Everyone answers that question differently.

Of course, as it gets closer, it will be easier to figure out what may, or may not, be barreling at us.  Unfortunately, sometimes the vehicle has its lights off, in which case, we can’t even see how big it is until it’s too late.  But at least we can hear it coming.

Every meteorologist uses his/her tool set differently and has his/her own road to monitor. Some weather hobbyists have learned to use the tools better than others.  This is one reason that weather information from different outlets is wildly inconsistent several days before a storm is expected to impact.

On rare occasions, the signals are so obvious, most meteorologists agree that what’s coming is a moped, motorcycle, minivan, SUV, or Greyhound bus.  So if you read many different opinions about a storm several days away, that means the signals aren’t obvious.

File the information away, follow the forecasts, and watch for trends.

About seansublette

Meteorologist at Climate Central. Broadcast meteorologist in Virginia from 1995 to 2015. Born and raised in Richmond, VA. Penn State alumnus. Loves baseball and the rock band Rush. Views are independent of my employer. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
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5 Responses to Snowstorm Forecasting and the Light Down the Road

  1. HooBlu says:

    If I am standing in a road and I can’t hear or see I want you to tell me what you know ! Now I won’t run to the store and clean out the egg, bread and milk isles but I will keep this whisper in my mind as the coming Weekend approaches, make sure my grandma is stocked and set incase I can’t get to her after the snow.
    Thanks for your blog and your comparisons !! Hoping the Mack Truck stays North and only a Prius passes us in the night, or takes another path!
    Thanks SS


  2. Kelly Stern says:

    Very well put! I like the analogy.

  3. dorannrule says:

    Oh, bearer of bad tidings, please know that your expertise is greatly appreciated. Your knowledge is our power. 🙂

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