Meteorologists take a lashing, apologize for busted snow forecast

Meteorologists take a lashing, apologize for busted snow forecast
A gust of wind catches the umbrella of Jackie Said as she walks her Shih Tzu, Teddy, on Bradhurst Road near her home in the Belvedere Square neighborhood. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

The longer snowflakes were kept at bay, the faster the wisecracks started coming in on Twitter and Facebook.

"I remember when I was a kid in the 70's and they predicted storms accurately 7 days in advance," Havre de Grace resident Jason Falkenstine tweeted.

"It would be nice to have an apology from meteorologist for being totally wrong," Baltimore resident Jason Sellers wrote.

Meteorologists offered a mea culpa for predictions of Baltimore's biggest snowfall in two years. But, they said, it was the best they could do given the forecasting technology and the unpredictability of Mother Nature, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region.

"All we can do as forecasters, is give you our best opinion on what is the highest probability outcome. The rest is up to Mother Nature," WBAL-TV meteorologist Tony Pann wrote on Facebook. "No forecaster will purposely give out bad information."

Everything appeared on track Wednesday morning, local meteorologist "Eric the Red" said. As expected, some moderately to heavy snow began falling in localized areas late Tuesday. "The models were right on target, and it was following the script," he wrote in an e-mail.

The storm had, after all, already churned through the Midwest, prompting The Weather Channel to assign it the name "Saturn" and to send severe weather correspondent Jim Cantore to Washington, D.C., to greet it. Signs pointed to more of the same in the mid-Atlantic, and perhaps even a strengthening thanks to coastal moisture.

Once the sun rose Wednesday, though, signs appeared that necessary cold air was not in place. Based on the models and other signals, meteorologists held out for winds to shift from easterly to northwesterly, replacing a warm layer of air with a cold one. But it never happened.

"We cannot pull the cold air in. Time to fall on the sword," WMAR-TV meteorologist Mike Masco wrote on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon. "Go ahead .. Let me have it! I'll grade myself BIG F ! I have never seen every forecast model say one thing and have a completely different scenario pan out."

The counterintuitive behavior of Mother Nature continued into the evening.

"At 7pm: rain and 36F in Westminster while it's snowing and 38F in Salisbury," WBAL-TV's Tom Tasselmyer tweeted. "A perfect example of today's confusing storm."

As history shows, weather's surprises can come in more than one variety.

"It was an innocuous enough weather forecast that greeted readers of The Sun and Evening Sun on March 28, 1942," The Sun's Fred Rasmussen wrote in a 1999 column on the historic "Palm Sunday Storm." "'For Baltimore and Vicinity -- Becoming colder today, with light showers ending before noon.'"

But what came in that case was 22 inches of wet, heavy snow that paralyzed the region.

"I know as a group we are taking a well-earned beating today," Eric the Red said of meteorologists. "But I'll say this:  You would rather forecast a storm and have it miss than stay quiet and have something hit."

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