Tales from the weather office: my conversation with a school official

It snowed today in Middle Tennessee. Some parts received more than was forecast, especially north of Nashville. People in Middle Tennessee get very emotional about snow, more so than any other type of weather. It’s worse than severe storms, worse than floods, worse than heat waves.

One school system that decided to have class today was perturbed by the under-forecast to the point that they called the weather office literally every hour wanting to know how much longer it was going to last.

I spoke to them twice myself. One guy was a complete jerk, and started off the conversation, “I was wondering how much longer we can expect this snow because it’s been snowing 5 hours and there was none in the forecast. I got 35K kids in school and our back roads are a mess and I’m in a pickle.”

So I politely gave him the forecast and reiterated all measurable snow would be gone by noon. He asked the same question every way it can be asked and I gave him the same answer. I also checked the airport observations for that locale and saw that they reported snow for about 2 hours (not 5).

I figured this guy had parents & media breathing down his neck, so he figured he’d breathe down ours.

Granted we did not forecast much, if any, accumulation for his area. We did have snow in the forecast but were calling for a “dusting” at most. There is some uncertainty in snow forecasting. People have to understand this.

This same gentleman, in a separate conversation with a co-worker, sort of got put on the spot.

Co-worker: “How much accumulation do you have?”

School official: “I don’t know.”

CW: “Could you go outside and measure?”

SO: “I don’t know how to measure snow.”

CW: “You stick a ruler in the ground.”

SO: “Oh, we don’t have enough snow for that.”

CW: ?

They ended up with about a half-inch of snow in this area. It snowed for about two hours. It may have flurried off and on longer than that. But it doesn’t matter how long it snows. What matters is the impact of the snow. Flurries, by their nature, do not accumulate and have no impact. It could flurry all day without any ill effects.

There may have been some slippery places on some of their back roads. We had between one-half and one inch here in Wilson County and driving was a little tricky in places.

If you make decisions based on a snow forecast — and many people do — you must understand there is going to be some uncertainty. If a forecaster calls for a dusting and you get a half-inch, that’s not a huge miss.

The forecaster is doing the best he can with what he has. He’s trying to get it right. He doesn’t want to over-forecast snow and cause you to waste a snow day on a non-event. (It’s happened many times.) He doesn’t want to under-forecast and put you in a bind, either. But you have to give the meteorologist a little room on either side for error.

If the forecast had been for a dusting and they had gotten 8 inches, or even, say, two inches, then you’ve got a legitimate complaint. But if the forecaster forecasts light snow with little or no accumulation and you get a half-inch, you’re being a bit unreasonable if you’re upset.

As a recently-retired former co-worker used to say, the weather’s gonna do what it wants to do when it wants to do it.

(Based on a suggestion from a friend, look for more “Tales from the weather office” in the future.)


One thought on “Tales from the weather office: my conversation with a school official

  1. You made me think of a forecast when I was a kid in NY in the late 70s: I went to bed with the forecast calling for a chance of flurries and woke up to 2 feet of snow. That’s still the most missed forecast I’ve even seen or heard. These days, we’re more likely to be told that the “storm of the century” is coming with a “chance of …” and then get a dusting. Happy New Year, by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

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