This is a follow-up on my post yesterday about sharing models online and on social media. Personally, I don't know if it's very productive. I've been guilty of doing it for years and without much thought of the impact. My original thinking was to share the data and give people an early heads-up to the possibility of some type of high impact weather event. Perhaps, it might be Winter weather or a round of severe storms. I thought if I share the data with an explanation it would be okay. Not so much. I posted both the European and GFS model for the upcoming weekend and mentioned the European was hinting at additional snowfall while the GFS did not. The image of the European model almost went viral. This does not benefit anyone.
I'm almost to the point of model data being for "internal consumption only." I'm not going to say I'll never post model data, but I will do it with great restraint. The NWS in Peachtree City, Georgia did a great post on their social media sites about this model madness and why posting a long-range model might not be a good idea.
That same European model that was going crazy with snowfall today for Tennessee and North Alabama has backed off. This far out the models are all over the place. Honestly, during the Winter season you can find a model to predict snow at almost any given time. If you read the NWS graphic in this post, you can get a better understanding why the models get more unreliable the farther you go out.
We weather folks have got to be better about not spreading the panic. Even when you think you're doing something harmless, the public's reaction can dramatic.
That said, you can still find armchair meteorologists posting model data like crazy social media. Some of these guys are actually pretty good self-taught forecasters. It's just hard to know the good from the bad.
This is not a rant, but just an effort to communicate our weather message more effectively. Social-media is as much a blessing as it is a curse at times.
Have a great weekend!
Fox6 Chief Meteorologist
This has been one crazy weather week. Winter weather really gets people's attention. After this week, perhaps I'm a little closer to turning into a crazed person who goes for the milk and bread at every hint of snowflake. I witnessed first hand just how quickly a Winter forecast can go terribly wrong. Just as we see the ice begin to melt the European model is now indicating a significant Winter weather event coming up around February 7th. Wait! Did I say there's a significant Winter weather event around February 7th? No. I said one model is indicating that. There is a huge difference. In fact, I posted a graphic from the European model showing Nashville and Huntsville hammered by snow. Soon after that, I was hearing "J-P Dice says two feet of snow is coming." Yikes! I didn't say that or anything close. It's too early to have a forecast.
A model is a simulation of future atmospheric conditions. There are many models. The GFS, NAM, ECM, UKMET, RPM, BAMS, NOGAPS, GEM, and the alphabet soup goes on and on. There are global models and mesoscale models. Hydrostatic models and non-hydrostatic models. If you're wondering what I'm talking about you are not alone. Models are complex sets of equations designed to predict the future in this fluid that surrounds us called the atmosphere. The ENIAC was the first electronic computer to ever run a forecast model back in the late 40s.
What is a model NOT?
1) It's not a forecast.
2) It's not exact.
3) Always reliable
4) Not artificial intelligence
What is a model?
1) It is one solution to a forecast problem
2) It is guidance for the meteorologist
3) Sometimes reliable
4) A computer's solution to a forecast problem based on current atmospheric conditions
5) Usually more reliable closer to the forecasted event
What is a forecast then? Imagine a big pot with all kinds of ingredients. We'll throw in a few models, real-time observations, satellite images, radar pictures, climate data, analogs of past events, some education, discussions with other meteorologists, and a whole lot of experience. You mix it all together and what you pour into the cup is a forecast.
Sometimes what you get is fantastic and it really helps people. Your idea is to create a forecast or prediction that is very close to what actually happens. The forecast this week. Well, I've put that one in the disposal because it was not fit for consumption.
Here's a question to ponder. Should we meteorologists share raw model data with the general public? Our weather graphics computers are setup to share at a click of a mouse any weather data we want on social media. Sure, it's available on the internet and if we don't share it armchair meteorologists will share the data on social media. I showed the European model today and it resulted almost in a panic based on the craziness we've been through this week. Personally, I think it's necessary to really explain what you're showing if you're going to post model data. Even then, I think some will still take the model data as the truth.
My closing thought on our next snow event. We might see snowfall next Saturday here, or in Huntsville or we might see nothing. The best forecast at this point is "I don't know", but we're monitoring closely.
Have a great evening!
Fox6 Chief Meteorologist
I finally have some time to reflect on the events of the past 72 hours and I first want to say a huge thank you to all of my colleagues at Fox 6 and viewers. I wish we could have provided an earlier warning for the snow and ice that caused so many headaches locally. When I arrived at Fox 6 on Tuesday I was not expecting weather conditions to deteriorate so rapidly. All of the data we looked at prior to Tuesday showed the heaviest snow setting up over south Alabama but the primary precipitation shield was displaced by 100 to 150 miles and that was the problem. Temperatures Monday night dropped well below freezing so surface conditions were perfect for accumulating snowfall. I remember Janice asking me Tuesday morning, “what are you thinking?” I said, “Janice this band of snow is not moving.” I then realized it was time to ignore the data and get on TV immediately. My brother was texting me images of the traffic nightmare that was unfolding in Tuscaloosa and I was blown away by how fast conditions were going downhill.
Dr. Tim did some post analysis of the precipitation and reported that the liquid equivalent in this particular event was around 20:1. One might expect a ratio like this in the mountains of Colorado. This ratio means that 1” of rain would have equaled 20 inches of snow. Although we did not see 20” of snow it only took a small amount of liquid to lead to 1” to 4” snow totals!
If I had to compare this weeks winter storm to any other event, Hurricane Ivan comes to mind. I remember being in a television studio for over 24 hours in Tuscaloosa covering Ivan as it moved from the Gulf coast northward. But this was a whole different animal as subfreezing temperatures led to prolonged ice issues through today.
I must admit this cold pattern has had me very nervous. Just last week I was caught in icy weather south of here, over south Mississippi and Louisiana. This is some of the coldest weather we’ve experienced in years! I’ve heard lots of comparisons to the snow event of 1993 but that was actually a blizzard with high winds and snow totals that equaled a foot in some locations. Thankfully we at-least received a warning before that event. The trouble with Tuesday’s setup is that everybody left the comfort of their warm homes thinking that the snow would be south of us and were caught off guard. I was in the same boat, leaving home for Fox 6 thinking we would be passing along details of a winter storm over south Alabama.
I’ve got to send out a big thank you to my neighbors for going to my home and taking care of our pets. My wife was forced to stay at work so we were both away from home. I'm so thankful J-P was able to make it to the station so I could go home and check on them. Meteorologist Jill Gilardi has a four wheel drive vehicle and was able to drive Nicole and I home safely last night...Thank you Jill!
This event has certainly taught me a valuable lesson and I will be doing a lot of thinking in the weeks ahead about what went wrong. I'm so sorry we couldn't provide ample warning. One thing is for certain, I’m so proud to call Alabama my home. I was so touched by the stories of neighbors helping neighbors. I pray your friends and loved ones have made a safe return home in the wake of this winter weather disaster. I promise we will do our best to continue providing the best possible information to help you as things slowly return to normal.
Fox6 Meteorologist Wes Wyatt
Things set up late yesterday afternoon for a very cold night, with a cold air mass in place, low dewpoints, the sky clearing right around sunset, allowing heat to radiate out into space, and snow on the ground over much of the state.
Here are a few low temperatures from this morning (unofficial):
Airports: Birmingham 9, Anniston 5, Tuscaloosa 9, Montgomery 11, Troy 8, Huntsville 7, Mobile 16.
Others: Jasper 6, Cullman 6, Moody 3, Lincoln 0, Russellville 2, Clanton 3, Valley Head 1, Alex City 8, Auburn 12, Selma 8, Demopolis 11, Evergreen 13, Opp 14, Enterprise 16, Eufaula 15, Florala 17, Fairhope 17, Gulf Shores 22. There are some small stations reporting below zero lows.
Temperatures are warming rapdily above 1,000 feet today due to southwest winds, and with sunshine we will finally go above freezing around 11 am (it is already up to 29). We have had about 64 consecutive hours below freezing, more than we had back in early January. The sunshine and warming temperatures will help to melt the ice and dry up most of the water on roads early this afternoon, but with lows tonight dropping into the 20s, there might be a few spots of ice early tomorrow morning, too, so please drive carefully.
I will have a review of January's extreme cold early next week, but it looks like it will be the 5th coldest month ever in Birmingham since 1896.
Dr. Tim Coleman
After our coldest morning so far with Winter Storm '14, "The Thaw" begins today! Meanwhile a Hard Freeze Warning continues until 9am this morning, but highs today near 42 with abundant sunshine should make a world of difference on the roadways.
We do have freezing temps again tonight with lows dropping close to 23-degrees under mostly clear skies, but highs on Friday should be even warmer--near 55-degrees.
Much milder air takes us into the weekend, with morning temps in the 40s to 50s and highs in the 50s to 60s.
A chance of rain returns to the forecast by Sunday and those scattered rain showers should linger through early Wednesday morning.
So, just hang on a little while longer...the warm air is on it's way!
Mickey Ferguson, FOX6 Weather
FOX6 Meteorologist Wes Wyatt
It is 330 pm, and still below freezing over almost all of Alabama (Jasper's reading is inaccurate). It's up to 29 in Birmingham, maybe our daytime high. We have gotten sunshine that was reduced in power by high clouds today, but it along with ALDOT and local law enforcement has helped some of the major roads (interstates and US hughways) to melt quite a bit. The problem is, skies will clear this evening and with all the snow still on the ground, lows by tomorrow morning may drop below 10 in some areas. If you do not have to anywhere, don't. If you must travel, please try to do it before 530 pm. By tomorrow morning, expect some snow-covered icy roads, and others that are wet or slushy now to become very icy. The sun will come out tomorrow fully with blue skies and a high near 40, so the roads should mainly be in good shape by noon tomorrow.
Don't take any chances if you can help it.
Dr. Tim Coleman