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Capital Region Dodges Brunt Of Winter Storm Juno

Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC)

In many parts of the listening area, the storm of the century turned out to be a dud.  Now, people are wondering why weather forecasts were so off the mark across the Capital Region and down parts of the Hudson Valley.  

The storm named Juno may have fallen short of “historic,” but the National Weather Service made history Tuesday morning when Gary Szatkowski, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s office in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, apologized for the bum forecast on social media.  Quoting one of his tweets: "My deepest apologies to many key decision makers and so many members of the general public."

Credit twitter

Weather forecasters use a variety of tools from barometers to complex computer programs to guide their predictions.

NewsChannel 13 meteorologist Paul Caiano explains he and his associates use computer models to prepare their forecasts, including for WAMC.   "Some do better on coastal storms, others do better in summer type thunderstorm activity, and some kind of bounce around, so we check the trends and figure out which ones in certain situations do better than the others. And of course when we look at them all, like in the storm situation that we just went though, we tend to put more weight on the computer models that have performed better in these types of situations. And in this particular instance, the European model was given more weight, because, in the recent past, and even going back a couple years for these coastal storms, going back to Superstorm Sandy and other major East Coast storms, the European model performed exceptionally well. But this time around the European model was giving the Capital Region 20 inches of snow..."

Caiano says in the end,  the station's "RPM" model, which forecast little to no snow, turned out to be closer to what actually happened.

Alex Marra of Hudson Valley Weather says the forecasting service that spans 10 counties also went with the errant "European model."    "Once the media gets a hold of something and starts to grasp on the worst-case scenario, so much anticipation builds around these types of things, that even when people start to backpedal or try to change course, it's almost muted out by the loudness of words like 'epic,' and 'historic' and 'apocalyptic' and 'snowmageddon,' and no one wants to listen.  So, to say that it will change the way we look at the European model, no, because at the end of the day, the European model, even with this large miss, has an impressive track record."

Northeast Regional Climate Center climatologist Jessica Spaccio says people today are more informed when it comes to pending weather events than at any other time in history.     "We have all the satellite technology, so that really helps forecasters see what's going on from that view. People know days in advance that something is coming. They can make sure that if they're gonna be stranded at home for a day or so that they can  have food and water and they're all set. Forecasts still aren't perfect, this storm ended up a little farther east than was expected, so some people, like in New York City, didn't get as much snow as originally forecasted, but people farther east on Long Island are still getting dumped on."

Marra concedes meteorology will never be an exact science.   "We are trying to predict the unpredictable. We are trying to corral an unpredictable force and at least put people far enough ahead of it where they can make informed decisions. Just because a storm that we've been tracking since it was somewhere up in Canada changed its course by 75 miles doesn't mean that people aren't doing their job. It's nature, and nature's always going to do what it wants to do."

Albany International Airport is open and operating and will remain open throughout the day.  Officials say nearly all arrivals have been canceled until late today. Most departures, other than two flights each to Washington and Charlotte, also have been canceled.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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