Sure it may snow, but no need to sensationalize yet
Capital Weather Gang received in its inbox this afternoon a release from AccuWeather.com with the following headline:
Snow Possible in D.C. on Inauguration Day
Cold Will Ease but Snow May be on the Way for Inauguration Day
Let me be crystal clear in calling this what it is: A sensationalized headline for the sake of attracting attention. And at least one news organization wasted no time in buying into the hype.
Keep reading for more on the AccuWeather.com release...
Only in the past day or so has the scientific data led to a building (but still relatively low) confidence that temperatures will be near to below normal for Inauguration Day in D.C. But predictions of precipitation a week ahead of time have very little skill, if any.
The release -- much of which is repeated here, but without the sensationalized headline -- goes on to say:
There are indications that a storm will come out of the South and develop just off the Virginia coast the day prior to the Inauguration. The official AccuWeather.com forecast shows light snow for Monday into Monday evening. If the storm were to develop even more, it's possible that heavier snow could affect the area Monday night.
AccuWeather.com's forecast is most likely based on a run early this morning of a forecast model called the GFS, which shows a storm system off the mid-Atlantic coast the night before Inauguration Day. Could it happen? Of course it could. Almost anything could happen this far out.
But weather models are notorious for showing storms in the long range that never actually materialize, and likewise often fail to show storms that do materialize. Certainly the meteorologists at AccuWeather.com know this, and in fact the rest of the release's write-up does a decent job of tempering expectations:
Given that virtually little snow has fallen across the area, it's probably a very low probability of a major snowfall in Washington, D.C., but the players are there and we will continue to monitor the snowfall potential.
But the hedging in the release text doesn't change the fact that the headline is misleading and, in my opinion, irresponsible. Sure, the headline is technically correct -- snow is possible in D.C. on Inauguration Day. But the data currently available doesn't yet suggest the chance of snow is any greater on Inauguration Day or the night before than it is for any other day between Inauguration Day and the end of winter. (Now, give the models a couple more days and that could definitely change.)
Catchy headlines are an important part of the weather biz, and certainly we here at Capital Weather Gang try to make our headlines as catchy as we can. There is, however, a line between catchy and misleading, and in this case I'd say AccuWeather.com has crossed it. A change as simple as putting a question mark at the end of the headline -- "Snow Possible in D.C. on Inauguration Day?" -- would have gone a long way toward taking the edge off of my reaction at least.
On the other hand, we at CWG have made every effort in our Inauguration forecasts thus far, both in our headlines and in our narratives, to not oversell the science of long-range forecasts.