March 8, 2013

Regarding the March 7 front-page article “Winter wallop lacks punch”:

It’s easy enough to make fun of how we Washingtonians react to predictions of snow. We prep for the apocalypse whether the forecast calls for a dusting or a dump: Grocery store shelves appear to have been ravaged by locusts or worse, and there is not a snow shovel to be had this side of the tropics.

In years past, gray skies and dire forecasts justified caution in closing schools and offices, as snowstorms — some with significant accumulation — would blow through town routinely. The skies this week were no less gray and the forecasts no less dire, and, given the expected timing of the storm, prudence was called for.

The cold rain that fell — in lieu of the five to eight inches of snow that today’s astonishingly sophisticated models predicted — adds to the anecdotal evidence that the winter weather fault line has moved west and north, though whether permanently or temporarily remains to be seen. The incremental creep of climate change has, at least where I live, turned snow to rain, drifts to puddles, parkas to raincoats.

The scale and scope of what we face in a warming world far exceeds the humiliation of being told to stay home on a rainy day. The summer’s heat waves are only a few months away.

Robert Moore, Washington

Snowquester was the perfect name for Wednesday’s snowstorm.  Whoever coined the term must have known that 85 million snowflakes would automatically be cut from the forecast.

Not complaining, mind you.

Jim Carkhuff, Annapolis

Thank you, Joel Achenbach, for the elegant explanation of the difficulties of predicting weather, especially snow, in the Washington region [“Washington’s other liquidity challenge: predicting snow,” front page, March 6]. My dad, Frederick G. Shuman, was one of the pioneers of numerical weather prediction. The computer models he worked on in the 1950s form the basis of those used today. I remember my dad talking about how tricky it is to make accurate predictions in the D.C. area, owing to all of the reasons Mr. Achenbach outlined in his article.

The meteorologist’s task (like editing, my own profession) is a thankless one, because no one notices when you get it right. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Wow! Those weather forecasters really nailed this one!”?

Those who like to complain about missed forecasts would do well to remember that meteorologists do what is expected of no other profession: They predict the future.

Deborah J. Shuman, Silver Spring

I found myself stranded in Washington on Wednesday after the airline canceled my flight home to Maine, according to the robo-call message, “due to snow fall.” At Reagan National Airport, though, there was not a surviving snowflake to be found on the ground and barely one in the air. When I inquired, I was told that the airline had canceled not due to snow but due to “a threat of snow.”

This is about as crazy a thing as I’ve heard in my life, I thought. From that point, I resigned myself to getting home some other way.

My trip involved the following connections: Metro to Metro to Amtrak through New York to Boston to a taxi to the Boston airport to catch the bus to Portland to a taxi to the Portland airport to get my car to a 10-minute drive to my home and my bed, where I got three hours of sleep before my alarm rang at 6 a.m. All because of “a threat of snow.”

Phil St. Germain, Cape Elizabeth, Maine