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Developing Winter Storm

Jason Samenow
Jason Samenow
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Jason Samenow
Chief Meteorologist, Capital Weather Gang
Friday, February 22, 2008; 12:00 PM

A developing winter storm began spreading a mix of sleet and freezing rain across the region this morning, arriving later than expected but still primed to lay down up to a quarter inch of ice.

Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist with the Capital Weather Gang was online Friday, Feb. 22, at Noon ET to discuss the current weather conditions and forecast what to expect throughout the day and what lies ahead for the weekend.

The Capital Weather Gang's team of forecasters and writers reports local weather and analyzes why it's happening and what to expect for upcoming events and locations of interest. Their meteorologists explain what causes various weather phenomena, issue warnings about bad (and good) weather on the horizon and provide up-to-the-minute weather information on current conditions.

Snowcam

A transcript follows.

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Jason Samenow: Good afternoon! Thanks for joining me. Temperatures are generally holding at or below freezing in the metro area, except downtown and near the Potomac river, as freezing rain and drizzle continues to fall. The impacts right now aren't terrible as the sun's energy through the clouds is enough to prevent ice from sticking to treated roads. But you're probably noticing cars and tree limbs have a glaze. As we go through the afternoon, light freezing rain and drizzle will continue -- with temperatures mostly steady or rising just a degree or two. After about 4 p.m., roads may start to become icy again as the sun goes down. So while the evening commute will have light volume, it may be a bit slick. The precip should taper off mid evening. On to your questions...

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Laurel, Md.: Do you see this storm developing to refreeze on the streets after 4 p.m. today?

Jason Samenow: That's a concern. With the sun going down, it will be easier for icy rain to stick to paved surfaces...especially bridges, overpasses, and ramps.

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Rockville, Md.: Thanks for taking my question. How severely delayed would you expect a 7 a.m. flight out of BWI tomorrow to be?

Jason Samenow: You may have some delays due to fog in the morning. But, outside a scattered rain or snow shower, the precipitation should be over.

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Arlington/Fauquier, Va.: Hey guys: I need to be in Fauquier County at 8:30 Saturday morning. I have a place to stay the night; is it a better bet to drive out this evening or should the roads be fine early tomorrow? Bottom line: more chance of slick roads tonight or in the morning?

Jason Samenow: I would wait until tomorrow morning, although conditions on major roads will be passable tonight and volume should be pretty light.

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Arlington, Va.: Would you want to be driving around Arlington tonight around 10:00 p.m.? Just trying to figure out if I should adjust my plans...

 Jason Samenow: By 10 p.m., the precipitation should be mostly over -- although there could be some lingering freezing drizzle. Watch out for some patchy icy spots but it shouldn't be too bad.

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Frederick, Md.: This winter has been a bust for the D.C. area. Some small storms, but nothing major. What is the likelihood of a storm in March. There have been some good storms in March in the past.

Jason Samenow: In an average year, we get a couple inches of snow in March, so we're probably not done with snow yet. Also note that historically in March, La Nina years (such as this) have been cold and somewhat stormy for us. Our winter outlook calls for a colder than average March.

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Burke, Va.: Is there a chance for another winter storm in the future?

Jason Samenow: I don't see anything too promising in the next week. But we've had some significant winter storms in March in the past.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: Will we see anything more than light precipitation this afternoon?

Jason Samenow: Precipitation will remain light through this evening. But just a little freezing rain can cause iciness...especially after the sun goes down.

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Washington, D.C.: How come there appear to be such differences in temperature in this region?

Jason Samenow: The main reason for the temperature contrast in our region is the ocean to our east and mountains to our west. This varied geography lends itself to huge variability especially with complex storms.

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Potomac Md.: If tomorrow were a school day, would you consider it safe to travel by early morning?

Jason Samenow: If you're careful and allow extra time to get where you're going, you can travel safely tomorrow morning.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think there is any chance they'll close the fed government early today?

Jason Samenow: No.

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Washington, D.C.: How is the post.com site working for you guys?

Jason Samenow: It's been great. It gives us wider reach and allows us to interact with more of you. We're excited about continuing to improve the site with different kinds of fun, useful content and adding new features.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm no weather expert, so perhaps this is a basic question, but is there something particular about this area that causes so many big storms to piddle out before they get here?

Jason Samenow: We have a couple major challenges in winter weather forecasting here. 1) We're usually right on the rain/snow/mix line which makes forecasting precipitation type very challenging -- particularly in area which is geographically diverse (the ocean to the east and mountains to the west) 2) During winter we often get storms that die out as they approach the region and then redevelop off the coast. This creates a very complicated forecasting scenario.

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Reston, Va.: We have an event to go to at Baltimore's Inner Harbor tomorrow afternoon -- should the roads/weather be okay to venture north by then?

Jason Samenow: Yes.

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Germantown, Md.: Noticing what looks to be a bit of a warm tongue along and just west of the Potomac River based on Mesoanalysis charts (link: NOAA) What do you think its causing this and do you think it will reach in to Baltimore or stop pretty much around D.C.? Up here in Germantown, I think we're safe from it... IMO its the positioning of the CAD along the mountains (bit of a meso high in SE PA)... your thoughts?

Jason Samenow: I think temperatures north and west of town should stay about where they are now...that's why I'm a bit concerned about iciness when the sun goes down. The reason temperatures should not rise a lot is that winds should gradually start coming from the northerly direction...due to the development of a low pressure system offshore. I think the warmth near the Potomac and downtown is due to the influence of the river and urban infrastructure.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What effect do you think the Election Night ice storm had on the forecasts and interpretation of those forecasts for this ice storm.

Jason Samenow: Great question. Because that storm had such a significant impact, forecasters and road crews took this event very seriously. Forecasters may have erred on the side of caution by overwarning. But with ice, it's probably better to overwarm than underwarm

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Herndon, Va.: Is your name really Jason Samenow? Or does it just refer to our weather always being rather the same around the D.C. area.

Jason Samenow: That's my name.

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Alexandria, Va.: So the actual weather didn't quite match the forecast in every neighborhood, though some places did get hit hard. What happened?

Jason Samenow: I think one of the main reasons the perception (for some) is that this forecast flopped is due to the lack of snow. For a while, many forecasters (including ourselves) thought we'd get a quick inch or two before the change over to ice. That snow missed us narrowly to the north. While we just got a dusting or so, Hagerstown, MD got 2". The margin for error in these forecasts is small.

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Westminster, Md.: Hi Jason,

I've been watching the NOAA weather maps most of the week and today I'm noticing a little action off the coast or N.C....is this a forming low? Could it come north?

Jason Samenow: There is a low developing offshore and it will move north...but most of its precipitation will stay to our east.

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Burke, Va.: How often does a nor'easter occur?

Jason Samenow: Not sure about the exact numbers, but at least a few times a year. For us in the DC area, we get rain more often from nor'easters than snow.

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Silver Spring, Md.: When, what time, do you expect the temp to drop so that the rainy roads freeze? I want to leave by 4 p.m. ...should I leave sooner?

Jason Samenow: Not expecting temperatures to drop a lot but hold steady. But icy spots may form simply due to the lack of daylight.

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Bethesda, Md.: I always worry about losing power (AGAIN). Is the kind of ice we'll see tonight the kind that will do that?

Jason Samenow: I'm not expecting widespread power outages because the precipitation is generally light and winds will remain light. You often get power outages after ice storms because of strong winds.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Should I bother putting ice melt down now? Or will tonight's re-freeze just waste any effort made this afternoon?

Jason Samenow: Because temperatures aren't going to drop much tonight, putting down ice melt down will be fine. It should help.

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Bethesda, Md.: Will it start to freezing rain again? Will it be very icy by 4?

Jason Samenow: In addition to the light drizzle and freezing drizzle we have right now, we may one more period of light freezing rain late this afternoon into early this evening. I'm watching some precipitation in West Virginia that should move northeast in our general direction.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have any opinion as to whether the roads in the area around Andrews AFB will be safe for bicycling during the daylight hours tomorrow? I had decided, based on earlier forecasts, that they'd probably be icy at the edges even if not where the cars travel but I'm beginning to doubt that given the current forecasts and the weather so far today.

To be clear, I don't plan on going for a bike ride for fun -- cycling, combined with Metro when helpful, is my main method of transport and there's something I need to do in that area, sooner rather than later to the extent possible.

Jason Samenow: I think you should be OK to bike by mid to late morning tomorrow.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I've noticed that a lot of storms have taken a track west of the Appalachians this winter, which is probably one of the reasons areas in Wisconsin have broken snowfall records. Is this why we've had a good number of icing opportunities so far this winter or is this just par for the course around here (I'm relatively new to the area).

Jason Samenow: Yes-- storms tracking to our west have been a major reason why we've had more rain and ice and less snow... and that's exactly why places like Madison, Wisconsin have had a record snow. Snow usually falls on the cold north and west side of storms. We've been on the warm and wet side of storms. There have been years, when the prevailing storm track is much farther to the east... those are the fun years for snow lovers (e.g. 1987, 1996, 2003)

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Arlington, Va.: I noticed this morning that every TV weather forecaster has been way off with this thing -- some more so than others. I've learned the Weather Channel is hopeless for predicting snow here, but of the local TV forecasters, who is the best?

Jason Samenow: The Capital Weather Gang rated the local TV weathercasters based on credibility, personality and delivery. Doug Hill came out on top (highest in personality), with Bob Ryan in second (highest in credibility). Then we took an informal vote of our readers and Topper Shutt finished up in first place. Channel 9 developed on-air promos to advertise that!

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D.C. 16th and L: Are temperatures supposed to warm throughout the evening?

Jason Samenow: I think they'll stay about where they are...maybe warm a degree or two these afternoon and fall back a degree or two this evening.

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20009: Any guess on how much above average our temps for the past few months have been? And this in a La Nina year...times are changing.

Jason Samenow: We've been running well above average. So far through February, we're about 5 degrees above average, and I know we were above for January 5 degrees as well.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: My running group has a 20-mile run at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow. We'll be running on the Crescent Trail and in Rock Creek Park. How icy do you think the trails will be in the morning?

Jason Samenow: Probably will be a slushy in spots and muddy...but not a sheet of ice.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you expect travel on the major roads to be like tonight -- specifically 66?

Jason Samenow: The National Weather Service has just downgraded our warning to an advisory--probably due to the light/spotty nature of the precip and temperatures right around freezing and not much below. Major roads should be OK, but use caution in the usual trouble spots (ramps, bridges, etc)

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Alexandria, Va.: My friend is supposed to be driving up from Norfolk this afternoon, after 3 p.m. Do you think the roads will be in decent shape or should she cancel her trip?

Jason Samenow: Major roads are in good shape from what I understand.

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Sterling, Va.: I have heard that in terms of El Nino and La Nina, neutral conditions result in colder and snowier winters for this region. Will that occur in the next few years, or is there no way of knowing?

Another question... In this region, pop-up thunderstorms used to occur maybe every other day in the summer. It seems that that doesn't happen anymore, why?

Jason Samenow: Neutral conditions or weak El Nino conditions tend to favor snowier winters. As the current La Nina wanes, maybe we'll get one of those patterns in the next couple of years.

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Washington, D.C.: How is it that meteorologists are never held accountable for misleading the public? In any other profession one would lose their job or at the very least be reprimanded. I can't remember the last time any of you got the forecast correct.

Jason Samenow: Meteorologists do their best to forecast given imperfect information and a very complex science. Most of the time we get it right, but in a complex situations, it's hard to always nail down all the details. One of the challenges is communicating the range of possibilities and providing people with information they can make informed decisions based on.

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Leesburg, Va.: I was looking at the radar last night and this morning. What caused the dry slot between the precipitation to the north and to the south, and why did it not fill in?

Jason Samenow: In simple terms, one storm to our west was dying out while another storm to the east started forming. We were left in the gap in between.

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Arlington, Va.: Would my usual Friday night pub crawl around Fairfax City be asking for disaster tonight? We have a DD but are worried that the roads will be too slick around 12 a.m.

Jason Samenow: Throughout the area, I think folks can safely proceed with plans as long as they are cautious.

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Jason Samenow: Thanks to all of you for your questions. Sorry I could not get to all of them. Please join us at the Capital Weather Gang for useful forecast information and entertaining commentary and discussion about all things DC weather.

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