The balmy weather is making it easier to forget the freak snowstorm of Wednesday, Nov. 11. But if you were one of the tens of thousands of drivers who had excruciating commutes home that day, such as eight hours to Bowie, the events of that day and night are harder to forget. A number of readers have written to ask about the weather forecasts for that day, and to defend the forecasters whom Dr. Gridlock pilloried for failing to predict the storm. Here are some of the comments, along with a recap from the forecasters of what happened that day, and a few more steps set up by officials to help in future snowstorms.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I hope you have the dignity to let your readers see a response to your words concerning weather forecasters. While I agree that Wednesday's forecast was the worst call that I can remember, stating as you did that "the people paid to figure it out" can't predict 70 from 17 degrees or sun from a foot of snow shows an unjust lack of respect for a profession that is much more difficult and important than yours is. Since you call yourself Dr. Gridlock, maybe you would like to try predicting the next day's rush hours. You could "warn the rest of us" how long it'll take us to get to and from work along selected routes, where there will be trouble spots and accidents, as well as the volume of traffic on the roads. After some time as a traffic forecaster I think you would quickly gain respect for the weather forecasters who have to work with as many variables as the daily traffic, but are chastised if they don't predict the exact inches of snowfall, the most difficult job they have.

Why do so many people forget all the days that are predicted right, such as the week after the storm, and only remember the day it snowed on their parade? Why are the weathermen demanded of accuracy as in no other profession? Because they are important. So, rather than repeatedly dwelling on their bad calls, think of how much we need them, and think how it would be if they called it quits and left us to decide for ourselves what tomorrow will be like. I'm sure we'd learn to appreciate the "wildly inaccurate and late forecasting" as it's called by our favorite Friday morning armchair weatherman.


You make a point. Everyone seems to be taken for granted for the things they get right, perhaps even newspapers and traffic columnists. What is particularly frustrating about forecasters is when they confidently predict a couple of inches of snow "tapering off to flurries" and there is a foot of snow on the ground seven hours later, at the heart of rush hour. What is especially galling is the certainty with which forecasters put out the wrong information. The National Weather Service, whose reports are broadcast over the radio and on the C&P Weather number (which receives an average of 150,000 calls a day), issued wrong forecasts that had no doubt attached to them. The forecast could have said that on this day there appeared to be some unusual weather conditions that could leave the area with a little or a great deal of snow. But no -- just plain wrong information with a great degree of authority attached to it.

What happened? "We were behind the curve for the whole storm," said National Weather Service official John A. Ernst. The goof might have been avoided if the weather service had paid more attention to its network of 400 area volunteers who keep tabs on weather data for the agency, and were calling in with much heavier snow reports than the National Weather Service was predicting based on information generated by its computers.

The problem was too much reliance on the computers, according to Rick Thoman, a meteorologist for Accu-Weather, the nation's largest private weather forecaster. "Computers do well 98 percent of the time but often blow it with gigantic storms . . . and it's very hard not to rely on them when they're right 98 percent of the time." Thoman said he and other meteorologists should have seen the storm coming just by looking "at what was happening in Norfolk, where they were having temperatures in the 70s and very humid weather," while freezing temperatures were sweeping across Washington in a cold front. "Those are just the conditions you need to fuel these big weather bombs," he said.

Ernst and Thoman said the lesson from that storm is to have more experienced meteorologists do more of the forecasting, paying more attention to common sense and what is actually happening around them, be it in Norfolk or the back yards of 400 Weather Service volunteers.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Hey Doc! Gimme a break!!! Regarding snow forecasts and driving in the stuff in the D.C. area:

First, our old friend {former television weathercaster} Louie Allen from the low-tech days of 10 to 15 years ago told us that predicting snowfall for the uniquely placed Washington area is tantamount to producing playing cards out of thin air! The Washington area is one of the trickiest places for that kind of prognostication and recent history shows us that no one should expect mere mortals to be able to do so with any degree of accuracy.

Second, if you see snow falling, FORGET THE FORECAST -- STAY OFF THE HIGHWAYS! Or haven't we learned after how many inches of the stuff? The only feat more awesome than predicting snowfall is trying to understand how people can blindly head for the most heavily traveled routes in this town every single time the roads become obviously treacherous. Take the secondary routes where there is almost always an alternate route available if you happen upon a blockage; better yet, stay off the roads in your nice comfy home and call in sick like you did last time you didn't feel like going to work.


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A little reality, and a strong dose of common sense would ease the plight of area motorists.

The experience of the last 12 years is that a forecast of flurries in the D.C. area usually means "major snowstorm." The only motorists troubled were those who refuse to learn from experience.

Motorists need to take responsibility for their own actions rather than trying to place the blame on weather forecasters or others. As you seem to realize, one could look out the window Wednesday morning between 7 and 9 a.m. and observe that the storm was building rather than tapering off. When reality differs from conjecture, it is foolhardy to follow conjecture.

The bureaucratic response to area snowstorms appears to be backwards. The traditional approach to snowy mornings is to bring everyone into work and then to panic and send them home at the height of the storm. A better approach for snowy mornings is to announce a partial workday beginning at noon; then if the storm tapers off one gets four or five hours of work or school, and if the storm increases one has time to call off the rest of the day.

DAVID S. HEALY Washington

Solution for Wilson Bridge

Maryland highway officials have announced that they will station a tow truck at the trouble plagued Woodrow Wilson Bridge during snow and ice storms, rather than have them farther away, and will set up a public relations phone number to deal with inquiries.