One shining moment...

Part I: The path to Nomageddon

In all of meteorological winter - spanning Nomageddon, Commutageddon, and other threats - the most schizophrenic reaction to a post about snow came in response to a commentary I posted Friday, Jan. 7 about a potential for snowstorm the following Tuesday (Jan.11). My blog post was pretty conservative about snowfall amounts saying they were likely to be in the 0-6 inch range even though there were other outlets including the NWS that were more aggressive. Some readers found such equivocation maddening.

Jac8949 wrote, “I want to formally apologize to everyone on the staff for my recent posts. They have been sarcastic and have bordered on personal attacks. I know the truth... and the truth is yeah... someone would have to put a gun to your head for you to call for snow five days in advance. Admit it Wes.” The writer even supplied a phone number where he could be reached.

The post certainly illustrates the passion that weather prompts in some enthusiasts. The long, over-the-top comment elicited a number of responses from other posters that came to my defense.

My favorite was “Jac8949: Were you showing us Hyde or the Doctor today? Where’s that narcissistic Ophelia when you need her??” Jac8949 later offered a sincere apology and has been a model of decorum ever since. One other noteworthy comment was from Bombo worrying about the Clarendon dance. This worry was a Bombo theme during much of the winter (and as long as the Capital Weather Gang and its predecessor CapitalWeather.com have been around). Bombo loves to dance.

As that event approached, CWG became increasingly bearish about snow potential and our 1-3 inch forecasts for the area verified fairly well. The only minor surprise about the event is that it produced reports of sleet and freezing rain despite all levels of the atmosphere remaining below freezing though the event. The post explaining why this happened was one of articles I enjoyed writing the most as I think the physics within clouds is fascinating and during that storm, the physics drove the precipitation type.

The next storm was primarily a freezing rain event that lingered a little longer than forecast by most media outlets including CWG. On a blog written January 14, I commented that the storm expected to arrive the following Monday night into Tuesday would primarily be rain except that it could start as freezing rain or sleet at the onset with the freezing rain lingering longer in the colder northern and western suburbs. At the bottom of that article, CWG’s Steve Tracton rightfully commented, “I think there’s a good chance the cold air near the surface (cold air damning) will hang in longer than indicated by the GFS and, hence, a longer period of mixed precip, including freezing rain.”

By Sunday morning, CWG had amended the forecast to start as snow and sleet and then change to freezing rain and eventually rain by morning. But we warned that it could be slippery especially north and west of the city. On Monday, upon reading the forecast predicting a changeover to plain rain in many spots (except north and west), Dylan513 wrote “... I do think [this storm] needs to be watched closely as some of the models have DC as very close to significant icing.”

Dylan was right on, the freezing rain lasted through the night into the morning hours even to the east in northern Calvert County. While our forecast was not a bad one, the cold air did hold in longer than forecast just as guys like Frontieradjust and Steve Tracton had cautioned days before.

The acme of the season for the Capital Weather Gang forecasters and snow lovers came with the “Commutageddon” storm of January 26. CWG started discussing a possible winter threat as early the Friday afternoon before. The probability of a significant snowstorm rose as the event approached. After I posted a comment Monday evening about the 18Z NAM model trending colder and snowier, someone pretended to be me predicted 6-10 inches. That led Brad in Woodbridge to comment “that Wes Junker..6-10 WOW!!!!!!!!!!11 where did that come from????.” Not from me, but ironically the forecast was pretty darn good.

The next morning (Tuesday) the NWS issued a Winter Storm Watch for the western suburbs but not for the District and points east. The CWG started trading e-mails about the snowstorm and then I posted a blog that stated “By evening, the storm has the potential to become significant and hazardous with wet snow that could lead to trees limbs coming down and power outages if the storm lives up to its potential. ...It (the GFS) argues for a changeover from rain to snow in D.C. around 4 p.m. but the changeover would occur first over the western suburbs.” The article also mentioned the possibility of thundersnow.

Through the next 24 hours the CWG forecasts emphasized thundersnow, high snowfall rates and that the evening rush hour on Wednesday would be a tough one. Wednesday morning Jason wrote: “Not to sound alarming, but all be aware that the snowfall rates around this evening’s commute may be extreme and make travel very hazardous and potentially crippling. Thundersnow is possible with rates in excess of 1 to 2 inches per hour.”


(Dominion Virginia Power restores power lines in Fairfax, Virginia, January 27, 2011. By CWG photographer Kevin Ambrose.)

The storm produced the most varied and interesting comments by readers of any storm during the winter. The comments were so much fun that Ann produced a blog collating them.

The storm also brought pages of kudos and thanks from readers for the accurate CWG forecasts and coverage. The tenor of the comments was captured by this post by Kers1, “Wonderful forecasting, CWG. You made it clearer than any other news outlet that the onset would be fast, messy, and dangerous.” and this one: “You guys nailed it totally. I shared ur forecast with friends and family (ahead of time) thanks to you my family made it home safe.”

Jason aggregated seven pages of like-minded comments and distributed them to the Gang - congratulating the team for its efforts.

Such uniform and lavish praise is a big high for any forecaster. But as my wife so truly noted, you’re only as good as your last forecast.

From a forecasting perspective, the Commutageddon storm was the highlight of the season because the CWG team functioned together well before and during the storm. And for this storm, the team really got the forecast right. I felt like a player who had just won an important playoff game.

Stay tuned for Part III Friday...