New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said over the weekend that the National Weather Service was “off” in its forecast leading up to a rare, heavy blast of lake-effect snow last week — an assessment that drew fire from weather experts who pointed out that the forecast was, in fact, accurate.
Cuomo made the remarks on Saturday, after facing criticism for the state’s response to the crippling snowstorms that hit the Buffalo area last week. Those storms dumped as much as 88 total inches of snow on some towns just south of Buffalo. The snow claimed 13 lives, collapsed roofs, closed schools and paralyzed a stretch of the interstate, trapping some cars (and rock-band tour buses) for days.
“No one had an idea that it was gonna be that much snow that fast,” Cuomo said. “Snow coming down at the rate of about five inches an hour. No one had an idea. The weather service was off.” The governor then plugged his state’s plans to install its own “weather detection system.”
The remarks were similar to those from Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who told the Buffalo News that his county would have prepared differently had it known that several feet of snow was on its way. “We were still basing it on a 30-inch storm, which very shortly changed into a seven-foot storm,” he said.
Meteorologists responded quickly — and loudly — pointing out that a Nov. 17 pre-storm forecast from the National Weather Service called the coming snow a possibly “historic” event. “Confidence is high for feet of snow,” the Monday forecast read. “Will not be surprised to see several hours of localized 3-5 inch/hr of snow.”
The Weather Channel’s Ari Sarsalari
indicating that “feet of snow” were possible from the storm.
noted that the National Weather Service was warning that the storm would render roads impassible as early as Sunday, Nov. 16.
The weather service continued to revise its forecast upward. Its forecast from 3:45 p.m. on Nov. 17 specifically mentioned the possibility of five-inch-per-hour snowfall. So unsurprisingly, the weather service stood by its work.
“The National Weather Service issued time and accurate forecasts for not just one, but two heavy lake-effect snow events for the Buffalo area,” reads a statement from the group issued to Time Warner. More meteorologists, locally and nationally, piled on:
Cuomo (kind of) walked back his comments about the inaccurate forecast on Sunday. “It is not that the National Weather Service failed us,” he said, “it’s that the National Weather Service has a certain number of weather stations and they get that information from those weather stations. And, they perform the best they can with the information they have.”
He added: “They only know what they know from their weather detection systems. And here, where it hits, you know, 10 miles can be a big difference. Whether it comes at midnight or 6 a.m. can be a very big difference. . . . If you had this information beforehand, it would be much more helpful.”
Whether Cuomo and the National Weather Service have made up or not, the state and the forecasters now face another challenge for the area: potentially massive flooding as temperatures rise in the region, melting all that snow. Cuomo warned residents to stay away from any floodwater, saying: “It’s not water, it’s a toxic brew. It has sewage in it. It has runoff in it.”
CNN reported that the state stepped up its preparation for the flood: Swift water rescue teams and helicopters are on standby, along with about 180,000 sandbags.