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How Forecasters' Predictions On Mid-Atlantic Snowstorm Are Faring


This week was a big one for weather forecasters. The buildup was huge.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Winter Storm Jonas is set up to be a historic storm for parts of the mid-Atlantic...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: A historic storm, maybe a top five...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What could be a historical storm...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Eighteen to 24 inches...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Some whiteout conditions out there...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Overnight Friday is going to be a mess. Saturday, an absolute mess. Travel will be literally impossible...

MARTIN: Whatever you want to call it, historic, historical, it's bad news for the mid-Atlantic, and it's got meteorologists all fired up. This week, we talked to two experts about their predictions. The first - Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel told us signs pointed to something big.

JIM CANTORE: Seventy mile-per-hour gusts - 50 mile-per-hour gusts with horizontal snow. This is the real deal. And, you know, there's a lot of people in harm's way, a lot of people that, if they don't play by the rules, are going to be in danger.

MARTIN: We also spoke with Angela Fritz. She's deputy editor at the Capital Weather Gang, the weather blog of The Washington Post.

ANGELA FRITZ: We're kind of on the low-end of forecasts that are out there, so we tend to be a little bit conservative about this storm.

MARTIN: But she still thought things would get nuts.

FRITZ: We are predicting snowfall totals of anywhere from 18 to as much as 24, maybe 25, inches right around the immediate D.C. metro.

MARTIN: But she added it was one of the highest confidence predictions her team had ever had. So here we are mid-blizzard, and we wanted to have them back and ask how did their models play out. Jim Cantore, you first. Did you get it right, Jim?

CANTORE: I think everything is working out as planned.

MARTIN: (Laughter) For better or for worse, right?

CANTORE: (Laughter) Yeah, I mean that helps, you know, to actually nail it. You know, two things that stand out, I mean, we've had the 75 mile-per-hour plus wind gusts in Sussex County, Del., this morning. Dewey Beach, as a matter of fact, recorded that. We've already got Montgomery County reporting our first 20-inch total. We're already top ten snowfalls in both - at Reagan and Dulles. So, I mean, we're well on our way to what we thought was going to happen. And really in my professional experience, the best on track and unchanging forecast - the longest unchanging forecast that I've ever seen certainly - especially for Washington, D.C. I mean, this thing has played out exactly how the models showed it to. Now, that doesn't mean that's going to be the future.


CANTORE: But this one at least has played out very well.

MARTIN: Angela, do you agree?

FRITZ: Oh, absolutely. We're looking at a top 12 right now at this very moment, closing in on top 10. So we might even hit top 5 here in D.C. And, of course, the winds are starting to pick up right on schedule. And so we're probably looking at whiteout conditions this afternoon in the metro area. And we're just glad that everybody is hunkered down. Everyone did exactly what we wanted them to. We're not seeing anyone on the roads except for emergency vehicles and people who absolutely need to be out there. So everyone played by the rules, as Jim said.

MARTIN: No offense to either of you, but sometimes you don't get it right. So why were you so right this time? We'll start with Jim.

CANTORE: I think that the synoptic or the large-scale pattern set up was very favorable to lock in the cold air much farther to the south where we weren't really playing with a rain-snow line, even though we did see Baltimore this morning mixed in with a little sleet. But I think that was the key is the fact that we knew how much liquid we were going to get and we knew how much cold air we were going to keep through the storm, and where it was going to go - the track of the storm - kept us with a pretty high confidence forecast.

MARTIN: Angela.

FRITZ: I think it will be interesting to look back and see how this El Nino comes into play here because having a very big El Nino signal means that the weather pattern can be sometimes very easy to predict for the model. So it'll be interesting to see how that all shakes out in the research going forward.

MARTIN: Angela Fritz of The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang and Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel. Thanks to you both.

FRITZ: You're welcome.

CANTORE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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