11.03.11

Different Forecasts For October Snowstorm Causes Confusion

Posted in Commentary, GWC News at 9:54 pm by gmachos

Forecasts Vary On Snowfall Amounts And Warnings

The nor’easter that brought all the record snow this past weekend was a storm that not only surprised many residents across the Garden State as well as the rest of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but also many forecasters as well.  Some had underestimated the impact of the storm while others overestimated.  It led to a lot of different possibilities depending upon what weather resource you were using.

I discovered this right away on Saturday.  When I first get up in the morning, I usually turn to Weatherscan by the Weather Channel to see the latest radar and satellite imagery along with the current conditions.  After hearing snowfall amounts of either one to three, or two to four inches all day on Friday, I was startled to find out that Newark was forecast to get 5 to 8 inches of snow.  Belmar was expected to get one to two inches of rain, and Somerville was expected to get 6 to 10 inches.

Turning to the local news on WABC 7 out of New York City, I learned that the snow wasn’t really going to get underway until the evening, and snowfall amounts were again expected to be between one to three inches with higher amounts further north and west.  Perplexed, I decided to go to the web site for the National Weather Service Office in Mount Holly, New Jersey.  There, I discovered that the forecast was calling for up to 4 inches on Saturday.  The confusion didn’t stop there either.

Arriving at work a couple hours later, I watched the rain increase, and eventually turn into snow.  The clouds grew very dark, and the snowfall picked up in intensity.  However, the NWS offices in both Mount Holly and Upton, New York were not agreeing on the snow forecast.  To understand this, you must recognize that the office in Mount Holly covers most of New Jersey as well as Eastern Pennsylvania while the Upton office covers Northeastern New Jersey as well as New York City and its suburbs.

Not a lot of people realize this when they see their forecast.  However, at lunchtime on Saturday, the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly was still forecasting only 2 to 5 inches for South Plainfield, which resides in Northwestern Middlesex County some 5 minutes from the Union County border.  A Winter Weather Advisory was in effect for my hometown.  Meanwhile, in nearby Plainfield, located in Union County, a Winter Storm Warning was in effect, and the forecast was calling for 6 to 10 inches.

Within the next two hours, the Winter Storm Warning was extended into Middlesex County by NWS Mount Holly.  Forecast snowfall amounts were increased from 2 to 4 inches to 4 to 8 inches.  Northwestern Middlesex County was at the high end of the scale.  At this point, the snowfall was producing very low visibility, and the slushy and slippery roads created difficult driving conditions.  Tree limbs and power lines were snapping under the weight of the snow.  After the forecast was updated, the snow began to mix with sleet in Northern Middlesex County locations such as Edison.

In the end, Mount Holly was more accurate with its original forecast.  South Plainfield ended up with 3.1 inches, Edison ended up with 4 inches, and Woodbridge ended up with over 5 inches.  Further north in Union County locations such as Elizabeth and Roselle Park, snowfall amounts were less than expected at 3.8 and 4.8 inches respectively.  To the west in Somerset County, snowfall amounts ranged between 2.5 inches in Montgomery to 4.8 inches in Bridgewater.

Regardless of the final snowfall amounts, the storm still produced record snow.  The problem with these forecasts is that depending upon where you are, the forecast for one location could differ greatly from another that is just minutes away.  This is because New Jersey weather is governed by two NWS offices.  Middlesex County was not always covered by Mount Holly.  Upton did issue forecasts for the area prior to about 10 to 15 years ago.  New Jersey has always struggled to have its own weather identity.  Often, the Garden State’s forecasts are often blurred since it lies between Philadephia and New York City.

The NWS needs to do a better job of working together to forecast weather for counties neighboring the two forecast zones.  In addition, with all the different media outlets having their own weather services, it can be very confusing with numerous forecasts to sift through.  Best advice is to stick with one particular outlet for your info.  I usually go with the NWS and the Weather Channel although, I will check out what the other stations will be saying.

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