The Northeast was braced for another of those periodic Storms of the Century last week. Blizzard warnings were up from Philadelphia through Maine, with up to two feet of snow forecast for New York City and the Boston area. States of emergency were declared and the public warned to stay at home.
But as the storm rolled in Tuesday morning, city residents awoke to—well, not exactly nothing, but nothing all that much to write home about either. The storm veered inward from its projected coastal path, drawing warm ocean air that caused the snow to mix with rain, sleet, and ice along the I-95 corridor. Rather than two feet of snow, New York and Boston wound up with about seven inches of mixed precipitation. Meanwhile, some inland areas of upstate New York and New England that had been expecting less than a foot got hammered with two or three feet or more. (Some regions on the fringes of the cities did get a predicted heavy snowfall.).
This is not one of those “beat up on the Weather Service for getting the forecast wrong” harangues, however. For the incredible story that came out the day after the storm is that, in fact, the National Weather Service had actually gotten the forecast right internally—but then deliberately concealed the information from the public so as not to cause “confusion.” By Monday afternoon, the day before the storm, most of the computer models used by the Weather Service were projecting the inland turn and dramatically lessened snowfall in the coastal cities. But the weather bureaucrats decided to stick with the old forecast in which they no longer had confidence because, as the agency later said, “a dramatic change in the snowfall forecast could produce an unwelcome result of less readiness and vigilance.” It “might have given people the wrong message that the storm was no longer a threat,” the chief of forecast operations explained. “It still was, but the real danger was from ice and sleet.” And, as a meteorologist supporting the Weather Service decision said, “ice is a far greater hazard,” anyway.
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