Don’t Believe The Winter Storm Hype

Bryan Wood, a meteorologist/Storm Damage Analyst at Assurant, posted a series of tweets today regarding the hype surrounding last week’s winter storm. These are some very astute insights and worthy of your time to consider. Bryan’s Twitter feed can be found at @bryanwx.

The only point I might differ with is the ice. Last Friday’s storm was not destined to be a big ice producer on pavement because it was preceded by 2 days of near record warmth and pavement temperatures were too warm to support glaze from freezing rain. Water from heavy rain and runoff did later produce some black ice.

Here are Bryan’s observations from his “Tweet storm”:

  • Some thoughts & reflections on Friday’s & today’s snow events here regionally, but can be applicable anywhere. People will interpret any image you post on social media how they want. Don’t assume that by linking it to a video that they’ll watch it.
  • This week, an image showing two model outputs with either 2″ of snow or 23.1″ of snow. Snow lovers clung to that 23.1 inches of snow, despite historical odds being low…and this storm was clearly not going to be historical by any means. No context given, other than “watch us”.
  • This happened in Columbus, but spilled over into other markets like Cincinnati & Dayton because they also had “high amounts”. This caused a lot of questions & work for other meteorologists. We have employees in Columbus – I had over 40 people ask about this specific image.
  • The vast majority of them only saw the big numbers, did not watch the TV station or their videos. The only context they saw was 23.1 inches. They assumed it was a forecast because they don’t understand the nuances of predictive models.
  • Needless to say, they were almost unanimously upset. “they just want people to watch”, “hype merchants” were some of the phrases used. They watch you because you’re an expert. They want YOUR forecast. Most of these people I talked to said they won’t watch this station anymore.
  • The thing that was most upsetting to me is that I’ve always recommended this channel to friends, coworkers and even clients in Columbus. The exact reason why is that they don’t (didn’t?) try baiting tactics like this and just gave it straight to the viewer. I admired that.
  • While snow totals are important to communicate, I think we can overemphasize it in an overall context of a winter storm & its impacts. This storm had ice potential (thankfully not as bad as it could’ve been) and the timing of snow was big – evening rush hour.
  • I saw a ton of images about snow totals “through Saturday”. I saw very little images about the onset of snow, at which point, serious road issues would begin. This is a critical point to help people make decisions to stay in or venture out. Are we giving them the info they need?
  • Related to ice: We (wx community) forecasted up to 0.1″ of ice. Feedback I recieved: Many people interpreted this as “not bad”. When we get 0.1″ of rain, it’s not a big deal. In ice, it can crush travel. Is there a better way to communicate how dangerous 0.1″ of ice can be?
  • Summary: Don’t just study how your physical forecast compared to reality. Listen to your feedback. Don’t take it personally. Think about what people are saying. If they’re upset with you over “hype” (real or perceived) – you didn’t communicate & inform the way they needed.
  • I (professionally) took it on the chin from some higher ups last month for a winter forecast in Atlanta. It was deserved. I didn’t take it personally. I thought about how I could better inform both impacts & confidence. Be open, be thoughtful, Improve.
  • Oh, and if you rip all the NWS offices in/around your TV market for “being too low” with snow total forecasts and go way too high with your forecast, the storm didn’t underachieve, your forecast did.

Note: The Arbor Doctor Weather Blog will always strive to provide sound information, not hype, and sort through it all for you!