My Thoughts on The Weather Channel/Verizon FiOS TV Dispute and Meteorology in General

The Weather Channel dropped by yet another television provider? That’s right. Within the past 2 years The Weather Channel (TWC) has been dropped by DirecTV and now Verizon FiOS. And once again, another company will try to take this opportunity to make a name for itself. The AccuWeather channel will try its luck under the Verizon FiOS cable provider just as Weather Nation did under DirecTV in 2013. Weather Nation’s inexperience did not work out and eventually DirecTV and TWC came to an agreement in April of 2014. TWC was back on the air.

Why is this not a surprise?

1.  Ever since computers and the smart phone, television has been put on the back burner of media.

  • Apps and mobile web have become some of the primary sources of weather information
  • Add Twitter and Facebook to that and it includes even more sources of information.

2.  Comcast owns NBC who owns The Weather Channel

  • Verizon and Comcast are competitors
  • NBC bought out The Weather Channel in 2008
  • Comcast bought most of NBC Universal in 2011 and then all of NBC Universal in 2013

3.  24 Hour news stations (or close to 24 hour news) on 1 subject have not fared well

  • TWC has tried to incorporate regular news, shopping and travel ideas, etc. into their programming. There’s one problem. You already have CNN, HLN, MSNBC, etc. to take care of that
  • The perfect example is SportsCenter on ESPN. 10-20 years ago, you would have almost 100% highlights. Now they involve stories about Lebron James biking to home games or Peyton Manning’s worth to the Broncos 6 months before the NFL season. It is easier to look a score up on your phone today.

What does this mean for meteorologists in general?

Although the impact on meteorologists as a whole is small, it does represent where the field of meteorology is going. No longer are the faces of Marshall Seese and Heather Tesch the faces of weather. The faces of weather seem to be apps, mobile websites, and Twitter/Facebook anymore (with the exception of Jim Cantore and his thundersnow love). It is definitely a reality check for those in TV meteorology and the field of meteorology in general.

I gave a talk to students in 2013 at the American Meteorological Society in Austin, Texas about being a young professional in the field. It scared me to see hundreds of faces looking up at me for advice when I knew that the field of meteorology was shrinking. Energy companies have been laying off some of their meteorologists because it is cheaper to go through a company that sells similar products for thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars less. TV meteorologists are asked to be regular news reporters as well because it is cheaper for companies. The government has cut the budget so far down that the National Weather Service has been understaffed for quite some time now. When it comes down to it, technology is helping, but hurting, the meteorology field.

Is the meteorology field dying? No, but it is shrinking. This is a perfect sign of that weather models have become much better levels of guidance and technology improved to incredible levels. I go back to my freshman year of college to where paper maps were put on a clipboard to my senior year where the maps were all digital on an array of monitors on the wall. This is the direction that the field is going, and it is not going to slow down anytime soon. The best thing to do is to accept that and try to keep up with it. Marketing a weather product is not easy. I have said, “Selling a weather product is like selling a piece of paper for hundreds or thousands of dollars to a client who does not want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars.” It is very difficult and in this case, Verizon does not find the product essential enough to keep TWC on their cable lineup.

Conclusion

 

There is not a need for The Weather Channel as much as there was even 10 years ago. What will subscribers of Verizon FiOS do? Look at their TWC app on their phone…or use WeatherBug… or AccuWeather…or Wunderground, etc. There are so many sources to get information that a 24 hour TV meteorology channel is basically obsolete. This is a primary example of how the weather field is changing and growing smaller while becoming saturated. We live in an age where people want their weather information now. Not after potential travel destinations…not after “Fat Guys in the Woods”…but right now. If they will not get that from your company, then they will find it somewhere else. The best thing to do is continue to grow with the field, and if that means the eventual shutdown of The Weather Channel on television, then so be it.

Potential Coastal Storm Thanksgiving Eve into Thanksgiving (Nov. 26 – Nov. 27)

Well you picked a bad time to potentially produce a coastal storm Mother Nature. A day where a lot of folks travel is the day where there could be a potential storm that could bring quite a bit of wintry weather to the East Coast. My goal is to keep you safe on your travels, not to get ratings by hyping a storm. A lot can still happen in 3 days, but here are some notes and suggestions:

Possible Scenarios/Notes:

  • GFS and Euro models have come into better agreement. Showing that potential for plenty of moisture is possible along the coast
  • The NAM is usually pretty inaccurate with a forecast this far out, especially with coastal storms, so its scenario of the storm pushing out to sea should be taken lightly
  • Amount of snow depends on how much cold air can filter in. It is still November and not January or February, so potential for all of this to be snow along the I-95 corridor is unlikely.
  • Areas further away from the coast have a better chance of seeing snow than areas right along the coast. However, if precipitation rates are heavy enough, snow can fall and accumulate quickly

Start Times:

  • Wednesday morning for Washington, D.C.
  • Wednesday late morning/early afternoon for Philadelphia and New York City
  • Wednesday early to mid afternoon for Boston

End Times:

  • Thursday morning for Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia
  • Thursday late morning/early afternoon for New York City
  • Thursday early to mid afternoon for Boston

What Would Happen If Storm Tracks Stay the Same:

  • Rain changes over to snow. Wintry mix potential during the transition.
  • Areas further away from the coast could see a better chance of more significant snowfall.
  • Snow or Mix wraps up early on Thursday for DC, Philly, NYC and during the afternoon for Boston.

How Much Snow:

  • Still yet to be determined
  • The Euro model spits out at least 8″ from western NC to New England within 24 hours, with higher amounts towards New England. The Euro model’s cumulative snowfall does not do a good job with borderline rain/wintry mix/snow events though.
  • The GFS spits out more of a 4-8″ scenario, with pockets of 8-12″ possible from VA to New England. The GFS does a better job depicting rain vs. snow in borderline events. However, the GFS storm track tends to waver a lot more than the Euro.

Conclusions:

  • A coastal storm is likely.
  • If you are traveling from/to DC, Philly, NYC, Boston and can leave before Wednesday I suggest doing so.
  • IF the tracks remain where they are, some areas further from the coast in VA, MD, eastern PA, NJ, and NY could see significant snowfall. Areas right along the coast could see more of a slop fest with rain, snow, and wintry mix.
  • New England will probably see highest snowfall totals from this system, even towards the coast.

 

 

Winter Storm Jagoff Forecast Snow Totals By City

Start: Western PA: Already started; DC Region/Eastern PA/Southern VA: This Evening/Overnight

End: Western PA: Tonight; Eastern PA: Monday morning; DC region/ Southern VA: Monday night

FORECAST SNOW TOTALS:

  • Pittsburgh, PA: 3-6″
  • Philadelphia, PA: 3-6″ Mainly south of downtown
  • Washington, DC: 8-12″ (Reagan National Airport will get less because it’s Reagan National)
  • Richmond, VA: 3-6″
  • Oil City, PA: 2-4″
  • Uniontown, PA: 4-8″
  • State College, PA: 2-4″
  • Breezewood, PA: 4-8″
  • Scranton, PA: Trace-2″
  • Reading, PA: 3-6″
  • Frederick, MD: 5-10″
  • Germantown, MD: 8-12″ Me
  • Baltimore, MD: 5-10″
  • Charlottesville, MD: 8-12″
  • Reedville, VA: 1-3″

Main threats:

  • Heavy snow
  • Sleet/Icing
  • Untreated roads
  • Low visibilities
  • Aggressive or oblivious drivers
  • Pittsburgh running low on salt. Roads could be slick.

MAIN GOAL: Stay safe.

Winter Storm Jagoff (Sunday March 2 – Early Tuesday March 4) – Second (or Final) Look

Start: PA/Northern MD: Sunday Afternoon; DC Region: Sunday evening; Central and Eastern VA: Overnight Sunday/Early Monday Morning

End: Monday Night/Early Tuesday. Northwest PA could see snow end early Monday morning.

 

Main threats:

  • Heavy snow
  • Sleet/Icing
  • Untreated roads
  • Low visibilities
  • Pittsburgh running low on salt. Roads could be slick.
  • Oil City gets snow, but luckily miss the bulk of this storm. Ice jam still a threat

Biggest Changes

  • Precipitation shifted further south
  • Colder temperatures pushed southward
  • Less snow in northern PA.

Risks:

  • Colder temperatures could allow for higher totals near downtown DC/VA/Eastern Shore MD
  • Any warming trends could cut back on totals, especially in southern VA.

If you don’t NEED to drive Sunday afternoon and into Monday, DON’T. Especially if it involves the PA turnpike and I-70 in MD. (Sunday Night/Monday morning could be awful for rush hour in DC)

MAIN GOAL (as always): Be safe!

Winter Storm Jagoff (Sunday March 2 – Early Tuesday March 4) – First Look

Start: Sunday Afternoon (Exact Timing Still Needs Ironed Out)

End: Early Tuesday

Why did I overlap ranges? Time frame still 3 and a half days out essentially. Still a lot shifting that could go on.

Risks:

  • Bulk of precipitation has been moving further south with each model run. Potential further southerly trends. This could allow for less snow up north.
  • Any warming in the south could allow for more mixing and lower snow totals.

Main threats:

  • Heavy snow
  • Untreated roads
  • Low visibilities
  • Ice in southern PA.
  • Pittsburgh running low on salt so I’m not sure what they will do to prepare.
  • Ice Jam in Oil City concern with building more ice up.

If you don’t NEED to drive Sunday night and into Monday, DON’T. Otherwise, drive carefully and slowly. You’ve had a lot of experience this winter.

10 Ways You Know You Are A Meteorologist

  1. You have a degree in meteorology. Probably the easiest way that you know you’re a weatherperson is the fact that you have a piece of paper that signifies your hard work in 4 semesters of calculus/diff. eq,, physics, chemistry, various meteorology classes, and that health class you took but disregard in your daily diet. You always remember your educators and…
  2. …You start quoting your college professors and making corny jokes. In school, you would always wonder why your professors would make corny jokes about the weather. It isn’t until you get into the professional field where you realize that you end up using their quotes or making your own bad jokes. It acts as a way to remember a certain weather fact or just a way to keep you sane (even if others think your insane).
  3. Your interest in weather grew from a love of local news/The Weather Channel, a significant weather event that impacted your childhood, or just an overall love of weather/outdoors. Most meteorologists I have met tend to fall in love with weather at a young age. It is similar to the “I want to be a fireman/police officer” dream that many kids have. I’d say the same amount of people follow through with that “dream” too. 
  4. Your hours/eating habits are or have been unconventional. Some meteorologists are lucky and get the typical 9-5 job (or even 8-4 or 7-3 for that matter), but plenty of mets start out with hours that do not agree with the sleep schedule of the first 22 years of their lives. You’ve worked 10pm-7am, 3am-12pm, and 1pm-10pm. You’ve essentially lived the life of a vampire and a zombie before. With unconventional work hours comes unconventional eating, where your breakfast occurs at 2 in the morning or 7 at night. You have eaten pickles and pasta in the same meal. You have eaten pizza rolls and Zebra cakes at 4am. It doesn’t matter, just stuff your face with any kind of food and you’ll be satisfied. Along with weird schedules…
  5. …Your starting pay is/was similar to that of a teacher. Teachers do not get paid enough, and neither do meteorologists. You work odd hours year-round, some weekends, and usually have to work a few (if not most) holidays. A lot of folks tend to think you ride in limos to work and make 6 figures. Most meteorologists do not. This may be on your list because…
  6. …You have developed a list of pet peeves. Whether it is certain meteorologists or “weather enthusiasts” you have a beef with, misuse of terms like “derecho” or “polar vortex,” or the wonderful model total snowfall maps posted online (usually of the NAM), some things/people will just always bother you. This sometimes reveals that…
  7. …You have a love/hate relationship with other meteorologists. Mostly love, but there have been some ill feelings towards other mets. Whether it is because they do not agree with your forecast/thoughts on global warming or someone has posted total snowfall model runs 7 days out there will usually be some tension between mets. You have all been riding similar boats through meteorology and tend to usually forgive and forget.
  8. You forget that everyone does not care about the weather as much as you. Yes, most folks care about the weather to some extent, but, in terms of in depth details, most people could care less. All of the mets you follow on Twitter tend to make you forget that not everyone cares about the vort max at 500mb.
  9. You’ve seen the same reaction multiple times when people find out what you do for a living. “It’s the only job you can be wrong (insert %) of the time and still stay employed.” Others include: “Are you on TV” or “What are your thoughts on global warming.” My favorite is my grandfather’s, whose only reaction involves licking his finger and sticking it in the air. Love it.
  10. You enjoy helping people. Probably the most important reason why I went into the field of meteorology. The reason we have a job essentially. Not all of us help society directly, but what we do matters. Whether it is forecasting severe weather for a NASCAR race or forecasting cold temperatures to influence natural gas prices, we are helping someone. If anyone tells you that your job in meteorology is insignificant, shame on them.

Others could be added to this list I am sure, but these are the top 10 reasons in my book.

Snow First. Warmth Later.

Another system will track through the region tonight through tomorrow bringing snow to much of western PA with a threat of a wintry mix across southern PA and into DC. After that, temperatures will start to climb to above normal for several days for the first time in a long time.Highs in the upper 40s and 50s will settle into western PA while 50s and 60s move into the DC Region during the middle of the week.

Snow Totals: 2-4″ in western PA with locally amounts higher. DC could see around an inch of snow with a bigger threat of sleet/freezing rain.

Forecast:

Western PA:

Main Threats: Slick roads during morning commute. Sand is starting to be mixed in with salt with salt shortage in Pittsburgh area. Be safe.

  • Today: Highs: Mostly sunny. Snow moves in late. Highs: 20s/Low 30s Overnight Lows:20s
  • Tuesday: Chance of snow, especially early. Highs: 30s Overnight Lows: 20s/30s
  • Wednesday Chance of snow in the north. Mainly dry. Highs: 30s/40s  Overnight Lows: 20s

DC Region:

Main Threats: Freezing rain/sleet/snow could make slick roads for morning commute.

  • Today: Wintry mix moves in late tonight. Highs: 30s Overnight Lows: Upper 20s/low 30s
  • Tuesday: Wintry mix early will clear out later in the day  Highs: Mid to upper 40s.  Overnight Lows: Low to mid 30s.
  • Wednesday: Mostly sunny.  Highs: Low to mid 50s. Overnight Lows: Low 30s

Good News: Temperatures stay warm through the second half of the week.

Bad News: Snow tonight into Tuesday will cause for some slick conditions. Winter’s not over yet as colder temperatures to return next week.

Winter Storm Golden Corral: “3rd Plate of Shame” (Final Forecast)

 

  • Moderate to severe impacts expected from the Richmond region up to NYC
  • Start times: DC: 7pm – 10pm Wednesday; Philly: 12am – 3am Thursday; NYC: 2am – 5am
  • End Time: Thursday Night Into early Friday morning
  • Biggest Threats: Heavy snowfall, low visibility, untreated roads, freezing rain (mainly southern VA)

Tips/Info:

  • DO NOT DRIVE if you don’t have to later tonight into most of tomorrow
  • Schools/Government most likely going to be closed
  • Use your noggin. If it doesn’t sound like a good idea it probably isn’t.
  • Be safe and build a snowman (my extended family member)
  • Biggest Changes from 2nd Guess: Slight westward shift. More mixing along coast. More snow in central PA

City Forecast:

  • DC: 5-10″ (8-12″ in NW suburbs)
  • Philly: 5-10″ (8-12″ in NW suburbs)
  • NYC: 3-6″ (Decreases to 2-4″ then Trace-2″ toward Long Island)
  • Richmond, VA: 4-8″
  • Scranton: 4-8″
  • State College: 3-6″
  • Breezewood: 3-6″
  • Frederick, MD: 8-12″
  • Germantown, MD: 8-12″
  • Easton, MD: 3-6″
  • Reedville, VA: 1-3″
  • Wintergreen Ski Resort: 10-15″

Winter Storm Snowmagedocalypsicane (Feb. 4 – Feb. 5 Winter Storm) Verifications

Forecast Grade: Fair

What went wrong?

  • Thought more heavy snow would shift northward up into NW PA. Stayed south near Butler.
  •  Thought back edge of system would stay further south in NW PA. Enough heavy snow with this batch gave Oil City 6 inches though, which was  in my 5-10″ forecast
  • -Ice was the worst in northern MD and southern PA which I expected. Ice accumulations more than expected. More ice in NW PA than I expected, though.

 

Ice Totals and Snowfall Totals maps courtesy of http://www.erh.noaa.gov/hydromet/

Location forecast:

Snow/Ice Forecast:

  • Erie: 8-12″
  • Oil City: 5-10″
  • Franklin: 4-8″
  • Butler: 3-6″
  • New Castle: 3-6″
  • Pittsburgh: 1-3″ dahntahn; 2-4″ in the Burbs. (Up to .2″ of ice)
  • Uniontown: Maybe an inch or 2. Sleet/rain mainly.
  • Bradford: 6-12″
  • State College: 3-6″. (<0.1″ of ice)
  • Breezewood: 1-3″ of snow. (Up to 0.5″ of ice)
  • Scranton: 5-10″
  • Reading: 1-3″ of snow. (Up to 0.3″ of ice)
  • Philly: 1-2″ of snow. (Up to 0.3″ of ice). Burbs north could see 2-4″ of snow (Up to 0.5″ of ice)
  • NYC: 2-4″. (Up to 0.4″ of ice)
  • Frederick, MD: (Up to 0.4 inches of ice)
  • DC: Mainly rain with some crap potentially mixed in. Ice should stay north of city.

Location Snowfall/Ice Totals (Courtesy of National Weather Service):

 

Types of Forecast “Meteorologists”

After hearing about the DC region getting “feet of snow” and 30″ of snow this upcoming weekend by the public more than 7 days out, I get frustrated at how hyped storms are that far out. Models have changed significantly since then, and the DC Region looks less likely to have a big snow event. Therefor, I decided to write a blog post about the types of forecast meteorologists. Meteorologists can be like most DC drivers. There are very aggressive ones who like to drive in the fast lane (in the DC area this could be the right or left lane) weaving in and out of traffic. Then there is the oblivious driver, poking his way along as he almost comes to a complete stop at a speed camera because, heaven forbid, you go faster than 10 mph below the speed limit there. You have the same situation with meteorologists. Some go all in with their chips and some bet the minimum. Among these are other categories as well. Many meteorologists fit into multiple categories. Here are the types of forecast “meteorologists” (the term meteorologist used loosely):

Sensationalists:

  • Words like polar vortex, frigid twister, bombogenesis, etc. are used to threaten
  • Hype is the main goal as web hits/ratings matter most
  • All model guidance points to 1-3″ of snow, you go with 4-8″ banking that the storm overperforms so they can say, “we were right.”
  • Usually tend to spend less time verifying the forecast and more time moving on to the next storm
  • Show model runs 5+ days out to keep viewer’s attention even though the meteorologist may understand that there is large uncertainty
  • Gains attention in the short term, but can skew audience’s view in a similar situation down the road. Hurricane Irene and Sandy perfect example. Irene was hyped so much that there was skepticism with strength/track of Sandy.
  • Found in 24 hour news media, national media, and social media because they have to copy Fox News since somehow they are at the top of the Nielsen Ratings all of the time

“Safety First” Meteorologists:

  • Usually agrees with model output
  • Model guidance shows 1-3″ of snow but temperatures will be well below freezing, pointing to higher totals, You go with the 1-3″ instead
  • Waits until the day before the event to make sure models match up exactly before making a general forecast
  • Tends to either overthink situations or not think of certain catalysts that could change the forecast in situations
  • Good if system underperforms, but underforecasting snow/severe event could lead to forecasts being taken lightly. Trust could be lost with audience.
  • Usually found in amateur meteorologists, meteorologists interested in every model run, and weather geeks who do not know much about meteorology

Modelogist” or “Meteo-model-gist”

  • Similar to sensationalist
  • Interested in every model run, including 6z and 18z GFS
  • Finds the model with the most snowfall or most severe storm threat and posts it online or broadcasts it without explanation of risks and confidence. Canadian model and Brazilian meteogram included.
  • Find the model map with the brightest/most threatening color scheme for effect
  • Viewed by most people
  • Trust could be lost quickly with audience if event does not pan out
  • Believe that big snow storm 7+ days out will happen because the Euro has a big coastal storm 180 hours out.
  • Amateur meteorologists, weather geeks who do not know much about meteorology, some sensationalists, and mets/weather enthusiasts who want to get noticed

Climate Change Meteorologist

  • Does not pay much attention to the details of the forecast. Focuses mainly on the aftermath of the impact the storm has on the region
  • Focuses on the global scale more than national or region scale
  • Relates each weather event to climate change.
  • Hurricane Sandy, “polar vortex,” and Super Typhoon Haiyan are overused to prove that global warming/cooling is occurring
  • Some forecast meteorologists who have a strong passion for climate change, politicians who think they know everything about weather/climate, Bill Nye

Overall, there needs to be a medium between the aggressive and complaisant meteorologist. What does this entail?

  • Realistic forecasts that use the knowledge from college/experience to modify what models have for forecast
  • Clarity in the way we present this information so people are intrigued and understand the risks and confidence in the forecast.
  • Try not to post model images. If you have to, explain risks and confidence, too.
  • Keeping the viewer/reader entertained without hyping a situation that has a lot of uncertainty and risk. Keep it fun and interesting (Probably the hardest thing to do)
  • Avoid using meteorological terms that the general public does not understand. Polar vortex was used and it became skewed/misused in the media.
  • Patience. Although your forecast might be the best, it might not get the most views right away. After time, people with trust your forecasts
  • Climate change is a different animal than weather forecasting. A handful of events covered heavily by the media does not need to be analyzed to see how it affects the climate. There are many other factors that contribute to climate change

Most forecast meteorologists’ goal is to keep people safe. Realistic forecasts and clarity in your presentation to the public in an interesting manner is the best way to go about it. Sensationalism will get people talking in the short term, but viewership and trust may decline with the audience. Happy forecasting!