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SOMETIMES, WE NEED TO LOOK OUT THE WINDOW

Over the last three months of 2011, our Weather Lab received a major overhaul. Our staff installed a state-of-the-art graphics system, high-definition plasma monitors, and even added a fresh coat of paint to our set. As we stood looking at the fruits of our labor, I couldn't help but remark: "Now all we need is a window."

It is somewhat ironic that most TV weather studios don't have a window to the outside world (where the weather actually happens). Perhaps we have become far too reliant on computer models and radar imagery. Sometimes, the weather doesn't behave according to the "laws" outlined in college text books. A perfect example was the forecasting fiasco of January 25, 2000.

Computer models had been indicating the formation of a winter weather event for days, but placed the bulk of the precipitation about 200 miles offshore of Wilmington. In fact, up to 36-48 hours before the first flakes fell, the trusty Eta model (the model of choice for such events) had most of central North Carolina virtually snow-free, with only a half inch of snow forecasted for most coastal counties. I was working weekends at the time, but our morning meteorologist was out of town on vacation. As a result, the forecasting duties fell to me.

At this point in the story, I could tell you how I brilliantly deduced that the computer models were wrong. I could tell you how I cleverly forecasted a snowstorm of epic proportions for the state of North Carolina. Of course, this would be a lie. The simple fact of the matter is that I was way behind the curve, and I was not the only one.

The first few flakes started falling in our area during the pre-dawn hours of January 25. Thankfully, I had forecasted a small measure of accumulating snow, so I was not surprised when the first advisories were issued. Unfortunately, a series of vorticity anomalies really increased the rotation of the developing storm. The net effect was a much deeper (and more westward) flow of moisture from the Atlantic. More moisture meant more precipitation, and the extra precipitation lowered temperatures in the initially dry atmosphere. By the time I started our morning newscast, I had already increased my original snow forecast by an inch. The snow was falling so hard, I increased the forecast by another couple of inches 30 minutes later. By the end of the 2 hour newscast, I was forecasting 3-5 inches. Some parts of our viewing area wound up with nearly 6 inches. The storm was bad enough in southeastern NC, but Raleigh forecasters fared much worse.

Less that 48 before the storm hit, forecasters were expecting very little (if any) snow in the triangle area. By the time the storm passed, nearly 2 feet had fallen. With most of the state's snow equipment in the mountains, Raleigh was ill-equipped to deal with the problem. For all intents and purpose, the triangle area shut down for nearly a week. No school, no travel, and in many cases, no power.

In the years since this event, many scientific theories and papers have been written, offering eloquent explanations of the storm's evolution. Of course, we all know the old saying about hindsight...

(Send comments to Jerry at jjackson@wwaytv3.com)

By: Jerry Jackson