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"Mammoth Snow Storm" Underwhelms 397

mi (197448) writes You heard the scare-mongering, you heard the governors and mayors closing public transit and declaring driving on public roads a crime. But it turned out to have been a mistake. Boston may have been hit somewhat, but further South — NYC and Philadelphia — the snowfall was rather underwhelming. Promised "2-3 feet" of snow, NYC got only a few inches. Is this an example of "better safe than sorry," or is government's overreach justified by questionable weather models exceeding the threshold of an honest mistake?
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"Mammoth Snow Storm" Underwhelms

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:18AM (#48914659)

    Damn global warming!

    • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:35AM (#48914881) Homepage Journal

      WE ALL GONNA DIE!

      Oh wait. We aren't?

      Howsabout a Mayan...oh wait, we already passed the end of that calendar and are still here.

      Space rocks? No. If I have to listen to Steven Tyler screeching out "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" one more time *I* will contract space madness and go on a killing spree.

      I know! ALIEN INVASION!

      Soylent green? It's...people man! PEOPLE!

    • Perhaps Bill Nye will explain that we *would* have gotten 2 or 3 feet, except for...
    • Not only that, but the heat has also clearly gotten to the brains of CNN's weather reporters. Just last night I saw one saying "Looks like we've got about a foot of snow so far," even as the camera panned down to show a dusting of snow barely covering the sidewalk. And another was saying "It's REALLY getting bad out here!" even as the background clearly showed no snow at all on the streets or sidewalks (or even falling), with people and traffic moving normally.

      CAN'T YOU SEE THESE POOR WEATHER REPORTERS ARE

  • jessh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:19AM (#48914669) Homepage Journal

    ...except there IS a mammoth snowstorm in other parts of New England.

    The 21st Century: the Century of Whiners.

    • Hear Hear! (Score:5, Informative)

      by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (etartsnefd)> on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:31AM (#48914825)

      I've got 20 inches and it's still going. I might not get three feet, but the total will be in the neighborhood of the forecasts.

    • Re:jessh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nemyst ( 1383049 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:38AM (#48914919) Homepage
      Yeah, this was absolutely the right call. There were four possible scenarios here:
      • -There is no snowstorm and the officials shut the city down. At worst, people lose a day's worth of work, some businesses are affected. Whiners abound.
      • -There is no snowstorm and the officials leave the city running. Nothing happens, nobody notices.
      • -There is a snowstorm and the officials shut the city down. Everyone congratulates them for their foresight.
      • -There is a snowstorm and the officials leave the city running. Possible severe damage to infrastructure, possible death toll, cleanup is significantly more complicated and takes far longer. Officials are berated for their carelessness.

      The best course of action by far is to shut the city down. The downside of doing so when there is no snowstorm is far lesser than the opposite. Those who complain have no idea what the fuck they're talking about (and who really expects a cabaret singer to have any knowledge of risk assessment and weather prediction?).

      • Re:jessh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:53AM (#48915161)

        According to your logic, officials should shut the city down if there is even a tiny chance of a snowstorm.

        • Re: jessh (Score:3, Insightful)

          by peragrin ( 659227 )

          No but a reasonable chance. Look at what different areas are getting around nyc. You might be surprised at how much they are getting and nyc didn't.

        • According to your logic, officials should shut the city down if there is even a tiny chance of a snowstorm.

          I'm pretty sure it was implied that P(snowstorm) is high enough to make the cost/benefit rational.

          Unless of course you think his comment would be better off at 4 times the length, detailing all of the obvious common sense assumptions he made.

      • Re:jessh (Score:5, Informative)

        by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @12:19PM (#48915489) Homepage Journal

        This.

        I grew up in the DC metro area. Snowstorms in New England are notoriously hard to predict, especially nor'easters like this one (which are typically a combination of 2-3 storm systems).

        Sure, you can see it coming down from the Midwest, but it's always hard to tell exactly what's going to happen to a blizzard after it stumbles over the Appalachian Mountains, which will divert some of it and squeeze some or all of the moisture out of it. Then it collides with some storm full of rain coming in from the North Atlantic. Then the wildcard is some sort of warmer air coming up from the south... It all collides over New England. The computer models can tell you what's going into the mix, but who knows exactly where it's going to transition from rain to snow? WHICH STORM WILL WIN?! A butterfly in Miami decides.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by executioner ( 113014 )
        when did we become a nation of wimps? we dealt with snowstorms for decades without shutting down at the mere hint of a blizzard. this country is going soft catering to whiners.
        • Re:jessh (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @01:14PM (#48916169)

          we died in snowstorms for decades without shutting down at the mere hint of a blizzard

          FTFY.

        • by Altus ( 1034 )

          It is not likely to be cost effective to keep cities open. Clearing snow at a pace that lets you keep the roads open is very costly and hard on the environment. Keeping public transit running is similarly expensive. The cost is productivity for a day but given that these days many people get work done at home the impact of that is somewhat less than it was in the past. We always used to shut down for the worst storms, sometimes the call was made late and people would get stuck. Now the balance has shif

        • by dnavid ( 2842431 )

          when did we become a nation of wimps? we dealt with snowstorms for decades without shutting down at the mere hint of a blizzard. this country is going soft catering to whiners.

          We dealt with cholera for even longer without all this public sanitation bling.

      • The best course of action by far is to shut the city down. The downside of doing so when there is no snowstorm is far lesser than the opposite. Those who complain have no idea what the fuck they're talking about (and who really expects a cabaret singer to have any knowledge of risk assessment and weather prediction?).

        There is also downside in possibility next time media and or government freaks out about a genuinely dangerous storm they will be ignored.

      • Re:jessh (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @12:39PM (#48915719)

        The collateral damage from scenario #1 in your list is that people are additionally desensitized to future warnings.

        It happens so frequently that I ignore storm warnings entirely until I actually see some snow.

      • Absoutely not.

        Shutting a city down for a day *guarantees* huge damages. Let's look at Boston. There are 240,000 households, each with a median income of $70,000/yr. Let's use a really simplfied model, and say that there are 365 days in a year - so each day is about $200 per household in wages. That means that shutting down the city for a guarantees a loss of $48 millon.

        For salaried workers, that's a loss for their employer. For hourly workers, that's a loss for the to the household.

        Without a government inte

      • Re:jessh (Score:5, Informative)

        by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2017q4@virtual-estates.net> on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @01:33PM (#48916465) Homepage Journal

        At worst, people lose a day's worth of work, some businesses are affected.

        The annual economic output of New York metro area [citylab.com] alone (leaving Philadelphia aside for a minute) is about $1.4 trillion dollars — or about $4billion per day (weekdays such as today produce more than weekends). If even a mere 10% of that figure was lost today because of our rulers' failures, the cost is $400 million (for New York alone).

        Possible severe damage to infrastructure

        Little of such damage can be meaningfully prevented by shutting the infrastructure down. But even if it could be — and even the entire $60 million cost of the "Christmas Blizzard of 2010" [wikipedia.org] could've been prevented by shutting the city down, it would've still been a pretty stupid thing to do — even if the storm actually lived up to the hype.

        possible death toll

        The "Christmas Blizzard of 2010" [wikipedia.org] is imputed with 7 fatalities — or, in dollar terms [wikipedia.org], $63 million dollar, tops.

        The best course of action by far is to shut the city down.

        Hundreds vs. tens of millions of dollars lead to the exact opposite conclusion.

        But there is more — individuals and businesses, made aware of the risks, can (and are supposed to!) make their own decisions. Governor declaring driving on a public road a crime [cnbc.com] is something else — they violate our freedom.

        and who really expects a cabaret singer to have any knowledge of risk assessment

        So, where do you sing?

    • Historic Storm!
      Here Ye Here Ye. Run the shops and get your Toilet Paper in Bulk. Be Prepared to live like a caveman for year!

      What I would like to have seen.
      Estimated snow fall ranges.
      Average expected snow fall to get
      Standard Deviation of your estimate.
      Confidence interval.

      We get a lot of this talk during the political season. So the general public does seem to have at least a rudimentary understanding of such statistics. Why can't we get this for things like weather. Other than trying to make us panic abo

      • by JWW ( 79176 )

        Heh, with a quick glance, I read your first line as:

        Histrionic Storm!

      • What I would like to have seen.
        Estimated snow fall ranges.
        Average expected snow fall to get
        Standard Deviation of your estimate.
        Confidence interval.
        Burma Shave.

    • I don't know what everybody is complaining about. I skied to work today, pfft three miles in a 2-3 foot storm ;)
    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      Yup, I cleared about 4-6 inches of snow off our walkway/sidewalk/driveway at 1 am, and when we woke up at 8, the only evidence that I had even been out there were some slightly higher mounds where I had tossed snow.

      Normally it takes several storms over the course of a week or two to pile it up like this and the streets were just kind of wet as of 5 pm yesterday. This has been a good one.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:21AM (#48914693)

    NYC got only a few inches

    That's what she said.

    "Is that it?"
    "Have you started yet?"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:24AM (#48914723)

    "Boston may have been hit somewhat"

    I think that's completely unrepresentative. It doesn't take much searching through instagram or any other photo sharing site to see that Boston not only has a lot of snow this morning, but that the storm is still raging and blowing pretty hard (and will throughout the day).

    Just because NYC was underwhelmed does not mean that the actions for safety are unwarranted.

    Nothing like having a headline for the sake of having a headline. Media can never be happy.

    • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:27AM (#48914761) Homepage Journal

      This isn't just media. Every decision made can be easily second guessed. The media does it and tons of "savvy" citizens on the Internet do the same thing. There is second guessing even when the call was made right.

      If the failure went the other way and thousands were stranded or killed the EXACT SAME group of people would be bitching.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:35AM (#48914877)

        +1 for you if i could login and had mod points.

        No matter what was done some group would be very vocal about how it was not the right thing to do.

        Call a state disaster and close the roads but the storm is less then expected - Complain
        Dont call a disisaster and lave the roads open and the storm is really bad - Complain.

        Oddly enough, those same group of people dont take their vast meteorological knowledge to places like the national weather service where it could be put to better use.

      • by David_Hart ( 1184661 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @12:48PM (#48915819)

        I echo the comments by my fellow Slashdotters int he Boston area. I am in Lowell and we have about 2 feet of snow with windy weather and still more falling. So, it's quite possible that we will get the forecasted 3 feet.

        That being said, I'm from Canada and 2 to 3 feet of snow wouldn't even shut down school when I was a kid. However, most cities, provinces/states have cut back drastically on their snow cleaning budgets. Back then they used to plow all the time to keep the roads open. These days they shut down the cities and then plow as the storm is ending.

    • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @12:49PM (#48915835)

      http://imgur.com/gallery/ILX0g... [imgur.com] That is boston.

    • I'm in Boston as well and it basically unfolded exactly as predicted.

      Note: this was a pretty tricky storm to forecast: it wasn't just a "system" that moved across from west to east like a lot of snowstorms do in the midwest (where I'm from). This thing was swirling off the coast and depended on a low pressure system combined with north/south winds on shore to make for "waves" of snow that washed onto the land. Definitely a really interesting beast.

      As a computational scientist (I specialize in the types of

  • by PvtVoid ( 1252388 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:25AM (#48914737)

    It just isn't possible to predict this stuff precisely. But you can't put a travel ban in place once the storm has actually started -- it would be too late. You have to do it pre-emptively for it to be effective.

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:27AM (#48914769)
    You have to make plans and decisions ahead of time. It takes time to execute the preparations you need. You have to go with the forecast as it is at that time. Governors are not weathermen.
  • by Scutter ( 18425 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:28AM (#48914783) Journal

    It doesn't matter what the mayor's office does to prepare for an emergency, there will always be someone there to say they were wrong to do it.

    • by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:44AM (#48915029)

      It doesn't matter what the mayor's office does to prepare for an emergency, there will always be someone there to say they were wrong to do it.

      In N.Y., Gov. Cuomo didn't want a repeat of last year when people got trapped overnight in a snowstorm on the Long Island Expressway, so he shut it and all unnecessary road travel down, which was later lifted. Politicians know to act proactively when it comes to acts of Mother Nature, or suffer the backlash of voters later.

  • The weather agency should state it as a percent similar to rain forecasts. Example: "There is a 70% estimated probability that snow will reach more than 2 feet deep in City X" kind of thing. It's then understood there's a 30% chance the snow will be a bust.

    • by DMUTPeregrine ( 612791 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:53AM (#48915159) Journal
      They actually do this, just the reporters strip that out.
    • by BenFranske ( 646563 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @12:04PM (#48915309) Homepage

      I'm guessing that you do not live in a location which regularly sees substantial snowfall. If you did you would realize that, at least with current models, this would be pretty much impossible. Snowfall amounts are one of the most difficult things to model and are notoriously incorrect.

      Unlike precipitation like rain, where the density is always the same, with snow the ambient temperature and humidity level play a huge role in determining how dense the snowfall is (heavy wet snow vs light fluffy snow). We can predict the amount of water which will fall from the sky during a snowfall with the same probabilities, amounts, and accuracy as with summer rains (which we're reasonably good at). The problem is that depending on the density of the snow (which is much harder to predict) that same amount of water can give a snowfall of between 5 and 20 inches.

  • This should be good for the drought in California getting snow in Mammoth. :-)

  • That's the real victim today.
  • by colordotmatrix ( 3962679 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:32AM (#48914841)

    NYC might have only received a few inches, but Nassau County got 12 - 18 inches and Suffolk County got over 20 inches (and still snowing)... And Connectiut and the rest of New England got even more. The forecast for Suffolk County was consistently in the 20 to 30 inch range, so they got that right. Having hundreds or thousands of people stuck in a blizzard on the Long Island Expressway would have been a disaster.

    • by rjejr ( 921275 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @01:15PM (#48916175)
      Western Suffolk. Just spent over an hour shoveling over a foot of snow out of my driveway. The whiners can SHOVE IT, WE GOT OUR FREAKIN' BLIZZARD. A huge monstrous storm did exactly what they said, but it was 35 miles east of where they said. A storm that was probably over 300 miles long and 75 miles wide barely missed it's target. It was real, it happened, it's still happening in New England Tuesday afternoon. Landfall was a little off, that's it, not underwhelming, not a conspiracy, a little off the predicted model tract.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:33AM (#48914859) Homepage
    Up until recently, the US weather prediction was SIGNIFICANTLY inferior to European. They talked about the American Model vs the European Model, and the European Model was consistently correct.

    People have finally begun to realize this problem, and created a new American Model. The predictions of large NYC and Philly snowfalls came from the Old American Model. The new American Model, along with the European Model, both correctly predicted the snowfalls.

    The New American Model requires significantly more computer power to use. It has not been thoroughly tested. But expect to see it being used more often after this success.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @12:05PM (#48915317)

      Actually the European model also predicted more snow. From the Wunderground blog,

      The 7 am EST (12 UTC) Monday run of what is usually our top forecast model, the European model, predicted that the storm would track about 100 miles farther west than it actually did. The American GFS model, which just underwent a significant upgrade over the past month to give it increased horizontal resolution, performed better, putting the storm farther to the east. Forecasts that relied too heavily on the European model put too much snow over New York City.

    • by Bigby ( 659157 )

      I don't know what model was used, but AccuWeather and Wunderground were both predicting 8-16 in from Friday through Sunday. Despite this, all I heard was 24 in in the news and from politicians. I don't know where they got this information, because my information was not nearly as bad. We wound up getting about 6-7 in; the low side of the prediction. Even on the high side, it isn't crazy.

  • Shady Brady (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:34AM (#48914873) Journal

    Those damned Patriots under-inflated the snow machine!

  • by ISoldat53 ( 977164 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:39AM (#48914941)
    We are having record highs in the Puget Sound area. Highs in the upper 50s and even into the 60s.
    • by hawkfish ( 8978 )

      We are having record highs in the Puget Sound area. Highs in the upper 50s and even into the 60s.

      Yeah, I've been biking in sandals all winter. About 10F warmer than usual except for a week or two (one of which I was out of town!)

  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:39AM (#48914945) Homepage

    "You heard the scare-mongering"

    "Promised "2-3 feet" snow"

    "government's overreach"

    Congratulations, Timothy. Today's the day I take Slashdot up on its longstanding offer to disable advertising, and it's all because of you!

    Because honestly, y'all don't deserve money for this level of pabulum.

    • by Layzej ( 1976930 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:59AM (#48915229)
      My favourite part of the post is "exceeding the threshold of honest mistake" - implying that there was some dishonest conspiracy between the various weather agencies to over-predict. For what nefarious reason, we can only speculate... and who is the mastermind behind this? Maybe George Soros is trying to drive down the price of auto dealerships so that he can get them at a steal, but we can't know for sure. Al we know for sure is:
      1. 1) Rig all weather forecasts so that cities shut down the roads.
      1. 2) ???
      1. 3) Profit!
    • It is not Timothy, it is the submitter. Just read his comment history, you will see what I mean.

  • With regards to warning people... Damned if they do and damned if they don't.
  • And I bet the forecast for that day will be 128F :)
  • 300$ fee if you drive in 3 feet of snow!!! GEEE! Hope these guys never go up north.

    I remember the first time I travel in the USA with my children, they have around 8-10 years old. We were in a restaurants, I order some beer for myself. A unknow local beer, and my children want to taste it like they do here, I give them the glass... then the waiter tell us that it's completly illegal and we can be arrested for doing that. I think to myself, what a real land of the free where you government tell you how to ra

    • by Binestar ( 28861 )

      For giving alcohol to children the law varies state to state. In Ohio for instance, the law states: "No person shall sell or furnish any low-alcohol beverage to, or buy any low-alcohol beverage for, an underage person, unless given by a physician in the regular line of his practice or given for established religious purposes, or unless the underage person is accompanied by a parent, spouse who is not an underage person, or legal guardian."

      New York State is different. While parents can consent to underage

    • 300$ fee if you drive in 3 feet of snow!!! GEEE! Hope these guys never go up north.

      If 3 feet of snow is normal where you live then it isn't a big deal. Where I grew up was on the shore of Lake Erie and we got lots of lake effect snow so several feet was nothing unusual for us. Other places 3 feet of snow or even 3 inches is a huge problem. Folks south of the Mason Dixon line rarely get big snowfalls and don't really have the equipment to deal with it adequately due to the cost/benefit ratio. I'm sure you're not really equipped for a month of 100+F days like they get in Texas or Arizon

    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
      The main problem is some people aren't equipped to drive in it and because of that they will get stuck in snow causing problems for the plows. I'd say most of the people in the north east US use all weather tires which won't handle more than a few inches of snow. Additionally, there isn't space for the plowed snow to go in a lot of cities so it has to be trucked out or melted. If the roads are clear then they can be back to full capacity within hours of the storm ending (including removal of snow from ci
  • What the hell is this crap: "scare-mongering" and "government's overreach"?

    Guess what, the weather is unpredictable sometimes.

    Would you rather them say a dusting of snow and then get 2 feet of snow? When that happens it takes 3 times as long to dig out, because snow removal efforts are not properly prepared. Every weather report said that it was going to hit NYC hard. And in the mean time Boston has a foot of snow overnight, and more still falling.

    If you are going to post something about the weather, at

  • It's not like this wasn't a blizzard at all. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts are all getting hit with a lot of snow and wind. What happened is that the model predicted more of a path over the Hudson Valley rather than interior Connecticut. It literally came down to which way the wind blew. The problem is that as hard as snowfall is to predict, predicting how a bunch of people are going to react in less than optimal weather is much harder.
  • If you think weather forecasting is easy, let's see some of your forecasts. A forecast which has been substantially correct for New England and merely didn't extend as far south as had been expected only underscores the difficulty of the exercise. Occam's Razor suggests that no cause beyond "honest mistake" need be posited. I know some people like to take every opportunity to prattle on about government overreach, but you're *really* stretching that fabric too thin this time. Get a grip.

  • The link titled 'questionable weather models' was to a lightweight piece of reporting, mostly covering Gary Szatkowski's mea culpa (something that public officials have to do, regardless of whether there was any negligence.) There was no informed reporting on whether the models performed worse than anyone has a right to expect.

    The forecasters themselves were well aware that small deviations made a large difference to the models' predictions, but that aspect was almost entirely lost in the reporting, which w

  • by geantvert ( 996616 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @11:59AM (#48915237)

    ... and send them to Italy

  • I am quite happy with all the precautions that were taken in preperation for this storm. Better to be over cautious than not! Clearing all the roads in the Tri-State area allwed all the plows to clear the roads better than if they were dealing with a lot of cars, and accidents on the road! Same with all the rails, commuter, and Subway.

    I was living in Boston during the blizzard of '78, where everyone went to work as usual, then the storms shifted and the call for evacuation was called at 2pm. TOO Late!!!

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2015 @12:08PM (#48915363) Homepage

    News for nerds. Stuff that matters.

    Bad example: Whining about how a snowstorm wasn't big enough.

    Good example: A discussion about the mathematical modeling used to predict the snowstorms, and a historical graph comparing predictions to actuals. Oooh, how about graphing the delta between the two by color and overlay it onto a map so we can see where predictions are more or less accurate.

  • Clearly this was orchestrated by his illuminati in their interest of global domination. They'll be at your door soon for your mandatory abortion.
  • The media echo chamber. They salivate over any snow storm event as a snowpocalypse.

    Where I live in RI they had forecast 24 to 30 inches of the shit. We got maybe 5 or 6 inches of snow which is pretty much a non-event. But everything is shut down, the stores are closed, transit systems are shut down and the Governor appears on TV in bed hair. It's sort of amusing.

    And I have the day off work. But then I couldn't get to work if I tried as they ban all car travel and public transit is all shut down and a
  • East coast snow storms are notoriously difficult to predict. I'm not surprised that even with modern technology they still can't get it perfect. In addition to the dynamic nature of the low-pressure circulation interacting with the coast and the gulf stream (like a hurricane) you've got the all-important freezing temperature line. It's even worse than "a line that might shift" though, because if the cold air intrudes under the warm you get freezing rain, not snow.

    I grew up in that region (DC area) and it

  • Somebody bury him in the the closest snow bank please wherever he is. TWC is no longer a source of information for me about the weather after this event. Too much sensationalism interspersed with some actual reporting. I watched this morning and they had a chalkboard up with a formula for calculating population density; all in multiple colors of chalk.

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