Don't Blame the Weatherman: Why Forecasting Snow is So Difficult

Some weather models forecast a slight chance of snow this weekend in the northeast. But according to members of the National Weather Service, the sheer amount of variables when it comes to forecasting precipitation makes predicting snowfall something of a wash.

How many times have you braced for a snowstorm that never materialized? In some regions, just one false forecast is enough to turn the local meteorologist into persona non grata. But according to Andrea Thompson of Climate Central, the sheer amount of variables involved in forecasting precipitation makes predicting snowfall something of a wash.


"Some of the difficulty comes from the inherent uncertainty involved with any forecast more than about 4-5 days out, meteorologists say. On top of that, precipitation is trickier to forecast than temperature trends, with snow being a particularly finicky precipitation that requires the right combination of factors."

Thompson interviewed a number of meteorologists from the National Weather Service who all agree that there are limitations to current models that prevent them from accurately assessing global weather events. Since what happens on one side of the continent will impact the other in a few days time, it's vital to gain a fuller perspective of wider climate activity. Our current abilities don't allow for that.

Snowfall also tends to be localized rather than regional, so variables such as elevation, surface temperature, and proximity to water can all have major effects on whether the white stuff sticks. Some forecasts have predicted inches of snowfall this weekend in the northeast. Whether or not it will actually materialize remains to be seen. As Thompson writes, the difference between rainfall and an early winter wonderland will be determined by the minutest of details.

Read more at Climate Central

Photo credit: Maria Uspenskaya / Shutterstock

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