30 January 2014

The Governor of Georgia Is Entitled To His Own Opinion, But Not His Own Facts

Posted by Dan Satterfield

From USA Today

From USA Today

There is a firestorm brewing tonight over remarks by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal who blamed the National Weather Service forecast for the mess on Georgia roads last night, when thousands were stranded in their cars on icy freeways. To quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Governor “is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” While no forecast is ever perfect, the NWS did NOT miss the forecast. For a winter storm in the south, it was actually pretty good.

Marshall Shepherd (who is just stepping down as the President of the American Meteorological Society) published a thank you to all the meteorologists in Atlanta on a blog post this evening. Here is a snippet:

An “Open” Thank You Letter to Atlanta Meteorology Community”
As I watch the fallout from the Snow Fiasco in the Atlanta area, one thing is clear to me: “The buses had a tough time getting kids home, but meteorologists should not be thrown under the bus.”
Meteorologists from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Atlanta issued Watches and Warnings BEFORE the event and provided ample time for decisions to be made.  Yet, as soon as I saw what was unfolding with kids being stranded in schools, 6+ hour commutes, and other horror stories, I knew it was coming, I knew it.
Some in the public, social medial or decision-making positions would “blame” the  meteorologists.  I began to hear things like “this was not expected in Atlanta” or “they said this was going to all be South of Atlanta” or “there were no Watches or Warnings until snow started falling or “weather is just unpredictable”.  Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, and Wrong!
I heard something very familiar within these statements with other recent high impact events….
Herein, I discuss why our National Weather Service, Television, Academic and Private Sector Meteorologists should be praised not condemned for handling of the Atlanta snow event of 2014. I also conclude with some lessons learned, from my perspective.
1. Watches and Warnings were issued in advance of the snow event and with plenty of time for decisions to be made. Here is text directly from the National Weather Service website on MONDAY at 4:55 am:
455 AM EST MON JAN 27 2014
Early on Tuesday morning well before the crack of dawn (3:39 am to be exact), the National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning with expectations of 1-2 inches of snow. Even for the mountain counties of Georgia, Winter Weather Advisories were issued.

One observation that has become apparent to me is that the public and perhaps some policy officials may not fully understand that a Watch, Warning, or Advisory has very specific meanings.


The entire letter is well worth a read HERE.

My friend Sean Sublette who is Chief Meteorologist at WSET-TV in Lynchburg / Roanoke VA. posted this comment tonight:

“Understand this. The Governor of Georgia appears too ignorant to know that he ought to be embarrassed and ashamed. He demonstrates no concept of scientific literacy, weather risk, or how the weather enterprise functions in this country. I fully support my meteorological brothers and sisters at the National Weather Service offices across this country. To snidely belittle them when their forecast *was correct* shows a level of arrogance and incompetence that perpetuates an unfortunate stereotype of those in leadership positions in the American South. I wholeheartedly endorse the following blog from the President of the AMS.”

I agree with what Sean and Dr. Shepherd said as well.

The worst bust a forecaster can make is to forecast no snow, and have a significant event. This did happen to forecasters in Birmingham, Alabama, but not in Georgia. My friend James Paul Dice at WBRC in Birmingham called it “The worst forecast of my career!” This was a very tough storm to forecast, and I think the fact that it was a very cold snow has a lot to do with the poor model performance of snow totals on the north edge of the track. That is something I’ll remember, because a good forecaster should always learn from a forecast.

One thing any forecaster soon learns is that no matter how good your forecast, you can expect emails and letters accusing you of missing it. That’s just part of the job. People tend to hear what they want to hear sometimes, and only pay scant attention. That’s fine, but when you make false accusations or leave rude comments, it’s not. Instead, it makes you look ignorant and foolish, and the Governor of Georgia seems to fall into that category.

In big events like this, forecasters work very long hours, and everyone I know really cares deeply about delivering the most accurate forecast possible. If you’re going to tell them they blew the forecast after all those hours, you should at least get your facts straight. There’s always room for improvement, and many of my fellow forecasters are already talking about how we can do a better job of forecasting the impacts that can be expected in situations like this. Is a 30% chance of an inch of ice in Atlanta worth moving road crews into place, and preparing just in case? I think so, and I suspect a lot of folks who spent hours trapped on icy roads last night would as well.

This requires cooperation between local forecasters and local/state governments, and I can tell you that the NWS and local TV mets  would be glad to help. A good example of how this CAN work is the partnership between the NWS ,and local broadcast meteorologists like Sean, James Paul, and I. This partnership works amazingly well.

Then again, forecasters are apparently more intelligent than politicians in Georgia…