The Winter Storm That Was… The Snow That Wasn’t

The alarm went off at 2 a.m., I jumped out of bed and ran to the window. The second that I saw there wasn’t any snow I knew I was in for a long day. On the ride to work I soon found we didn’t have snow, but we did have ¼” of ice blanketing Houston. On 610 I counted four single-car accidents. Every few hundred feet on the 59 freeway a car had spun out and hit the guardrail. Police cars and ambulances had their lights flashing warning of the oncoming danger. By 2:30 a.m., 41 calls came into 911 reporting accidents. Freezing rain is the most dangerous kind of winter weather, and a sheet of black ice was waiting for all those who ventured out Friday morning. Early on our broadcast I focused on the ice, below-freezing temperatures and how dangerous that combination was, but it wasn’t until I got an e-mail from 13-year-old Emily Whisenant that I started explaining why it didn’t snow. Emily, like most kids, was hoping for the white stuff, and, when it didn’t fall, she was crushed. What was strange about most of the negative e-mails I received Friday was that they were from kids hoping to make snowmen, snow angels and enjoy Houston covered in white.

So what went wrong? I could make the excuse that Houston is one of the few major cities in the country that doesn’t have its own upper level air analysis. That means forecasters have to rely on weather balloon data from Lake Charles, La., and Corpus Christi, Texas. Lake Charles showed a very warm layer of temperatures above ground, while Corpus Christi showed a deep column of below-freezing temperatures. It turned out our air was much more like Lake Charles than Corpus, and that is one of the reasons why we got the freezing rain but not the snow. But I’m not here to make excuses. I said there was an 80 percent chance we would get snow and even forecasted 1 to 3 inches of it on the ground.

It’s forecasts like this that keep me up at night.  Looking back there isn’t much I would change, but there are some things I would do different.

First, what went right. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch and warning for all of Southeast Texas. These are issued when driving is expected to be treacherous. There were more than 1,000 car accidents because of the ice, and the warnings kept most people at home and safe.

Second, school districts and cities did an excellent job making the call a day before to keep kids and workers home, knowing Friday morning would be dangerous.

What went wrong? As Emily simply put it, “It didn’t snow.”

I’ve looked at all of my forecasts I made last week and two things stick out. First, and you can check this out on my webcasts that are posted below, our model, which is exclusive to KPRC Local 2, showed that it would not snow in Houston. It always showed ice. I dismissed this because every other model showed snow falling. Looking back, I should have said this was more of a possibility. Something I’m going to try on our next big weather event is a bust percentage. It’s simple: what were the chances that it wouldn’t snow in Houston? Twenty percent. Somewhere in my presentation I need to say, “What is the chance it won’t snow? What is the chance this forecast busts? Twenty percent. Will this stop e-mails like the one I received from Emily? Probably not, but I will sleep better.


One Response

  1. but you have a chance now to make it all better …pls snow for today .so i can go home from work ..ok?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: