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NYC’s Epic Snowstorm? Fuggedaboutit.

January 28th, 2015

Blizzard Preparation: An emptied Grand Central Terminal. Photo credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority

New Yorkers are a tough bunch. It’s not easy to get NYC’s 8 million inhabitants to listen (and obey).

But the prediction of a “crippling” and historic blizzard in the Northeastern United States got most everyone’s attention as mayors and governors (including New York’s, New Jersey’s, and Connecticut’s) warned residents … and took major action.

In New York City, streets were cleared, roads were closed, bridges were closed, thousands of planes and trains were cancelled, schools were closed, Broadway shows were cancelled, thousands of snow plows were at the ready, tens of thousands of tons of salt (to make the roads less slippery, not the kind you eat) were good to go … and the subways were shut down for the first time ever.

NYC's subways shut down for the first time. Photo credit: MTA

Then, somewhere between planning and panic, people cleared grocery store shelves of essentials like water, bread, milk, and flashlights. As well as of some not-so essentials like … kale . Kale?

In all, 29 million people in the Northeastern U.S. were in the storm’s path, including major cities like Boston, Philadelphia and NYC. Seven states declared a state of emergency, the National Guard was on standby. Crews to help restore power (if it was lost) were on their way from as far away as Michigan.

Before the first teeny flake even floated to the ground.

But the wintery hurricane, called Winter Storm Juno by some (and a weather bomb by others), was on its way Monday night into Tuesday morning.

Millions of people were hunkered down waiting. And then they waited some more.

But in New York City … not a whole lot happened. Barely even a foot of snow. And it steered clear of many major cities that would have been paralyzed had it hit them.

Though Boston got nearly 2 feet of snow. And Nantucket and Scituate, Massachusetts, as well as Long Island in New York were hard hit. Worcester, Massachusetts got it the worst with nearly three feet of snow. 54 locations in 6 states had more than 30 inches of snow, according to The Weather Channel .

The storm happened … just 50 miles or so over from where weather forecasters predicted. Awkward.

So what happened? Did the forecasters get it that wrong? Or did public officials overreact? 

One meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Dan Szatkowski, apologized, writing on Twitter: “My deepest apologies to many key decision makers and so many members of the general public.  You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn’t. Once again, I’m sorry.”

Many reacted to him and other forecasters with understanding that it’s not an exact science (that’s why they’re called predictions). Others were annoyed that some 10-15 million people were inconvenienced. But, had the storm lived up to its worst case scenario, being so cautious would likely have saved many lives. It can also feel scary when many media outlets are reporting on it almost around the clock.

There are two main models for predicting weather, one is a European model that did very well with predicting Hurricane Sandy, which was devastating. The other is the American model that just got an upgrade. Most people went with the European model’s forecast in this case. But the American one, as it turns out, would have been more accurate.

Our thoughts are with those who got the worst of this storm, still digging out or flooded out. Or waiting for power and warmth to be restored. But we’re thankful that the fear of an epic blizzard, in reality, turned into a fun snow day for many more. And, some, like the Moses Brown school in Providence, Rhode Island, even sang “Let it Snow” as to announce theirs.

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