Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'You've Got to Have Thick Skin' Weather Forecasters Always Second-Guessed after Big Snowstorms

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'You've Got to Have Thick Skin' Weather Forecasters Always Second-Guessed after Big Snowstorms

Article excerpt

Despite the Doppler radar, the satellite mapping technology, the 15 automated data collectors at regional airports, the 100 data collectors in backyards and the predictive weather models that use algorithms to come up with the most accurate forecast possible, Fred McMullen knows some people still are going to be upset Tuesday with the forecast of the snowstorm heading our way.

"People's brains only remember the biggest number," Mr. McMullen, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service Pittsburgh, said Monday in his office in Moon.

"They might hear a bunch of different forecasts about the storm -1 to 2 inches, or 4 to 6 inches, or 12 inches -but the one they'll remember is the 12 inches, and if it isn't that much they'll go on Facebook or somewhere and make a comment and say, 'They were wrong!'" he said. "You've got to have thick skin in this business."

That is true for all 10 meteorologists at the weather service's Pittsburgh station - one of 122 stations nationwide -who have been working 24/7 on the coming storm for days to refine predictions.

Mr. McMullen handles many of the meetings with state and local officials in this region, which includes Western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and western Maryland.

There was a 2:30 p.m. call Monday with Westmoreland County officials, wondering what the changing forecast -the projection of 4 to 8 inches dropped to 2 to 4 inches -meant for them.

At 4 p.m. he would talk with school superintendents in West Virginia, followed by a call with Maryland state and local emergency management officials.

And all of that came after three conference calls in the morning with other officials, including from Pennsylvania, all wanting to know what he could add to what they were reading about what may turn out to be the biggest storm of the 2016-17 winter.

"They want to know how it's going to affect their residents, how it's going to affect the commute, so people can get safely where they're going," he said.

A decade ago, though, "We'd get a ton of calls from residents wanting to know what's happening. We don't get that anymore because people have so many sources of news to get their weather information. …

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