Local meteorologist’s crystal ball foggy this past winter

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

Graphic by MELANIE RAGSDALE

With the past 2011-12 winter season being one for the record books now might be a good time to poke a little good-natured fun at local West Michigan meteorologists! If anything at all was learned during this, the second warmest winter on record, it’s that the predictions/forecasts of season long weather are pure folly.

Let us remind you of the Grand Rapids Press tradition of every November publishing upcoming season-long winter temperature and snowfall predictions by the foremost Meteorologists of metropolitan Grand Rapids.

In the Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 edition of the G.R. Press an intrepid quintet of local meteorologists made their annual predictions for total snow accumulation for the upcoming winter as follows:

  • WOODTV Chief Meteorologist Bill Steffen – 89 inches
  • AccuWeather Meteorologist Carl Erickson – 84-89 inches
  • WXMI Chief Meteorologist Peter Chan – 85 inches
  • G.R.National Weather Service Meteorologist Bill Marino – 85 inches
  • WZZM Chief Meteorologist George Lessens – 80 inches

All five predicted colder and snowier weather than normal for West Michigan and to be “shovel-ready”.

Off to a slow start, January 2012 was ushered in by a warmer than normal November and December with little or no snow on the ground. Business and industries that rely on cold and snowy weather murmured words of financial gloom. Ice fishermen, skiers, snowmobilers, etc., hung their heads in dismay.

In the newspaper and on TV every evening, the meteorologists collectively persevered in their predictions telling us “not to worry” there were still 3 months left in the winter season. What they and winter enthusiasts failed to understand was what farmers have always known, “When it comes to Mother Nature, there are no guarantees.”

In the Thursday, Jan.5, 2012 edition of the Rockford Squire, your reporters threw our hats into the ring and made a belated prediction for the 2011-12 winter season. Hey, the experts had been wrong thus far so why not? We predicted not 80-90 inches of snow but rather 50-60 inches of snow and temperatures remaining overall unseasonably warm.

We based our prediction on established west to east jet-stream patterns during November and December carrying winter storms, for the most part, north of the Grand Rapids area. Occasionally the jet-stream split, both north and south, leaving us snow free, smack dab in the center. Rank amateurs as we are, pure logic (or pure luck) caused us to believe that these patterns would persist throughout the remainder of the winter.

Boy, were we ever right! The Grand Rapids office of the National Weather Service officially recorded 51.2 inches of total snowfall for the past winter season. Additionally, the warmer than normal winter season was concluded with successive balmy days in the 80’s during March. As a result, the Grand Rapids area recorded the second warmest winter on record. Remember, collectively, the meteorologists predicted between 80 and 89 inches of snow and average to colder-than-average temperatures. To his credit, WZZM’s George Lessons (having predicted 80 inches of snow) was closer than any of his peers to the actual snowfall total recorded.

So, overall, how did our crack meteorologists do? They weren’t even close. They were so far out in left field in their predictions that they might even consider giving up the folly of predicting future winter weather seasons. Perhaps they might consider becoming weather reporters and leave the predictions to us! Heck, we’d like to get it right half the time and get paid for it to boot.

If we were on TV daily, we would close our weather segment with, “Here’s the 5-day forecast…After tomorrow your guess is as good as ours!”

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