Rather bland pattern for forseeable future

The weekend storm turned out to rather different that expected over much of the state. Locally heavy rainfall did occur in NorCal and wind gusts between 50 and 70 mph did take place in favored locations. Power outages did affect about 200,000 people, but generally in most places wind damage was slight to nonexistent. Given the current media backlash about the weekend’s “non-storm,” however, it is worth considering the real context of the event. The storm was, indeed, a very impressive one over the Eastern Pacific, with a minimum central pressure of 967 mb late Friday evening. The low was forecast to begin to fill and weaken as it approached the coast, but there was uncertainty as to what extent it would do so. Steep pressure gradients and strong winds aloft were expected to produce strong gusts at the surface in NorCal–but the extent and magnitude of these winds were highly uncertain. In the interest of public awareness  of a powerful wind event, high wind products were issued by the NWS on  Friday, but contained within the text of these products were statements of uncertainty. The winds that were experienced were quite strong in favored areas (coast and higher terrain) but not in most urban and populated areas (unlike during the January 4th storm, which brought widespread damage across NorCal). Rainfall was never expected to be very heavy with this storm system, even in NorCal (widespread 0.75-2  inches, local 4 inch amounts)–and, despite people’s claims that it rained a lot less than expected in the Bay Area, widespread 0.5-2 inch totals were recorded–not far at all from the forecast. It is important to remember that no official forecast stated that this would be a major storm for SoCal–High Wind Warnings were in effect for higher elevations, and Flash Flood Watches went up for the burn areas, but the majority of the area was expected to receive generally moderate rainfall with breezy to windy conditions. The storm was certainly not impressive in the south, but that’s not really a deviation from what was expected. The storm may have been a “flop” in the sense that it failed to produce weather of note across much of the state, but the forecastitself was, though on the upper end of things, not so. I would say that the media is largely to blame for the public perception that the forecasters “blew it” on this storm. It’s very frustrating reading the comments on the SF Chronicle website regarding the storm’s “non-presence”–on it, one can find several calls to literally “lynch the meteorologist.” And then, of course, there are the inevitable “if they can’t predict tomorrow’s weather, then how can they tell us what the climate will be like 100 years from now”-type comments. It is profoundly disappointing that the popular news media seem to be utterly incapable of discussing even vaguely science-related topics in any depth without resorting to drastic oversimplifications which undermine the very meaning of the concept in the first place. In the case of the weather, especially, “the news”  has become a seriously inferior source of information compared to the extensive (and free!) information provided by the federal government (NOAA, NWS, etc.). Argh.

In any case, it’ll be tough to screw up this week’s forecast (or the reporting thereof): sunny and warm statewide(though, in a failed and positively insulting attempt at humor, the SF Chronicle expresses doubt over this prediction). The GFS (which, actually, performed quite admirably with the weekend’s storm) does not have any real chance of rain over CA for the next two weeks. I’ll update when that changes…


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