The nor’easter blasting up from the Gulf Coast could drop more than 15 inches of snow on the Capital Region starting this morning, or it could just swirl around a few inches of powder. Meteorologists aren’t sure.
“Our models are telling us different things,” said WNYT Chief Meteorologist Bob Kovachick.
Computer models do much of the weather forecasting work these days. Twice a day, temperature, pressure, humidity and wind speed readings are taken from stations and weather balloons all across the country and sent through complex algorithms.
Kovachick’s crew runs four main weather algorithms. Usually they come up with fairly similar predictions. Wednesday they yielded a 12-inch range of likely snow accumulations.
On the high end, one program suggested 15.1 inches of accumulation in Albany. Another predicted 3.8.
“That makes our job a bit more difficult,” he said.
Kovachick chalked the predictions up to slight mathematical differences in the computer models.
“All the data going into those programs is identical,” he said, “they just come to different conclusions.”
Meteorologist Luigi Meccariello at the National Weather Service in Albany said the storm itself is a difficult one to predict. There’s a narrow band of likely snow and no one is yet sure where it will hit the area.
“In one place there could be a lot of snow,” he said, “and 50 miles away, not much at all.”
Some of the precipitation could also fall as sleet thanks to warmer ocean air sucked in over the coastline. There are many factors to take into consideration.
“It’s not an exact science,” Meccariello said.
Despite the uncertainty, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday directed state agencies to prepare winter storm-fighting assets and personnel for some major snow. Across the state, 4,185 drivers with 1,789 plows, 359 loaders and 291,000 tons of salt currently stand ready to deal with the worst of Kovachick’s models.
All Thruway and state Department of Transportation maintenance headquarters will be fully staffed around the clock for the duration of the storm, as per Cuomo’s order.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning in effect from 7 this morning through 10 a.m. Friday.
Utility companies are beefing up staff and shipping crews to areas likely to be hardest hit. According to National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella, power crews from the Buffalo and Syracuse areas, where less snow is predicted, are ready to drive to the Capital Region on short notice.
“We’re looking at the same forecast as everyone else,” he said. “We don’t know if this is going to be a problem. We just have to be ready.”
In such difficult forecasting circumstances, Kovachick said meteorologists have to use their own logic. When models very greatly, he said he generally checks which model has predicted a storm the most consistently over time.
Wednesday afternoon, he said the European model looked promising.
“The European model seems to work the best for the East Coast,” he said.
That model predicts Albany will get hit with roughly a foot of snow. Kovachick himself thinks the Albany and Schenectady area will net between 6 and 10 inches starting this morning and stretching into Friday.
Based upon knowledge of common weather patterns and some guessing, he thinks the Mohawk Valley and into Schoharie County will likely get something more than 10 inches.
“It’s not likely warm ocean air will make it that far inland,” he said. “So I don’t think there will be any sleet.”
Of course, new information will come in overnight. Thousands of data points will run through a handful of models, likely changing the forecast to some extent before the snow finally begins.