In the fall, your company, AccuWeather.com, reported Chicago’s winter would be particularly nasty: below-average temps and several big snowstorms. “People in Chicago are going to want to move after this winter,” AccuWeather long-range meteorologist Josh Nagelberg said at the time. But the winter generally has been very mild. How did you guys goof?
That quote, by the way, was said by a person that no longer works here. [Laughs] He decided to move on and take employment elsewhere. I don’t think I would’ve made quite the same quote. It’s a very challenging proposition to forecast what a whole season is going to be like. I’m not making excuses. The forecast was wrong.
What basically happened…I’m trying to think of a way to give you an understandable explanation. We’re in a La Niña winter, which means the surface water temperature in the Pacific Ocean around the equator is cooler than normal. In a La Niña, the normal situation is that we have a big ridge of high pressure off the west coast of the United States that steers cold air from Alaska and Canada southward into the Northern Plains and the Great Lakes. It would theoretically give you a more severe winter in Chicago. This winter was different. We did have the high-pressure ridge, but it was further off the west coast. Which means the cold air that came down did not come across Chicago. Instead it came straight south and gave below-normal temperature to places like Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Boise and Portland. What happened is the Chicago area kept getting these air masses that were made up of warmer air off the Pacific Ocean instead of being of polar origin like we expected.
As a meteorologist, you have to develop a thick skin because people complain when the forecast doesn’t work out, but they don’t have anything particularly good to say when it does work out. Meteorology is admittedly an inexact science. Basically we’re trying to come up with a close proximity of what the atmosphere is going to do based on education and equations. Being wrong is a hazard of the job.