When Can We Finally Burn Our Puffy Coats? A Q&A With a Weatherman

A morning commuter makes her way under a winter storm in New York on March 5, 2015. A major winter storm slammed parts of the US on March 5, as thousands of flights were canceled and federal offices shut down in anticipation of more than half a foot of snow. In New York and New Jersey, forecasters said wind chill temperatures could plummet to 10 Fahrenheit (-12 Celsius), with as much as seven inches of snow expected as well. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
It’s March and it’s still snowing? Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Already coated in a slick layer of ice and rain, New York is preparing for yet another winter storm, one that has the potential to drop up to six more inches of snow on our fine city. So we called up our favorite weatherman, New York Metro Weather founder John Homenuk, and whined until he told us when spring will get here (it’s soon!).

How much snow do you think New York will actually get between tonight and tomorrow?
Our forecast is for three to six inches in New York City, but I think there is the potential for more than that to the south in New Jersey, central New Jersey. It looks like there will be a band of six to nine inches of snow there. But it looks like that’s going to stay to the south of New York City. Still, three to six inches of snow is enough to be a little bit of a problem.

Is this forecast more cut and dry than others, and why?
I don’t think it’s any more cut and dry than the other ones. It is a little different, though. What’s going to happen tonight is a frontal boundary is going to be pushing through the area and there’s going be a wave of low pressure that’s going to develop along that front. Temperatures will drop, precipitation rates will increase, rain is going to start changing to snow from west to east around midnight. Between 2, 3, 4 a.m. it’ll be snowing, and snow will be moderate to heavy at times. The second wave will come up later during the day on Thursday.

It’s not really a cut and dry forecast because the models are struggling with figuring out the details between those individual waves of low pressure. I don’t think there’s a potential for a tremendous forecast bust where someone’s going to get zero and someone’s going to get two feet, but three to six inches is a conservative range.

Photo: Michael Lee/Getty Images

What’s the chance that we’ll get more or less snow than predicted?
I think the chance isn’t any higher or lower than usual. In order for us to get more snow, the storm would have to come further north and there would have to be more cold air involved, which I don’t think is very likely. In order for it to be less, the storm would have to trend south at the last minute so that the precipitation misses us. There’s always a chance that it could end up like that, but it’s not likely. As a meteorologist, our job kind of is to verbalize that to people.

Do you think it will stick around long, or will temps warm up enough to melt it away?
I think that it’s going to be cold for a couple days after the storm, but it looks like the pattern switches to moderate a little bit, so probably by the weekend, [the snow] shouldn’t be much of a problem anymore.

After this miserable week are we looking at some sun?
Yes. I’ll stop short of saying this will be the last threat for winter weather, but the pattern that we’ve been in since late January has been pretty relentless. The models are in good agreement that it’s going to finally let up a bit starting with this weekend.

Do you think this will be the last major snow event of the season?
Yeah, I’m pretty confident that it’ll be the last major snow event. To be honest with you, any major snow event that was to occur after this one would be not only anomalous, but shocking.

What do you think other forecasters are getting wrong about this winter that just won’t end?
If there’s anything some forecasters are doing wrong it’s that they are broadcasting these forecast models without giving people the ability to understand what they actually mean. It’s the meteorologist’s job to explain, but people are just throwing it up on the TV and the computer and aren’t taking the time to explain the context in which it’s being posted. 

Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

How do you think meteorologists can better explain forecasting models so people don’t always freak out every time there’s a chance of snow?
I think the word guidance is really good, because for meteorologists it’s our job to analyze the pattern from a meteorology standpoint and try to understand what’s going on in the atmosphere. Forecast models should be used as guidance, because they’re computers that are trying to simulate the atmosphere. They’re trying to simulate a fluid process that can never be perfectly simulated by a computer.

What people don’t understand is we have a lot of different types of forecast guidance. All of them are coded differently and they’re all prone to different biases and trends and it’s a job within a job to try to understand the forecast models and how they’re trending, what their biases are, etc. You have to take that into account. If you’re going to post a snow map, for example, you have to as a meteorologist say to the public, “Hey, this is a possibility, but in reality it’s just one forecast model simulation of what could occur. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s definitely going to happen.” People think because the way things are just posted and put up on the internet that a meteorologist’s job is to just look at the computer and make a forecast. But people that only look at the computer models and make a the forecast are not going to do very well as meteorologists.

Okay. So. When can we expect it to actually get warm enough for us to be able to throw away our puffy coats?
[Laughs.] Right now I would say the end of March, so give it like two weeks. The climatology of New York City says that by April 1, things start to get much more manageable. The fact is we’ve been kind of in this arctic tundra that doesn’t seem to want to go away, so by 40 or 50 degrees you’re going to be throwing off the jacket real quick. The average temperature goes up a lot historically by the end of March, so we’re almost there.


Weatherman Q&A: When Can We Burn Our Coats?