Thursday, July 20, 2006

The NWS short-term forecast yesterday afternoon

There were strong and heavily raining storms over the far northeast and east sides of the Tucson metro area last evening. These storms tried to move into the lower elevations of town but were not very successful. I was in the north foothills with an excellent view of all the metro area, except the far northwest. I also had the car radio set on the NOAA WX Radio band. At about ten after 7 pm, a short-term NWS forecast produced around 5 pm was still being broadcast. This forecast alerted listeners of heavy storms that were moving toward the valley and noted that these storms were expected to remain mainly to the south of the city. At the time this was playing, I was in a thunderstorm with light rain on the north side; could see R+ to the east of my location and also a heavy cell on the far east side of town that had produced a downburst and lots of blowing dust. There was also a brillant double rainbow arcing over the east side of Tucson (my digital was at the house!). The west edge of these storms is visible in this 7 pm web cam photo . Note that the camera view is to the north from the Computer Sciences Building on the University of Arizona campus.

My point here is - Since the 1970s, I have always felt that if we can't accurately tell the public what's happening right now, why would we expect them to have much confidence in our forecasts. My first rants on this subject were made after I was driving into Boulder in heavy wet snow (about 3 to 4 inches had accumulated already in Louisville, Colorado) on my early morning commute. The official NWS forecast playing on the radio was for rain and thundershowers, possibly turning to snow by evening. This experience in Colorado happened on a May morning almost 30 years ago, and by the time the event ended I measured 34 inches of snow accumulation in my back yard.

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