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Blizzard '15

National Weather Service Head Takes Blame for Forecast Failures

Why Were Forecasts So Wrong for New York City? 0:54

As the Blizzard of 2015 turned out to be a bust in the New York City region, the head of the National Weather Service said Tuesday that he was directing his agency to continue trying to improve its analysis of forecasting models and find better ways to communicate uncertainties to the public.

Louis Uccellini acknowledged that he didn't do a good enough job in the hours before the storm hit explaining the difficulties in predicting snowfall on the edge of a system. That was largely why forecasts for potentially historic snowfall levels in New York and New Jersey, at the storm's western boundary, fell so far short, he said. "What we learned from this storm is we all need to improve how we communicate forecast uncertainty," Uccellini said in a conference call with reporters.

While snow continued to fall over eastern Massachusetts and Maine, Uccellini stressed that the storm could still end up dumping historic amounts of snow in some parts — meaning the dire predictions could prove partially correct. But the weather service is already reviewing its treatment of various forecasting models, which did not give enough weight to the one model, the Global Forecast System, that got it right.

Nevertheless, Uccellini praised the elected officials and emergency management personnel who heeded the weather service's warnings by urging people off the roads and closing down public transportation systems. Those moves, he said, may have saved lives. But he also admitted that his agency needs to make sure it isn't seen as over-hyping the threats posed by future snowstorms.

"We always worry about that, and the impact it could have the next time we have a system like this," Uccellini said.

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— Jon Schuppe