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Blizzard a Bust For NYC as Worst Fears Fail to Materialize

The storm positioned itself 25 to 50 miles farther east than forecasters expected.
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The blizzard was a bust in New York.

The worst predictions for the storm — most notably Mayor Bill de Blasio’s warning that it would be “most likely one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City” — never materialized.

Instead, New Yorkers woke up to little more than an ordinary winter snowscape. Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted a driving ban for New York City and its suburbs, and subways, buses and commuter trains lurched back to life.

De Blasio told reporters that the storm “was as big as it was projected to be, but it moved eastward, and thank God for that.” He defended the decision to close the subways and impose a driving ban.

“To me it was a no-brainer,” he said. “We had to take precautions to keep people safe.”

In a meteorological mea culpa, the National Weather Service’s New York office said on its Facebook page that the storm had moved farther east than expected, resulting in much less snow.

“The science of forecasting storms, while continually improving, still can be subject to error, especially if we’re on the edge of the heavy precipitation shield,” the office said. “Efforts, including research, are already underway to more easily communicate that forecast uncertainty.”

Gary Szatkowski, the meteorologist in charge of the weather service office in Mount Holly, New Jersey, said that it was a “big forecast miss” for New Jersey and Philadelphia, too. He offered an apology on Twitter:

Just before daybreak, the weather service canceled its blizzard warning for New York and left in place a less serious winter storm warning.

At 9 a.m. ET, 7.8 inches of snow was on the ground at Central Park. Forecasters said the city could have a little more by the end of Tuesday night, but that was still a far cry from the worst fears of up to 3 feet.

Bill Karins, an NBC News meteorologist, stressed that the storm could still be every bit as bad as expected for Long Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. On the island of Nantucket, a wind gust of 78 mph was reported, the strength of a minor hurricane.

But computer models had positioned the storm 25 to 50 miles farther west than it turned out to be, he said — meaning New York was mostly spared. In addition, the bands of snow were not as intense as the forecasts suggested, he said.

Cuomo defended the decision to close the subways and impose a travel ban.

“I’ve seen the consequences the other way, and it gets very frightening very quickly,” he said. “I’d much rather be in a situation where we say we got lucky than saying we didn’t get lucky and somebody died.”

The governor told a morning press conference that he has been berated in the past for criticizing the weather service, and he seemed hesitant to do so again.

“On the theory of live and learn, and a little wiser, weather forecasters do the best they can,” he said.

De Blasio used stark language on Sunday as he tried to steel the city for the worst: “My message for New Yorkers is prepare for something worse than we have ever seen before.”

Among those poking fun were the staff of The Onion, which jokingly quoted the mayor saying: “All within the five boroughs will perish, cowering in their brittle dwellings.”



— Erin McClam