Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Spreading the Blame

As I write this at 7:30 a.m. on the day after a rare southern winter storm, people are looking for a pinata to smack for what turned into the Nightmare in Atlanta, a hideous slow-motion disaster that has left thousands and thousands of drivers still stuck in traffic the day after.

This is incomprehensible and inexcusable and I'll tell you why.

First, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called the storm "unexpected." No, Governor, it wasn't. I am an unapologetic Weather Geek, and many, many sites had been talking about this system for more than two weeks. Two weeks! And when I say "sites," I mean well-run weather operations that either aggregate weather information using the many models out there or which are run by private meteorologists.

It's true that the conservative Atlanta National Weather Service office somewhat underplayed it and wouldn't put any snow in its forecast until a couple of days ahead of the event. But I'm sure they are underfunded, and in the end it comes down to human judgment anyway. I know they care and mean well.

Most of the humans who study weather either as professions or as dedicated and accomplished amateurs all saw the same thing well ahead of the event. They were ignored. And there are reasons they were. No one in Georgia can forget the time some years ago when the Weather Service and the wildly uneven Atlanta TV weather forecasters told us we'd have a heavy snow across much of the state. Everything shut down. That time, not a single flake flew in the state. It was a day off, and it wasn't even that cold.

But we have no Plan B. We either have to shut it down or plow straight ahead into disaster. Yesterday was like a bad decision that can't be reversed and then is ridden all the way to the bottom of the Atlantic like the Titanic.

In the past, we just shrugged our shoulders and moved on. This time, someone needs to be held accountable. The NWS needs to be bolder in its predictions, knowing that it may well be wrong. Erring on the side of boldness doesn't win public service awards. But it can save lives. And there needs to be far more political leadership.

I want to send out a huge thank you and congratulations to a site called Dacula Weather, a private website run by a bright non-professional-meterologist named Steve Brueck. He is a textbook example of why intelligent people with passion in all fields are important. Here is his website: Steve had been warning of this system for day after day after day. But he is a mild-manned guy who calls himself simply an aggregator who brings southern and Georgia weather together--using social media and info from numerous NWS and other sites. He also has a simply great Facebook page. Magnificent work, Steve. And there are a lot of people out there like him.

By which I mean to say that there is more interest in the weather as science than at any time in history. But without the corporate will to do something about it, then all that knowledge won't matter.

What it will take to keep this from happening again is the will to do it. Is there anyone in Georgia with such will? Right now, I'd have to say, sadly, that there is not.

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