Friday, February 16, 2018

The Impact of an Active Pattern

WPC recently tweeted about one way to view the severity of a winter season. Notice on the map the "Severe" and "Extreme" categories showing up over Montana. The pattern we have been in lately and, seemingly, much of the winter has been very active across the state, including much of our CWA. I very much enjoy active weather patterns and I will venture to say that many others in this field do as well. But, extended periods of active weather can take its toll.

Our ongoing stretch of active weather more or less started back in early October when our northern counties were dumped on by a heavy, wet, and damaging snowstorm. We've had breaks, some longer than others, but then we'll get a barrage of shortwaves. The problem is that they haven't always come neatly spaced. In some cases, the lull from one round of precip to the next has only been 6-18 hours. Some have all snow, others mixed precip or even just plain rain. From a forecasting standpoint, alone, it has been very tricky at times, especially considering that from north to south, our CWA is about 2/3 that of the state of Alabama. That's a lot of ground to cover. Oh, and don't forget to add complex terrain to the mix.

But, it's Montana. It's winter. Winter = snow in Montana, so nothing new. Snow is as common here as severe weather is in Oklahoma. Common or not, if it all comes in waves very close to each other with little breathing room, it can become an impact for forecasters. As I mentioned earlier, I love active patterns, especially when convection is involved. Even active winter weather can be exciting. But, even your favorite weather patterns can be draining. At this past year's SECAPS conference in Mobile, Joey Picca (SPC) made a great point. He said, "We all get tired and need breaks, even from topics we love the most..."

Active weather can complicate messaging and open the door to more confusion than already exists. It can cause red and green pixels to start blending together after 12 straight hours on radar. It may be a struggle to issue YET ANOTHER Winter Weather Advisory, when it feels like you've already issued 5,000. Breaks are good. And when they don't happen, moral can get a bit sporty.

And, it's not just us. What about the snowplow drivers working countless nights or the emergency manager who can't remember when the last time he went a week without hearing a tornado siren going off? Locally, conversations within our office, with local partners, and with the public suggest that fatigue factor is kicking in some. Mike Rawlins (a local TV Met) said, "The hits just keep coming". People are beginning to ask if spring will EVER come.

I suppose in thinking through the impacts of extended periods of active weather, I'm not so much here to make some amazing point or observation. But, I feel that it is important to consider these factors when thinking about messaging, staffing, or purely from an empathy standpoint when a local partner asks when the pattern will break. Active weather causes a variety of impacts and they aren't just travel-related. This is something that has struck me more recently and is something that I believe is good for all of us to keep in mind for ourselves, those we work with, and those we serve.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Perspective on Change

In my nearly 3 year career with the NWS, I have seen a lot of changes, and the writing on the wall says more changes are coming. Some of the changes have been great, in my opinion, and some I am hesitant to get completely on-board with. Others seem to have that 'what could possibly go well with that' factor. Some seem to have the right heart, but not the best implementation. Meanwhile, others are a breath of fresh air after being discussed for months or even years. I recently wrote about Changes in the Field of Meteorology.

But, I'm not here to argue the good, bad, or the ugly of any change. Change is inevitable. What I believe is important is how we respond to change. Some change is worth fighting, some isn't. Think through it, discuss with others, but decide which battles to pick. And, no, you probably shouldn't pick them all. If a change you disagree with doesn't seem worth fighting, then let it go. If it helps, sing "Let it Go" from the movie "Frozen". If it is worth fighting against, do it diplomatically and always with an open mind. Not all change is good. Old doesn't always equal bad anymore than new always equals better. Some proposed changes are actually bad. Everyone agreeing with a change doesn't make it good. Stand up for what you believe is important, but know when to back down.

Most importantly, though, I believe we have to keep a good attitude. Change, if not handled well, can lead to resentment, grumpiness, negativity, or downright anger and frustration. I have dealt with every single one of these and I know it is easier said than done at times. I have watched negativity eat away at people (their passions, creativity, and zeal) and it breaks my heart. My plea to myself and to anyone reading this, for the sake of the Meteorology community, the people we serve, and our general well-being, be wary of falling victim to a negative mindset.

This community is full of very talented, highly-motivated, and super-creative people. But, we are also full of varying ideology and methodology. Change is born from these varying viewpoints and we won't always agree. My hope is that we can work together to find the best solutions to the various challenges we face. But, since we're not perfect, bad ideas will sometimes slip through the cracks in the form of a less-than-ideal change.

As Meteorologists, we have unique opportunities to serve people in ways that others only dream of. If a change is good, embrace it. If it isn't, find ways to deal with it or help make it better. Just don't let it steal your joy and passion. Stay motivated, my friends...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What Small Town USA Can Teach Us

Last week I did a spotter talk up in the far NE corner of our CWA...a rural town of just over 1200 people and located just south of the US/Canadian border (Chinook, MT). 1% of the population showed up. I would say most of our CWA is rural, with a handful of urban areas mixed in. Leaving that meeting, I started thinking about the needs of small town USA and, of all the things we do in the NWS, what is the most helpful for them.

A couple months ago, I wrote a post about picking your battles. Talking to the people in Chinook, I began to realize that I may be missing the point, or not focusing on the right things, with some of the battles I've picked. When you work in an office that is in a more urban setting, it can be easy to focus on the needs of the urban areas and forget the "little guys". I realize we can't hit every single need of every single person we serve. But, going out on outreach trips can sure be eye-opening.

For me, it was eye-opening in several respects. First off, small town USA doesn't necessarily mean the land of no cell phone signal and no WI-FI anymore. The sheriff had a fancy smartphone AND a cool-colored cover. The nearby fire chief also had a smartphone AND uses the mobile version of NWS' EDD. I gotta be honest, I didn't even know we had a mobile version of that site.

Then there's our products/services. The nearby airport manager said our DSS/partner emails we send out are the most helpful thing to him, not the TAFs. I thought it was cool that this small town airport even reads those emails. I mentioned to the sheriff that he could call us anytime for any weather-related help. He replied that after my spotter talk, he may have enough education to not have to call when the next storm approaches the town's summer fair. Does this represent all small towns? Probably not, but I'll bet it's repeated many times over. And, by the way, this is not meant to be seen as negatives about smaller towns, but as the reality of what's actually going on and what is used in smaller towns.

I guess the point is, we can fight all we want for what we THINK small-town USA needs, but after getting out and talking to the people, we may find we are fighting for the wrong things, at least as far as they are concerned. That's not to say that fighting for the needs of big city USA is wrong if it doesn't mesh with small-town USA. For me, small-town USA has simply helped keep things in perspective.

At the same time, this trip also helped me to see that there are things we fight for that I have always assumed were more helpful for larger cities (like the mobile EDD site). Who knew that working on that site, or something similar, may actually help big and small towns. And, while being available to provide support over the phone is great, maybe it's just not for some small towns. I believe our forecasts, warnings, DSS, etc is incredibly important to the mission of the NWS. But, what struck me that day is that all of that MAY not be what is most helpful for some small towns. Maybe outreach and education is our best service to them. Teaching the sheriff how to spot signs of rotation with an incoming storm might just be what helps him best serve his people even more than an email or phone call. When the sheriff said to me that he may not need to call us, it made me think of my kids. One day they will go to college and not have Mom or Dad right there next to them to help make a decision. That's when common sense and parental education comes in. Hopefully we will have taught them enough to make an informed decision. I hope my talk provided the sheriff enough info to make an informed decision whether he is able to reach out to our office or not.

Going forward, it will likely still be tricky trying to decide which battles to pick and which ones to let go of, but this recent interaction with the people we serve really gave me something to chew on. All of these ideas I've held dear may need a dose of ruralness (yes, I think I made up a word) to keep me in check!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Picking Your Battles

Being a husband, a father, and someone who does shift work, I tend to do most of my writing/thinking at night. Perhaps I should change the name of my blog to Roger’s midnight ramblings. Of course, many of the people who probably read this blog (after publishing their grids, of course!) also do shift work. Tonight’s ramblings revolve around navigating through the various passions in our field.

Being passionate is great and, in my opinion, an integral part of what we do. While we probably all share some common passions, there is also diversity in what drives us and that is ok. If everyone in an office/company/TV station is passionate about severe weather, what happens when the next snowstorm comes around? If everyone in research only cared about winter weather, what good is that for severe weather? Diversity in passions is healthy.

Lately, though, I’ve come to see that, if unchecked, passions can be unhealthy at times. See, out of our passions come strong opinions/beliefs. Diversity in passions is a beautiful thing, but it means we don’t all agree on everything. Someone who isn’t as passionate about severe weather may not feel as strongly about certain severe weather-related things as someone who is passionate in that area. Or, maybe you have a case of two people who are passionate about severe weather, but hold very strong and opposing opinions within that passion. It’s these opposing, strong viewpoints that I’ve wrestled with more recently.

I don’t know if this is a part of my personality or not, but I have always struggled with seeing the good in any opposing viewpoint. Not a good place to be! The last two years in the NWS have taught me, more than any other time in my life, that I simply cannot live this way. Realizing this has been an important step for me personally, but putting it into action? Now that’s a whole other ballgame. Keeping an open mind is tough and requires some painstaking effort at times (or, at least, it does for me anyway). Even with this new mindset, there are still certain things that for the life of me I cannot understand how someone could see it differently. In a church, a pastor might ask for an “amen” here, but since this is a blog, can I get a “write on!”?

But here’s the thing. In my experience, some of the things I have felt very strongly about turned out not to be as big of a deal as I made them out to be, or simply misplaced, after actually listening to the opposing side. Man, some of those times I really didn’t want to change my mind. Now, before people start questioning every opinion they hold dear, let me be clear. I do think there are things worth fighting for. Countless people throughout history stood up for what they believed in and positive change came about from it. What the past two years have taught me, though, is that I have to pick my battles.

I’m not saying we need to put all of our opinions under a microscope, but I do think it is worth taking some time to think through those strongly-held opinions to see what our motives might be, what facts support (or disprove) our beliefs, etc. This is a big reason why I blog. Even if no one else reads these, writing helps me to think through issues. Maybe that works for you, maybe it doesn’t. Perhaps sharing things with co-workers or posting your opinion in 160 characters or less works. Maybe it’s thinking on the car ride home. It won’t always be easy, but in my experience it has helped me to figure out which battles are worth fighting and which aren’t. It has also helped me to figure out what things I am probably way off on and which things I might be on to something.

You can probably all think of that person who seems to always pick every…single…little…battle. Perhaps you have been that person. I know I have before! Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. When we pick every battle, we run the risk of becoming white noise…a clanging cymbal that people don’t want to hear or don’t take a seriously. In our field, there are a lot of things worth fighting for in my opinion. But, there is a time and place for everything and, in some cases, it just might be that a battle simply isn’t worth fighting at all. I struggle with the idea of letting go of some battles. And, gosh, where do you even start on deciding which to let go of? Perhaps letting go of one or two here and there will help bring about change in those things that are even more important. I can’t tell you what battles you should fight and which you shouldn’t. That is just a part of the sportiness of this whole process. Heck, some things worth fighting for in one company or office may not be worth it in another.

On a quick side not here, in this whole process of picking my battles, I’ve been reminded to show a little grace when others pick every battle. I’ve done it before and maybe many of you have as well. Perhaps you’ve got the picking your battles thing all figured out, but that’s not the case for all of us. It may be annoying when others do this, but try to cut them some slack. You might even be able to help them work through what is important and what isn’t. Several in my office have helped me work through some battles and I am better for it. Whatever you do or wherever you work, there’s a good chance you are part of a team. If we work together through our weaknesses and show a little grace, we are probably all better off for it.

In this struggle of picking our battles, it may be easy to lose a little passion in the process. Don’t let that happen! About 6 months into my career with the NWS, I let this happen and, boy, do I regret it. Just because you may have to back off on some things, doesn’t mean the passion for the job should as well. I think the key is to find that balance of when to stand up and when to back off a bit. Plus, think of it this way. If on the flipside you do pick every battle, you’re probably going to get burnt out. What good does that do you or anyone else? I love seeing people find their niche/their passion. I equally hate seeing people lose their passion. If I can stress anything, please don’t lose that passion! Keep it in check and healthy, but don’t lose it. In the words of Leslie Nielsen, “We’re all counting on you”.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Messaging Significant Events

Over the past few days, a part of our CWA  (NWS Great Falls) has been pounded with heavy snow (here's a PDF from our office with some of the impressive snowfall amounts, records, and pictures). And, when I say pounded, I mean 30-50+" of snow, avalanches, roads nearly impassable or closed, roofs/buildings endanger of collapsing, emergency declarations, people stranded and/or unable to travel, etc. Perhaps pounded isn't a strong enough word, which brings me to the challenge of the day. How do we approach events like these from a forecasting and messaging standpoint?

I am a firm believer that a good message starts with a good forecast and good forecast starts with sound science. For me personally, my approach to forecasting (and this is by no means the only way to do it) has been to pour over the data, then build a forecast that best represents what I am seeing from model data, current observations, input from other forecasters, experience, etc. From there, I step back, look at the finished product, and then try to determine what, if anything, needs messaging. This is all well and good, but what happens when the finished product shows the potential, or even likelihood, of an anomalous event?

Perhaps more experienced forecasters than I don't struggle with this as much, but while working this recent event, stepping back and looking at the forecast prior to the event got me wondering if the ridiculous snowfall amounts I was coming up with were valid. So much so, as soon as I calculated my snowfall amounts, me and the other forecaster I was working with immediately picked up the phone and called a neighboring office that would also be impacted. When they answered, their response was the same. They also were, somewhat dumbfoundedly, looking at the amounts they were coming up with. In fact, in their words, they said, "We [the two forecasters at the other office] have been staring at our computers trying to figure out if these amounts are real."

Turns out, those amounts were real. But, hindsight is always 20/20 and, for many of us in the moment, I think there can be a hesitation to put out such a forecast. For me (and I assume I'm not alone in this), there is that concern of, well what happens if this doesn't actually pan out? This points to a larger question. What is more helpful/harmful? To see the potential and not put the forecast out, or to put it out? If you forecast the high-end event and it happens...awesome! If you forecast the high-end event and it doesn't happen...not so good. But, what if you don't forecast the high-end event and it does happen? Which is worse...forecasting the event and it not happening or not forecasting the event and it happening? Both have negative consequences and this is where the challenge comes in.

Sometimes, I think there is a tendency to back off from higher-end events. Let's face it, oftentimes at least one or two models show a worst-case scenario, only to back off as the event draws near. Or, maybe they never back off, only to be way off in the end. This isn't always the case, but it does happen. And, then, there is the issue of over-hyping an event or the boy who cried wolf syndrome.

But, at the same time, when even one model indicates the potential for a higher-end event, it probably isn't prudent to immediately write it off (outliers do verify at times). And, while never 100% perfect, I think this is where sound science, experience, and collaboration comes in. If after all of this, there is above average, or maybe even average, confidence, perhaps it is time to go ahead and pull the trigger on messaging the event as a higher-end event. Afterall, that is part of our job as Meteorologists. To inform people of the weather. If the weather is going to be really bad, people need to know so they can prepare. We can't make people prepare, but we can at least stress the expected magnitude of an event.

If there was a Messaging Hall of Fame, two statements/events come to mind to be included (and, of course, this is in now way an exhaustive list!) 1) The statement issued by NWS New Orleans prior to the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. That's not a statement any NWS office issues on a regular basis. 2) The higher-end wording by SPC, NWS offices, and the media during the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak. Both of these events fell outside of the norm, in my opinion, and forecasters had to make the not-always-easy go/no go call on these higher-end watches, warnings, and statements. Should all events be messaged just as hard or do higher-end events need stronger wording?

At the moment, I would tend to lean towards higher-end events need to be messaged harder. A 40" snowfall in a non-mountainous area probably deserves higher-end wording/statements than a 10" snowfall. Winter Storm Warnings, for example, would likely be issued for both, but 40" has the potential to cause more significant impacts/disruptions to everyday life than a 10" snowfall. Both are significant, but again, the challenge is how to approach these higher-end events.

In our case, wind wasn't much of a concern for much of the hardest hit areas, so we felt that a Blizzard Watch/Warning wasn't warranted. Granted, it would certainly grab people's attention. I would imagine, and this is purely speculation, that a Tornado Watch also grabs a lot of attention and probably even more so than a Severe T-storm Watch. But, do you put out a Tornado Watch if you are not expecting any tornadoes? I hadn't thought of this before, but could it be that we approach winter storms like convective events and have PDS Winter Storm Warnings in addition to regular Winter Storm Warnings? For our CWA, I think this event would have justified such a warning. 10" of snow in a snow-prone area is definitely warning-worthy and causes significant issues. But, even here, 40" basically shuts everything down. The local DOT here mentioned in a statement that they are going to have to bring in heavy equipment to remove all the snow and that it would take multiple days to get through. Cars are buried, roads impassable, roofs are struggling to hold the amazing weight of the newly fallen snow. That's not your average winter storm. One of the shifts after mine added wording into the original warning, stating this is a dangerous situation. I thought this was a great idea and reminded me of the kind of enhanced wording SPC uses in PDS Tornado/Severe T-storm Watches.

I think it is always important to look back at an event as an office and as individuals to see how things played out and what, if anything, could be improved on. For me, I put out the higher-end forecast, but wasn't bold enough to go all in with the messaging, even after collaboration with national centers and a neighboring office. Basically, I used the process I mentioned above, but didn't fully apply it, unfortunately. I think the fear of being wrong and the fear of over-hyping or messaging too strongly got the best of me. It's important to make sure you're not missing something, but at the same time, if after a careful scientific/collaborative process, confidence is still above average, I think at a certain point you just have to pull the trigger. I think the lesser of two evils is people preparing for an event that doesn't happen as opposed to not being told of an event and it happening. The latter case, using a snow example, has the potential to leave people stranded with no food, water, power, etc, because who is going to prepare for an event they don't know is coming? Having extra food, water, candles, etc doesn't hurt anyone, but NOT having those things and then NOT having a way to get those things is much worse in my opinion. Perhaps these types of events only happen a few times in any of our careers, but when they do, don't fall into the trap I did of letting fear prevent a stronger-worded message from going out.

On a quick side-note, this event has reminded me that, no matter how good the models become in the future, I still hold firmly to the idea that an understanding of the science behind what the models spit out is vitally important to our messaging. Knowing WHY a model is showing something can help us explain HOW an event is going to play out and even know what to stress that even the best models might be missing out on.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Spaghetti Plots, Outliers, and Opinions

I've been an operational Meteorologist for almost 7 years now, working in both the private sector and the public sector (ie. NWS). Both sides have presented interesting challenges that I'm sure many can relate to, regardless of what sector you find yourself in. As for the NWS, though, that tenure has been a shorter one as I just started on this side almost exactly 2 years ago.

I absolutely love my job and have a hard time seeing myself doing anything else. But, loving your job doesn't mean it is always easy. Here in Montana, where I currently work, it has been a very active winter season thus far. Personally, this has offered some great experience for me as I still consider myself a newbie with the NWS. Lately, it has really hit home just how challenging the role of an operational Meteorologist can be (and, of course, this is not limited to NWS folks).

Take the upcoming week, for example. For much of the western US, this will likely be a very active week in what has already been an active winter so far. For our office, this might be the most active week we've had yet. Lately, our biggest concerns have been 'will it snow' and 'how much will fall'. This week, though, we've got a clash of Arctic and Pacific air and where that boundary will be, p-type issues, multiple (and I mean, multiple) shortwaves of varying strength, timing issues, and all on top of the normal will it snow and how much snow issues. Add to that issues surrounding blowing snow, wet vs dry snow, basically 6 straight days of accumulating snow and how to message that without confusing people, etc. I'd say we've got our hands full this week. While every week or season isn't like this, it highlights how quickly things can become sporty for the operational MET.

I must re-iterate, though, that while the above may seem like a negative, I see it as a unique, and even fun at times, challenge. Maybe that sentiment isn't shared among all METs, but fun or not, it is a challenge just the same.

I've watched as our office has wrestled through recent and upcoming events and I imagine this regularly plays out at most, if not all, offices (NWS, private, media, etc). Several months ago, my son and I were having our almost daily tackle time and, unfortunately, we wrastled a bit too hard and he ended up getting hurt. Fortunately, it was a mostly minor issue, but since then we have changed our wrestling time just a bit. The point is, wrestling is sometimes accompanied by painful / difficult moments and this also goes with wrestling through the challenges faced in each weather event.

But, wrestling isn't bad. For my 2-year old son and I, it is a bonding time. For METs, I truly believe it is a good thing as opportunity for growth and a chance to improve the service for our customers. But, growth isn't always easy. The weather community is filled with some incredibly smart folks, but putting a bunch of smart people together doesn't mean they will all agree.

Our office usually has a map discussion in the mornings (M-F) where we mostly talk about the current and expected weather issues, if any. But, on many occasions it has turned into an open forum for ideas on all things operations, usually with the current weather issue of the day the centerpiece around which the discussion flows. I love when the briefings become forums. Another good example is #wxtwitter (for those not on Twitter, "weather twitter" is basically on ongoing and unofficial open forum that brings together METs from all sectors). Just like our map briefings, "weather Twitter" isn't always the most subdued experience, but I think both are great and necessary.

I am learning that each person's opinion is important, no matter what your background. Now, that doesn't mean each opinion is a good one. Looking back, I have had (and still have) my share of opinions that, in hindsight, were not that good, or were too biased towards one idea or another, and so on. In the book, "Crucial Conversations" (Switzler, Grenny, Patterson, McMillan), the authors talk about a "shared pool of meaning". To me, each office, and the weather community as a whole, has a shared pool of meaning...a place where thoughts, ideas, and suggestions come together to help shape the way we operate. As they point out, though, the key is to keep this pool of meaning open and safe. In other words, EVERYONE is important enough to add an opinion, idea, etc into that "pool". An intern's ideas shouldn't be dismissed simply because he/she doesn't have as much experience as Forecaster A who has been working for 30 years. Neither should someone who tends to favor "old-school" ways of doing things be prevented from sharing ideas because his/hers tend to be seen as "anti-progressive".

But, as the authors of "Crucial Conversations" point out, it's not just about not dismissing ideas, it's also about making it an open pool and encouraging others to join in. We probably all know that guy / gal who has an opinion, but never or rarely shares it. As important as not dismissing ideas is, it is equally important to welcome others' opinions. If someone gives an opinion and they get their head bitten off by those who already have ideas in the pool, what good is that? There could be more great ideas out there that just aren't coming to the surface simply out of fear. Wx Twitter and map discussion forums are great, but I believe it is important to be careful not to scare people off. We ALL have had at least one bad idea or two (afterall, no one is perfect), so someone else giving a potentially bad idea doesn't mean they should be shunted for their opinion. I feel like this "safe pool" as the authors call it, is fostered by keeping dialogue open, sharing ideas, but being careful not to alienate people. If someone has a bad idea, it's fine to tell them, but I think it has to be done in a respectful manner in order to keep the ideas flowing.

For me, one of my personal challenges has been this idea of a shared pool of meaning. There are some people I tend to dismiss before they even open their mouth because of my view of them. I'm basically saying, 'Well, your opinion doesn't really count in my mind because of [and fill in the blank]'. This is wrong and by doing this I may actually be slowing progress, not the other way around. I came into the NWS with all these ideas and passions and, honestly, for some of these I just couldn't see how someone could see things any differently. And, if they did, well then I would just write them off as less passionate, old-school, less caring, etc. That is NOT a way to start a new job nor is it anyway to operate in any job and I have had to work really hard on this lately.

Going back to our weather pattern, it lends itself to many different opinions on how to handle the situation. As I mentioned before, it is likely that part, if not all, of our CWA will see some degree of accumulating snow each day for the next 4-5 days, but not from the same system. So, do you go with a 5-day warning, separate warnings for each event, or some combination of the two? Is one way more confusing than the other? What about your customer's needs? Each system will likely have some breaks/lulls in precip, but if they are only 6-12 hour breaks, will the public / customers even notice and/or see it as multiple events instead of one event? How do you handle this on social media or other communications methods without information overload? Will one shortwave be more impactful than another? Do you only message that one and not the others? What about antecedent conditions? It's winter, shouldn't people just expect snow / cold weather? This is a lot to process and I'm probably forgetting something. Ok, let the forum begin!

And this is where it gets about as messy as a 500mb spaghetti plot. Multiple members with multiple ideas, including those outliers. There may be decent agreement on one event (aka. topic), but not on others. And, just because there is decent agreement on a topic, doesn't mean the consensus is right. Sometimes those outliers nail it!

 In the operational setting, sometimes there is adequate time to mull over all these different solutions, but other times you simply have to go with your gut and pull the trigger on some product, message, weather story, graphic, email, etc, knowing that others might disagree and/or that it might not be the best answer. You can't mull over a Tornado Warning / alert for an hour...people's houses will be gone by then. The challenge of our job is that there isn't always a right answer. Even in the cases where there is probably a "best" answer, it may be tough to find. But, better when possible, that you try to find that best/better option as a team than as an individual. Pull from that shared pool of meaning (ie. that spaghetti plot) and don't be like me and ignore the "outliers" (ie. those folks I have struggled to not dismiss their ideas) or those "models" that always seem to have a bias. Sometimes the outliers / biased models are dead-on.

I'm not a big New Year's resolution kind a guy, but a goal of mine for this new year is to work harder to listen to all opinions even if I strongly disagree with some. Agreeing to disagree is fine, but I can't agree to disagree with an opinion that I haven't even listened to. That's like choosing to not even looking at a certain model's output because it is usually an outlier or biased. And, heck, turns out my opinions are not always right nor am I the only one with good opinions (whatever the criteria even is on that). Who knew?!? Will you join me in this goal? I hope weather twitter and map discussions keep going strong this year and that everyone, myself included, will keep an open mind to all the various opinions with the goal of trying to find that best way to serve our customers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

That Warning Was Stupid

For as long as I've been forecasting, I will often check my work after the fact. Not a daily ritual of checking highs and lows, but more of a QC of the general idea of my forecast. If I forecast widespread severe weather and it didn't even rain, then I probably missed the general idea. On the flip side, if I forecast a widespread 1" of snow and every county in my CWA, except one, sees around 1", then I would say I got the general idea right (even if that one county got 3-6"). The job isn't a perfect one and neither are any of my forecasts. But, I'd like to get the general idea down as much as possible.

I know missing a forecast isn't the end of the world, but when you blow a forecast to the point that most of the general public realizes it, that can be a tough pill to swallow. Perhaps I worry about this too much, but part of me feels like I let down the people I serve. People count on us as Meteorologists to help them understand, plan on, and predict the weather. I think most have a good understanding that we aren't perfect, but still...

Recently I had what appears to be one of my bigger misses of late. An impactful snow that I had been forecasting for days basically fell apart before my eyes. Some areas still had impacts, but it wasn't nearly to the scale I expected. And, one of the areas that was supposed to get hit and didn't was our biggest population center. No forecast of mine has ever been perfect, but this one definitely missed the cut. One caller to our office referenced my Winter Storm Warning as being stupid. I don't take those comments to heart, but again, people notice missed forecasts. So, what do you do with those blown forecasts?

Well, there are a lot of ways to handle such a forecast and my mind was all over the place. Am I a good forecaster? Have I forgotten the science? Was I wish-casting? Will my neighbors drag me out onto the NOT-snow-covered street? Ok, so maybe I wasn't worried about that last one there. The point is, I wrestled through many things about myself as a Meteorologist.

But, at the end of the day, I was reminded of several things that I think could apply to others who may find themselves in a similar busted forecast boat. First off, I'm not the first forecaster to blow a forecast, even though it felt that way, and neither are you! Although, I suppose somewhere back in the beginning of forecasting weather, someone actually did make the first missed forecast. I'm sure that was good times...

I can't help but wondering if a blown forecast here or there is actually a good thing. Some people just seem to exude humility, but for the rest of us, it seems that it has to be learned...and learned through experience. Missed forecasts are humbling. I once heard a guy give a speech on humility. He mentioned 4 marks of a humble person:

1. Being Self Aware
2. Being Teachable
3. Concern for Others
4. Gratitude

Putting these into practice for a missed forecast might look something like this:

1. Be aware of and honest about your weaknesses as a forecaster and work on improving in those areas. Or, if the blown forecast was made in an area you are strong in, be honest about what was missed. The key is to not dwell on these weaknesses or misses to the point of putting yourself down. Me wallowing around in thoughts of whether I am a good forecaster or not doesn't do anyone any good. It's good to know my weaknesses, weaknesses of models, and simply the parts of weather that are very difficult to forecast at times. Know them, be aware of them, but don't wallow in them...

2. Pretty much self-explanatory. Missed forecasts can serve as a teaching opportunity...and not just for yourself. I've looked back and can see at least part of where I missed the boat on this recent flop. Instead of swimming in self-doubt, though, I can use this as an opportunity to improve as a forecaster, and perhaps it can even be used to teach another down the road ('oh man, when the models show that, be wary of this...').

3. For Meteorologists, I think this could be seen as caring enough about the people we serve to take our mistakes and learn from them. The speaker stressed that it is important to think about how things impact others...and not just ourselves. It's easy to think about how bad a missed forecast makes me look or feel, but at the end of the day, how did it impact those I serve? I can never serve them perfectly, but I can sure do what I can to best serve them going forward!

4. This one is tougher to nail down, but I am grateful that I'm not alone in missing forecasts. I'm grateful for technology/research that, I imagine, helps us to miss less forecasts than in generations past. Dare I say, I'm grateful for the opportunity to be that it will hopefully make me a better forecaster at the end of the day.

We will never be perfect and striving for perfection will leave you frustrated time and time again. But, we can always strive to do/be our best. In the process of shooting for our best, we will make mistakes. But, perhaps those mistakes are really just a part of the process of becoming a better Meteorologist.