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.