Winter is arriving and so is the misinformation

- Now that we are heading into the winter months, snow is inevitably on the horizon.

The United States, just like the rest of the planet, goes through weather cycles. Some months are colder than others, some weeks are wetter than others and some years have more extreme weather than others. While there maybe some of this that is, at the very least, influenced by climate change, the up and down nature of temperatures and precipitation is completely normal planet wide.

There really isn’t a better example of this pattern than the November we just experienced. We started the month dreadfully cold, at least for that time of year, but then broke into some late November warmth striking 60 degrees on two separate occasions. After all of the craziness, we actually finished the month right at our 30-year average for November. This happened because our overall mid and upper level pattern in the Northern Hemisphere changed mid-month. Well, it’s likely going to change again in the coming week or so.

This much anticipated change is now flooding the internet with pictures of doom and gloom on what could potentially be on the horizon. I wanted to write this article reminding you to be very careful what you believe when you see something posted on the internet. Take your mothers advice, “not everything you read is true.”

The internet is flooded with information which is both good and bad, so how do you tell a good source from a bad one when it comes to weather information? Two ways. First, always consider your source. If you are reading this information on Facebook, be VERY skeptical about its authenticity. You could actually just be safe to assume it’s false information unless you dig deeper. Just because they have an official sounding name, does not make them a good source of weather information. Many are just looking for clicks. The Oklahoma Weather Network is a perfect example. It sounds official, but it is far from a source that I would trust. When seeing an article, try to find who wrote it and then Google search their name. That can give you a quick glimpse if they are legit. If crazy things come up from their name, then maybe you should ignore anything they wrote.

Second, and this is probably the more important one, if you are seeing posts that are unbelievable (like a forecast for 40 inches of snow tomorrow, or anytime really), or seeing a post for a storm that will take place more than 5 days away, then IGNORE. There isn’t a single reliable meteorologist that would ever show specific forecast information for a storm that’s 10 or 15 days away. They may show generalized info indicating that a big storm may be on the horizon, but they wouldn't’t get down to specifics.You need to know the difference. As far as we have come in forecasting over the last couple of decades, we still cannot forecast storm specifics that far away. It just can’t happen with any sort of accuracy.

Let me show you a perfect example. The four images above are from one specific computer model showing the accumulated snowfall in the Upper Midwest for the next 16 days. Each computer model runs every six hours, giving you four different forecasts a day from the same model (remember that there are different forecast models). These forecasts all came from the same day showing the exact same time period, which would make you think that they will all generally be the same. Well, that just isn’t the case. This EXACT SAME computer model shows DRASTICALLY different results just one run after the other. One model run gives the Twin Cities less than an inch of snow total for the next 15 days. The very next has nearly 16 inches of snow for the metro, with more than three feet in southern and southwestern Minnesota over that same time period. So if I were to post an image to the internet to get clicks, which one do you think I would post?

 Exactly, click bait. While I’m not saying that the 36-inch scenario can’t happen, it is highly unlikely.  While these forecasting computer models can be found free on the internet, you need to be a trained meteorologist to understand how to interpret them. This wide swing in just six hours for 10 to 15 days away is VERY common. If meteorologists were to take these seriously all the time, then the tail end of a 10-day forecast would almost always show some “megastorm” or massive heat wave or extreme cold or a hurricane in Minnesota -- something just totally ridiculous.

This is what happens on computer models that far out, it’s just a fact. Now you know, and you also now know that anyone posting about it on the web is misinformed and should be ignored. So as a trained meteorologist, here is what I have to say about the next 15 days: 

“There is increasing evidence that the overall upper level pattern across the Northern Hemisphere will change about a week into December. This pattern is looking more and more likely to cause a significant drop in temperatures in the Upper Midwest, and the chances for snowstorms will likely increase because temperatures will be below freezing in a more volatile weather pattern in North America. This does not mean a snowstorm will happen in Minnesota, but chances are becoming increasingly more likely. Stay tuned for further updates as we get into December.”

THAT is a proper statement by a trained meteorologist. Yes, it is pretty vague, but that is the main point I’m trying to convey is we can see overall patterns changing, but the specific details cannot be seen this far away.

Thanks for hanging with me on this topic and for considering me as a trusted weather source. Welcome to winter!

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