On the eve of Tuesday’s Winter Storm Stella, the National Weather Service got reports that its dire prediction of up to two feet of snow for New York City may have been exaggerated — but decided not to change its forecast.
Fears of a massive blizzard led officials to close city public schools and for above ground train service to be stopped — but in the end, only about seven inches fell in Central Park.
After announcing that snow could reach record levels in the city, NWS meteorologists in New York and other Northeast cities held a conference call Monday afternoon about computer models that dramatically cut predicted totals.
But they decided to continue forecasting deep snow, claiming that they didn’t change their forecast for fear people would mistakenly think the storm was no longer dangerous.
“Out of extreme caution, we decided to stick with higher amounts,” Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations at the Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, told The Associated Press. “I actually think in the overall scheme that the actions [by states and cities] taken in advance of the event were exceptional.”
Bronx state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who rushed back to his district from Albany, fumed at the weather watchers for their flaky forecast.
“What is this, fake news?” Diaz said. “Shame on them, because you made the city spend a lot of money. They made a lot of people lose money.”
Carbin said a last-minute change downgrading snowfall totals might have caused people to let their guard down because ice was still a potential danger for cities such as New York and Washington.
“The nature of the beast is that there’s always uncertainty in every forecast and we have to get better at describing that,” Carbin said.
Dramatically changing forecasts in what meteorologists call “the windshield wiper effect” only hurts the public, said Bob Henson, a meteorologist for the private Weather Underground.
Officials seemed to be caught off-guard by the storm’s weakness compared to the forecasts.
“Mother Nature is an unpredictable lady sometimes,” Gov. Cuomo said at a morning press conference.
“She was unpredictable once again today. All the forecasts said the storm would hit New York City and Long Island the heaviest, although it would affect the entire state.”
While the city and Lonf Island were spared the worst of Stella, upstate New York took a beating, as a slew of towns and cities reported around 20 inches of snow by early Tuesday afternoon.
Broome County was expected to receive up to 35 inches of snow.
Parts of Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey were also clobbered by snow, sleet and wind when the nor’easter tracked west.
A blizzard warning for New York City was canceled at 8 a.m. Tuesday — but nearly 15 million people were still stuck in areas with blizzard conditions.
“In the end, New York wasn’t that bad and everything is shut down here,” said Rachel Holzberg, 24, of Ridgewood, NJ.
“We lost our power. I realized it was snowing pretty hard and everyone seemed to be cooped up inside, but I didn’t expect the power to go out.”
New York City should be relatively back to normal Wednesday morning. Mayor de Blasio announced early in the day that schools would reopen — and defended his decision to shutter them during the storm.