The +’s and -‘s of a Meteorologist

I give a few speaking engagements every year and one of the questions typically asked of me (especially from the school kids) is what is the best part of being a meteorologist. Contrary to what the typical bad joke teller might say, it is not to get paid for being wrong. I know of no meteorologist that gets paid to be wrong. I know of many that are paid to be dramatic with less regard to being right or wrong. However, just about any met outside of the media is getting paid to get it right. Being wrong is just one of the occupational hazards.

My answer to that question is that I love to be able to have an idea of what the weather is going to be like in the future. Even for my own personal uses, I am always cautious to put a ton of faith into a forecast, but there are times when I can see something exciting coming in the weather before the general public knows about it and that is my perk to being a met. It does not come without all the hard work put in during the past to learn the in’s and out’s of how the weather works and many times it is just a mere hour or so head of when the segment of the population that follows me learns the same thing I have discovered in the wee morning hours when I start my work day.

Still, its a pretty cool thing to see a monster storm in the forecast and know that I am one of the select few that knows it is headed down the pipe (most of the other met’s are still sleeping!). It is also cool to see things lead me to a change in the forecast, all while the storm is bearing down on us and no word of these changes has hit the mainstream.

Of course there are the down sides to being a meteorologist. Getting it wrong is the number one worst thing. No one likes to be wrong, but when I know that what I have said is not going to pan out and there will be those that are disappointed, it only makes it worse. So yes, at least this meteorologist is human, makes mistakes and feels the disappointment of others in the missed forecast. A close second would have to be looking at the forecast models and not seeing anything to be excited about. Or worse yet, something that is not wanted at all. Like the dreaded January thaw or a rain event to come and spoil a deep and beautiful snowpack.

One thing that is more of a dilemma than an actual plus or minus is when the forecast appears to be going wrong, but with positive results. By this I mean calling for 1 to 3 inches of snow for a particular time frame and before the first hour of that time frame is even over, more than 3″ of snow has fallen! Such was the case the second half of this week, when snows were forecasted, but decided to come down harder than anticipated. Wednesday evening was one of those occasions. The call was for a few inches of snow to fall during the day, with another 2-3″ overnight. Well, the snows started falling at the time forecasted, but then intensified and by sunset, we had blasted through the expected amounts for the day and overnight and was still coming down. So as my head hit the pillow Wednesday night, it was filled with thoughts of “how much snow are we actually going to get?” and “should I be happy for the larger snow totals? or disappointed that my forecast was wrong and might lead to some troubles for some?”.

I naturally gravitate towards the positive side of things, although not always! So as my eyes closed and I faded off to sleep, I decided to be grateful for the additional snow. I can never really get enough of it and while some might be inconvenienced by it, it would also be a blessing for the businesses up here that depend on winter tourism. Up to that point we really did not have enough snow on the ground to support much snowmobiling. It was only the 5th of December and not unusual to be waiting for enough snow on the ground to allow the groomers to go out and work the trails and for the snowmobilers to make the trek north and play in it, but the fact that just 10 days prior we were sitting in great shape and then had some rain do quite a bit of damage to the snowpack was making the situation hard for some of the business owners to swallow.

When I awoke, I saw that the heavier snow had tapered off not long after I went to bed, as we had only picked up a few more inches overnight and when I went to bed, it was snowing at the rate of a few inches an hour. It was still snowing lightly and the forecast called for more, but it was clear that it had not been a major bust in the forecast, just enough of one to make those that depend on it a bit less anxious.

We had a few more surprises the rest of the week as well. On Friday, we had a couple of bursts of heavier snow and ended up with another 5-7″ of unexpected snow. 3″ of that came down in just the hour that we were in the Calumet Coliseum for Graces skating practice! Lake effect sure is a beautiful thing!

So we now have enough snow to be out grooming some of our trails here in the Keweenaw. There are still a few factors that are out of our control that are keeping us from grooming our entire trail system. The main bugger is the wet autumn we had. It has created some rather large water holes on some of the trails. Thankfully most of our major trail corridors use old rail road grades, so they are high and dry, but others use logging roads and have some issues. The wet autumn also impacted the progress of logging that was to get done. As a result, the loggers are still in areas that they were planned to be out of a month ago. This is keeping us from grooming and even opening some trails. At the moment, the poor folks in Copper Harbor are cut off from the snowmobile world. The main snowmobile pipeline just north of Delaware is currently closed while they finish up logging there. We have been told that they are nearing completion and will be out by the end of this week. The weather this week looks to cooperate in that task as well. So it is a very TEMPORARY closure. The logging and land companies fully understand the importance of snowmobiling to the winter economy up here and do all they can to stay out of the way. Especially when it comes to allowing folks to ride to Copper Harbor!

Another issue we have been dealing with is the lack of one groomer in our system. We were one of the 5 or 6 other clubs awarded the opportunity to get a new groomer for this season. We actually ended up choosing a demo unit that was all ready to go. It just needed some routine maintenance and an auxiliary fuel tank put on. I am not sure what the hold up has been, but we have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of that machine and for the past 2 months, we have been told that it should not be long! I now have conformation that the new machine will be arriving this Tuesday. The rep delivering the machine will also help us out on a repair we need to make to another machine, at which point all 5 machines will be ready to rumble!

So I guess all of you snowmobilers should be sending up wishes for some cold temps to freeze things up and then some more fresh snow and we will be in great shape for when the main season starts around Christmas. It sure has been a busy week for this guy though, trying to figure out how to get all the puzzle pieces in place before it starts to have an impact. Early in the week, we had decided that we also would not send a groomer across the bridge to handle the trails there. The reason for this is that we need to get permission and an escort to drive it across the Portage Lake Lift Bridge before we can use the lower level. Also, there was not enough snow on the ground to groom and the forecast did not indicate enough to fall by this weekend, so there would be no need for a groomer south of the bridge. Well, with the unexpected snows, we suddenly had enough snow and we were blessed when I got a call from Mike S. the president of the Superior Snowmobile Club (just south of us) offering to groom as far north as they could towards the bridge. The point where their club stops and ours starts is Toivola, so they were going to go from at least Toivola to South Range and see if they could go any further. That was a super nice thing to do and I am grateful to them for doing that!

I guess that about covers it for this one. As mentioned, we do not look to have much adverse weather this week, be it winter or otherwise. A pretty quiet week for most of the Midwest. Mild too, but not enough to do much damage to our snowpack, just slow the freezing process. I will also spread the news once the logging is done up north, but I would appreciate some help with getting the word out that this is only a temporary closure and the trails to Copper Harbor should be open by the end of the week!

Good night from the Keweenaw..