Thursday, March 16, 2006

Winter Jumps the Shark

"Jumping the shark" has become synonymous for "passing one's prime", and this winter certainly seems to have jumped the shark for DC area snow lovers with the storm of Feb. 11-12. That doesn't mean that the chance of seeing any flakes is totally gone, however. (That may be a bit hard to believe with temperatures pushing near 60 in most of the region this afternoon.)

The current situation is an interesting case of the classic "over the mountains" Washington forecast dilemma. A disturbance which originally impacted the West Coast a few days earlier has regrouped in Colorado and marched across the Plains to be centered in Illinois early this afternoon. Supported by a small, but vigorous, area of upper-level energy, this storm has been forecast by the models to bring a narrow band of precipitation down the Potomac Valley or a bit to the south. The latest model run this afternoon brings a very narrow band of up to ½" of precipitation directly across the DC area, shown on the map as the darkest green area. Despite the lateness of the season, there is an ample supply of cold air provided by the large circulation around the low pressure area in eastern Canada we noted yesterday.

So, let's review the recipe from the kitchen of Momma Nature's Weather Grill:
  1. Surface circulation? Check, but expected by the models to weaken.
  2. Upper-level energy? Check.
  3. Cold air? Check.
  4. Moisture? Well, not so much. This system seems to be moisture starved. While it has brought a trace of wet snow to Chicago today, it doesn't seem to be able to tap into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Dewpoints ahead of the storm from the northern Gulf states through Tennessee and Kentucky were only in the upper 20s earlier, although there is a wedge of more humid air extending northeastward from the summer-level juiciness along the western Gulf Coast (mid 60s in Houston, for example).
The bottom line: There is virtually no chance of accumulating snow inside the Beltway, but many areas could see flakes falling, and there is the possibility of a coating, especially on grassy areas, in the higher elevations to the north and west.

Tonight and Tomorrow

For tonight, increasing clouds this evening will be followed by light rain or mixed rain and snow by morning; lows will be in the upper 30s in the city to low and mid 30s in the 'burbs. There is a 60% chance of measurable precipitation. Light snow or mixed precipitation will end in the morning, followed by decreasing cloudiness in the afternoon and highs well below average for this time of year, in the mid 40s.

Omnimedia: TWC Jumps

Exactly when the Weather Channel jumped the shark is debatable, but any remnant of a doubt that this had occurred was removed yesterday, when rumors swirled that winter weather expert Paul Kocin had left the network. This was confirmed last evening when PK himself posted the news that his position had been eliminated.

If my count is correct, that leaves Heidi Cullen (climate), Greg Forbes (severe weather), and Steve Lyons (tropical) as the only remaining on-air experts. With TWC's increasing emphasis on fluff over substance, even that small number is likely to be reduced soon unless Steve Lyons has gotten a hair transplant or become pregnant in the off season. It's been apparent for some time that the Weather Channel was following its cohorts in television "news" by dumbing down content in pursuit of that ever-elusive demographic: stupid people. It's a shame that TV producers have such a low estimation of the public's desire to be educated as well as entertained.

When do you think the Weather Channel jumped the shark, and what should a "Real Weather Channel" look like?

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