Rain, big winds in forecast; Cliff Mass: 'We messed up'

Jan 20, 2012

The big melt continues all day and through the evening, as temperatures settle into the 40's.

KPLU and UW weather expert Cliff Mass says "it should feel quite warm" and generally stay above freezing for the next few days.

Given what's already on the ground – and with heavy rains tonight – it's a recipe for a mess.

All the snow and ice should melt rapidly – and some strong winds on Saturday morning could bring down more tree limbs. By Saturday afternoon, if you're in the Puget Sound lowlands, you may have a chance to dry out, as the "rain shadow" from the Olympic Mountains keeps the clouds to the south and north.

"The mountains are going to get hammered. They're going to get a lot of rain tomorrow, and snow at higher elevations," says Mass.

"We all messed up ..."

In his weekly interview, Mass acknowledges that this week had its share of confusion.

For the Wednesday snow, "there were some differences in the forecast initially" and then the forecasts changed. "That's very natural, forecasts get better as you get closer in," says Mass. "And by the evening before, we were all on the same page, the National Weather Service and myself."

But, Thursday was another story.

"The problem was the ice storm. That's where everybody failed. The Weather Service failed, I failed, the whole discipline failed. We really messed up on that," he says.

That's not necessarily a mark against forecasters. Some storms are just harder to forecast, he says, and this week's was one of those. On his blog, he defends forecasters who change their minds:

There were a number of folks that were concerned/upset about the fact that my and others forecasts have changed over the past few days (from slush to snow to lighter snow).  One individual told me I needed to show more "character" and be strong enough to stay with my original forecast.  ...

... A good forecaster will change the forecast as more information and new guidance becomes available.  What would you have them do?

In one lecture of my senior weather forecasting class I talk about the psychology of weather forecasting and how they have to push previous forecasts out of their minds, not compensating for past errors.   Forecasters need the mindset of one individual in particular:   [Spock, from Star Trek]

The weekly KPLU feature "Weather with Cliff Mass" airs every Friday at 9 a.m. immediately following BirdNote, and repeats twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KPLU’s Health and Science reporter Keith Seinfeld. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and renowned Seattle weather prognosticator. You can also subscribe to a podcast of this and previous "Weather with Cliff Mass" shows.