UW Emergency Management

January 20, 2020

So… How Accurate were the January 2020 Snowstorm Forecasts?

If you were in Western Washington anytime from January 10-18, 2020 and watched local news, browsed social media or stepped foot in a local grocery, hardware or home improvement store, you likely were exposed to some of the Seattle-area residents’ winter weather “hysteria”.  Some schools closed entirely for days, some started late (like the UW), buses went on on emergency snow routes, events were postponed, and citizens cleared the shelves of milk, bread, eggs, kitty litter, batteries, rock salt, shovels and generators.  Local media stirred up the frenzy even further with reporters dispatched to all corners of the Puget Sound in search of the first snowlflake.  But while the mountains and passes got pummeled with FEET (not inches) of snow), most of Puget Sound lowlands got anywhere from just a dusting to just a few inches. While most commuters breathes a sigh of relief, other people were confused, frustrated and some even angry that the forecast was wrong … at least in their minds.  Yes, some communities — mostly in Skagit and Whatcomb Counties — did get a true taste of winter, most of us “dodged the bullet.”

So, why were many of the weather forecasts wrong during this period, yet were much more accurate last February when we experienced the last true major series of winter storms?  The simple answer is: ITS COMPLICATED!  Dr. Cliff Mass from the University of Washington provides a comprehensive explanation in his weatherblog as to why the January 10-18 forecasts were both correct, but also missed the mark in some aspects.  After reading his explanation, you will have a much greater appreciation for the challenges that our local meteorologist experts at the National Weather Service Seattle Office  face every day to deliver these forecasts.