Man, did it heat up today! The Inland Valley is baking! The NWS said yesterday, there's a cooling trend coming for the weekend. Yesterday it was civil outside...today? Like an oven! I thought these were the "Dog Days" of summer, and the Bay Area TV Weathermen were on Auto-Pilot...what gives?
Whenever I'm wondering what the forecast is, or what went wrong with the last one, I go to the National Weather Service website for my local NWS Office. On the Mountain, during Winter, I keep up with Both of the local NWS Offices who make forecasts for my locale. The Reno, NV and Sacramento, CA offices have me covered.
Both maintain VHF Weather Radio Stations. Our 2-Way radios have a dedicated channel to receive the Weather Radio Broadcasts. Depending where I am on the Mountain, I can listen to one or the other. Every night they broadcast their new 3AM Observations for the surrounding weather stations. Then the normal roll of zone forecasts, watches and warnings is updated until the next forecast comes along. It takes about 10-12 minutes for the loop of information and forecasts to begin again.
The NWS offers many online products to help keep up with the forecasts, trends and observations locally. When you watch your favorite TV Weathercaster, they are giving a condensed version of these forecast products tailored to the desires of their particular viewers. When I'm watching my Local TV forecast, I'm not hearing too much, I'm really waiting for the pictures...the satellite and radar loops are all I take home from TV. I get my real intel from the NWS Websites. Each NWS Office issues their forecasts several times daily, and in several flavors: Clickable Interactive Maps give custom pinpoint forecasts, there are Zone Forecasts, as well as Tabular Forecasts. All of these products deliver the same forecast conclusions...just in different manners, to suit the preferences of different users.
Never one to be spoon-fed, I start at the Zone Forecast. I read the whole thing, and compare it to the earlier Zone Forecasts, also available on the Zone Forecast page, and make my assessment.
Once I think I know what the story is, I click on the Discussion or AFD Link.
The Area Forecast Discussion is the weatherman's blog, if you will. Here is where the meteorologist responsible for the forecast lists the different observations and model predictions that weighed most in their preparation of the forecast. These guys run several different models for every forecast cycle, several times a day. In the Discussion they cite the observations that influenced their refinements to the different model results, and why they matter. There's quite a bit more information here than in the "finished" forecast that gets abbreviated again by the TV News writers.
There is a really handy feature on the Discussion Page...you can click on the Previous Discussions, going back ten versions. Do this day in and day out, and you start to get a feeling of the way the forecasters are thinking...which factors weigh heaviest in their analyses and compilations. After some time you get a feel for their style. The Service has all kinds, in my experience, each Office has it's own style or bent...some are circumspect and careful...and some are like Cowboys...right out of the Wild West. The truth lies somewhere between that Gunslinger and the Buttoned Down CPA type.
Once my season is underway, and I've caught up enough to have a routine, I check the AFD often, depending on the stakes at hand. A dodgy forecast leading to the Biggest Holiday Weekend of the season? I do my research before bed, again when I wake up, and when I get off the Mountain in the morning, and again when I get home...this helps me get a feel for the confidence of the local offices...in real time. My next phone will be a smartphone with a big screen. With WiFi on the Mountain, I can play along with my local forecasters in real time...not to mention how handy it is to see real time radar returns!
Across the Industry, other Forecast Services play their parts too. My Mountain contracted with a new service a couple of years ago. I never gave the old service much thought...Why would I? That Service never made any trouble for me.
The new Guy is a different story! I don't know the New Guy...I do know he's an optimist though. I can't recall a single time he forecast LESS snowfall than we got. He's sort of the One Man Band version of the Valley TV weather show. He's curing a dry season with every call. I know not to get excited by his hollow promises, but the Brass over at the Base Lodge get all worked-up by the guy's email forecasts. Agitated by this guy, these folk start thinking too much...making lavish plans for building new runs or terrain features with all this promised snow...that never comes, in the amount advertised. Everyone needs a good hobby, but these forecasts always lead to overheated expectations, and eventually... disappointment.
When I've done my homework, I'm never disappointed. When I miss, I just vow to gather a little more intelligence next time...it's all a learning curve. Do enough digging, and that curve won't turn into a Blind Corner!