News & Politics

Cuomo’s $18.6 Million ‘Weather Detection System’ Wouldn’t Have Predicted the Buffalo Storm Anyway

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The National Weather Service is predicting that a “significant” winter storm will arrive Wednesday morning and linger until early Thursday. The weather system will supposedly come in as rain, dousing the coast before freezing into snow in the afternoon.

But, grain of salt: This is just what the NWS is forecasting. And what do they know, anyway?

Take it from Governor Andrew Cuomo: The entire NWS might as well just be one old man on a park bench, licking his finger and sticking it in the wind. Here’s what Cuomo said this past weekend at a press conference in the city of Buffalo, which was buried under an unprecedented seven feet of snow last week:

“No one had any idea that it was going to be that much snow that fast. Snow coming down at the rate of about five inches per hour. No one had an idea. The Weather Service was off, by the way, which is why I said in my State of the State last year we’re putting in our own weather detection system,” Cuomo said.

As a number of people were quick to point out on Twitter, that’s not exactly correct.

And, as NWS spokesman Christopher Vaccaro explained to the Voice, the “state-of-the-art weather detection system” Cuomo first announced earlier this year wouldn’t be even a little useful if there were ever a repeat of the freak storm that hit Buffalo.

The proposed system, which comes at a cost of $18.6 million, doesn’t forecast future weather patterns; it only observes weather as it is already occurring.

The “mesonet system,” as it’s called, “will provide valuable observations that can be used to improve short-term forecasts and warnings,” Vaccaro says. “More data is always welcome. However, it would not have made significant improvements to the already accurate forecasts provided for the two lake effect snow storms last week.”

The big surprise about last week’s storm was the amount of snow, and the rate at which it fell. The snowfall rate is determined by radar and model data, neither of which are part of the system, Vaccaro says.

The storm that hit Buffalo came in from west of New York State, anyway, so weather stations located inside our borders wouldn’t have produced any data on the front as it was moving east. Or, as Vaccaro put it, “The locations of most of the observations would have not necessarily helped with characterizing the upstream conditions, which lay west of the location of most of the proposed sites.”

Cuomo halfheartedly apologized for his words on Monday. “To the extent any weather forecaster felt that they were criticized, that was not the intention,” he said, adding, “The state’s weather system that we are putting in has nothing to do with this storm.”

Email the author: tstuart@villagevoice.com