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Weather forecasts

Published February 03. 2011 05:00PM

Few will disagree that this has been one mean winter. The lingering cold has strained our home budgets. The unyielding chain of storms has strained the budget of virtually every municipality.

School officials are scanning calendars to determine when snow days can be made up. Athletic directors are working frantically to redo sports schedules.

Also very busy through it all are some people who work behind the scene; who we're quick to criticize when things don't go exactly as they say.

These are the meteorologists.

Meteorology is not an exact science, but the forecasters this winter have done a great job of alerting us to dangerous storms and thus letting us get adequately prepared.

As an example, as long as a week ago, they were stating that we'd be getting a storm Tuesday or Wednesday and it could have freezing rain.

As the time frame grew closer, there was more detail regarding when the storm would arrive, how another system with precipitation would precede it, and that there was a valid concern of widespread power outages.

Admittedly, they were saying at one point we might get eight inches of snow and three-quarters of an inch of ice buildup.

We were lucky. We did not get that much snow and the ice build-up that was expected didn't happen so the power outages didn't occur. But the forecasters weren't wrong.

In Berks, Lancaster, Cumberland, and even Lehigh County, there were some widespread outages. Although we didn't have the build-up of ice on wires, it did happen not too far away.

Also, areas in Berks County, just a half hour drive from parts of our area, got eight to 10 inches of snow.

As stated earlier, forecasting the weather isn't perfect, not even with 21st centure computers. Mother Nature always has the final say.

Every storm we had this winter was predicted in ample time to get ready for it.

One thing people don't realize, too, is that not all the talking heads on TV weather shows are meteorologists. As a result, sometimes their explanations vary somewhat from what the official forecast reads; occasionally they get a little dramatic to pique the viewer's interest. As a result, there is sometimes exaggeration.

Another point to consider is that offices of the National Weather Service, Accuweather, and even TV studios with certified meteorologists cover large geographical areas. We're talking spans of many counties. Therefore, the forecasters try to get as precise as they can but still are rather general.

So, the National Weather Service might predict four inches of snow in Carbon County. If Lehighton gets the four inches, Weatherly and Summit Hill might get more because of elevation. Or, if Lehighton gets four inches, Summit Hill and Penn Forest Township might get less because of the grid of the storm.

Then there's the possibility we'll be pleasantly fooled and the storm will miss us completely.

Overall, weather forecasters have a pretty good track record for accuracy this winter when it comes to the snowstorms we've had, as well as warning us about the bitter cold air masses invading.

Weather forecasting has come a long way. And judging from the accuracy we've seen for the most-part, it is obvious that meteorologists do take their work very seriously.

By Ron Gower

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