Forecasting Storm Strength: Stormageddon and the Snowpocalypse

How many times in the past few years have you heard news reports about the oncoming storm that will shut down all roads and highways, and keep everyone inside until the plows can finally dig you out? How many times has the promise of a day home from work and school been left unfulfilled, with only some light snow in place?

A snowy drive

These days, the news reports gleefully foretell the oncoming Snowpocalypse, or a weather front about to bring Stormageddon unto us all. It seems all the weather channels want to talk about, and it carries over to radio morning shows. In some areas of North America, this is sometimes taken to ludicrous lengths:

Obviously, media coverage isn’t a sure sign of snow, just as the lack of this coverage isn’t necessarily a sign that it isn’t coming. So what’s the best way to decide if it’s really worth going out on the roads, or if it’s time to batten the hatches and stay at home? There are a few good resources that can help you judge for yourself.

  1. Try looking outside at the street. If you live on a side street which isn’t yet plowed, it may not indicate what the major roads are like, but if it looks like your car isn’t getting down the street, it’s best to stay put.
  2. Radar maps. This shows what kind of snowfall is currently happening in your region. Most weather sites provide a forecast, where the track of the storm is extrapolated, so you can see where the storm is likely to hit. What kind of intensity is it? Light, steady snow for hours and hours, or a short but intense dumping over just a few hours? Is it a widespread system, or narrow?
  3. Twitter. Hashtags such as #onstorm can give general information on the storm, but it’s likely that people you follow are also talking about it. They may provide useful advice as to current road conditions. Local news and traffic radio stations also post information regarding accidents and road closures.
  4. Remember that it’s not just snow to be concerned about. Extreme icy conditions can occur without vast quantities of snow.

If you are out and about in dangerous road conditions, try slowing down a bit. It’s extremely likely that all those cars in ditches weren’t taking the conditions into account with their driving. Give yourself lots of space to stop.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go clear the snow from my driveway. Again.