Not by Fire but by Ice


Discover What Killed the Dinosaurs . . . and Why it Could Soon Kill Us


Weather observer says "32.4 inches

at Dulles is bogus"

Email from a weather observer at Dulles International Airport

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Dear Sir,

I am a weather observer at Dulles International Airport.  I have over 7 years experience as a weather observer with over 4 years time in the US Air Force and now close to 3 years at Dulles.

I worked the bulk of last week's storm.  I worked from 3 pm Friday to about 9:30 am on Saturday, during which time I measured snow depth each hour (we have a remark that must be included in each ob if hourly snowfall is 1 inch or more), and kept a running tally of hourly snowfall, total event snowfall and total depth of snow on the ground, which included the 1.4 inches left over from previous snows. 

When I left work on Saturday, we had roughly 19 inches of total snow depth, 17-18 which were new snow.  When I came in that night we had about 22-23.  I know we never hit 24, because not only did we not measure it, but if we had we were bound to notify our tech ops guys who take care of all the airport's electronics, as they needed to be notified when snow depth reached the 18 and 24 inch levels.  So long story short, Dulles International Airport received no more than 22 inches of new snow.

The 32.4 claim came from the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, VA, which is about 3 miles from our location.  Indeed, office scuttlebutt has it that even they only measured 24-26 inches (and even that's being generous).  Management at Sterling made the decision to go with the 32.4 inch total.

They have now entered CYA mode and are trying to claim that my observer colleagues and I at Dulles, Baltimore and Reagan do not how to do our jobs.  In my view, the most salient point to consider is the fact that if they had gone with our actual measurement of 21-22 inches, they would not have been able to claim a "record-breaking" snowfall, which in my opinion is what they were going for all along (I've never met a forecaster who didn't try to predict a record any chance they got, whether it be a new daily high temp or 30 inches of snow).  Indeed, looking at snowfall totals around this area (northern VA, west of DC) reveals no amount even approaching 30 inches.  If one were to do a statistical analysis, the 32.4 number would be immediately thrown out as an anomaly.

Anyway, I thought you might find that interesting.  And I fully admit that I have an axe to grind, as I take pride in my work and knowledge of weather observing procedures, so obviously I don't appreciate NWS covering their butts at my expense.  Also, I fully admit that I'm not a genius, but do consider myself capable of putting a ruler into some snow and seeing how far up the ruler the snow reaches.

Many thanks.  I enjoy your site very much.

Take care,


          (The weather observer gave me permission to use his/her first name,
           but I don't want to get him/her into any more trouble than he/she may
           already be experiencing.)





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