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3 months later, Blizzard of ’16 becomes largest in NYC history

Three months after the last snowflake from the prolific Blizzard of 2016 fell, it has ascended to become the #1 snowfall in New York City’s recorded history. The storm passes February 12th, 2006 which was the previous record holder. The announcement comes after weather enthusiasts and professionals were left disappointed by a 26.8″ measurement which brought the snowfall total just 0.1″ short of the February 2006 record. But a new publication from the National Weather Service says the total will be changed to a whopping 27.5″, adjusting the total well higher and making the Blizzard of 2016 the largest in the city’s history. 

It wasn’t additional snow that fell a few minutes after a measurement, or a last minute snow band that was added on to the snowfall total. It was, apparently a “miscommunication between the NWS WFO and Central Park Conservancy”. Or, more likely, a disturbing lack of communication between the two offices at all. The report also says that the Central Park Conservancy, which measures snowfall officially for Central Park, provided a worksheet with snowfall totals which was deemed “accurate”. The official worksheet recorded 0.2″ of snow on January 22nd, 27.3″ of snow on January 23rd, and a trace of snow on January 24th. How a snowfall total of 26.8″ was reported on the night of January 23rd, then, becomes a real head scratcher.

You can access the full publication by clicking here. 

Nevertheless, the NWS will officially recognize the Blizzard of 2016 as the greatest single snowfall ever in NYC once the totals are officially adjusted. Perhaps an even bigger issue is the revelation, in the same publication, that officials have been measuring snowfall at Newark Airport in correctly for the past twenty (20) years, since 1996.

Finding 2: Newark Liberty International Airport, NJ (EWR) – Snowfall measurement procedures did not follow FAA Order 7900.5C. The CWO measured and summed hourly snowfall totals instead of taking a single measurement of snowfall every six hours. This resulted in inflated 6- hourly and daily snowfall amounts and a preliminary all-time record snowfall of 28.1 inches. Based on interviews with the CWO at EWR, the practice of summing hourly snowfall totals may have been occurring since 1996.

Recommendation 2: Since the blizzard, the CWO observers at EWR have been re-trained on proper procedures for measuring snowfall and snow depth. A separate team will investigate the best course of action to determine the accurate snowfall total and, as appropriate, amounts may be changed. This team will also access the historical record of snowfall reports at EWR and determine whether the EWR practice of taking hourly snowfall measurements justifies any annotations or modifications to the long term historical record.

The nearly impossible to believe findings suggest that 20 years of incorrect snowfall reports and data may have to be corrected over time. Newark Airport observers were, essentially, wiping their snow boards and remeasuring snowfall every hour. Such a practice is almost guaranteed to provide inflated snowfall totals with a lack of compensation for melting and compaction.

But, an even larger issue, is the lack of training and communication that is seemingly entrenched in the snowfall measuring process. This publication comes as yet another reactionary announcement, with corrections made to prior data. While the National Weather Service’s suggestions and recommendations listed in the publication are a positive step forward, it seems a significant overhaul of training will be necessary to correct the seemingly recurring problems when it comes to measuring and collecting accurate weather data.

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