For days leading up to yesterday evening, the various forecast models were spitting out solutions that looked downright scary. Solutions that we don’t always see each Spring which elevated concerns about a potential tornadic outbreak across parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The media, like it always does, latched onto that from the beginning and continued to spread the message that something really really bad could happen. And we did have a few bad things happen…namely the three tornadoes that touched down in Grayson county last night (EF-1 in Whitesboro, EF-1 in Howe, and an EF-0 in Bells). For the residents impacted by that storm, the forecast for dangerous tornadoes verified. For the rest of us, not so much…and now forecasters are under fire for over-hyping the event by getting the forecast all wrong. In the storm chasing community, we call it the Hype Train…and everyone was onboard, including us. Why? Because it really could have happened.
There were so many ingredients in place yesterday which made the atmosphere quite volatile…more volatile than we typically see in April. But, as always, the devil is in the details, and not all those details can be picked up by any of the forecast models until just shortly before or as the event unfolds. Uncertainty was continually part of the message conveyed by the Storm Prediction Center in their Severe Weather Outlooks for yesterday’s event. Uncertainty about how far east the dryline would migrate…uncertainty about how far south into Texas the threat would extend given the colossal cap in place early on…and considerable uncertainty existed on how quickly storms would transition from discrete to linear given the lack of low to mid-level directional flow. So, in one hand you have a forecast that looks like a tornado outbreak is possible, and in the other hand you have a forecast for a raging squall line. The question then becomes how do you warn the public that it could get really bad, but then again it might not. Do you go with the lesser threat and just cross your fingers that all heck doesn’t break loose? Or, do you warn the public based on the potential of more significant weather and hope it doesn’t materialize?
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. That will always be the stance taken by forecasters. Why? Because a busted forecast doesn’t mean lives or property were lost by getting the forecast wrong. There is absolutely no 100% accuracy in forecasting…not by anyone. The mechanisms that produce severe weather are so incredibly complex that nobody will ever be able to achieve 100% accuracy…at least not in our lifetime..and probably not even our grandkids’ lifetimes. The job of forecasters is to forecast the potential impacts…which sometimes means the worst possible outcome, then prepare their forecast in hopes that people will listen, take action and stay safe. We will continue to do the same here with our forecasts.