Record snow keeps forecasters busy
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As they watched the converging weather systems over the past several days, forecasters at the National Weather Service offices in Charleston thought local residents would see little snow.
Instead, Tuesday's snowfall far surpassed that of any October day and nearly equaled all of the snow that fell last winter.
The experts were caught a bit off guard, to put it lightly.
"I don't know what happened between Friday and yesterday," Faith Borden, the warning coordination meteorologist in Charleston, said Tuesday.
As of about 3 p.m., 10.1 inches had fallen in the Charleston area.
The previous high for any October day in the past 109 years was 2.8 inches on Oct. 20, 1961.
Last winter saw a total of 11.7 inches.
The early snow came as a result of two factors, Borden said: Hurricane Sandy brought massive amounts of moisture into the area, and that mixed with a cold front over the weekend.
"How often do you get a tropical system that produces a blizzard?" Borden said, standing a few feet from the office's control center.
Meteorologists are their own worst critics, Borden said, but overall she thought predictions for the rest of the state were accurate.
She and the rest of the team began monitoring the storm more closely as it approached, shifting their attention from three-day and extended forecasts to 24-hour predictions.
That's typical for a weather service office when it is preparing for a large occurrence, she said.
Once the system moves into an area, she said forecasters get on the phone to make sure everyone from county emergency managers to meteorologists at television stations have the most accurate information possible.
About four people were answering the phones and monitoring forecasts as the storm started to hit early Tuesday, she said. By afternoon, a dozen people were moving around the room, checking monitors, answering phones and calling out to one another for more coffee.
"We're a 24-7 operation," she said.
The workers stagger their shifts so those about to leave work can brief their replacements before heading home. At the same time, meteorologists rely on trained spotters or helpful citizens to provide information.
Borden said people who have pictures of snowfall amounts or any details about characteristics of a storm can contact the weather service. She said people posted images on the social media outlets Facebook and Twitter all day, which provided lots of helpful information for her team.
Moving forward, she said the office will continue to monitor precipitation and communicate with county and state officials.
A call with state emergency and education officials about safety concerns was scheduled for 4:15 a.m. today. With temperatures expected to rise a bit toward the end of the week, she said the team also would watch for potential flooding.
It's all about trying to help people stay safe, a job Borden said everyone takes seriously.
"Our mission is to protect life and property," she said.