DC Gets Winter Storm Impact Scale Courtesy of Capital Weather Gang

The Washington Post’s forecast radar for 7 a.m. Wednesday (Blue is snow, purple is sleet, pink is freezing rain, and green is rain.)  Image: PivotalWeather.com/PivotalWeather.com

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang has created a scale to rate the winter storms that always seem to snarl travel and impact schools and businesses in the region.  Rather than gauging a storm by the number of inches of snow, the Weather Gang scale rates the storm’s impact. Here are the five levels of impact they plan to use in forecasting local winter storms:

  • Category 1 = A Nuisance — untreated roads are slick and school delays are possible
  • Category 2 = Disruptive — roads are slick, school closings and delays are likely, government operations adjusted, some flight delays
  • Category 3 = Significant storm — roads have ice or snow buildup, some are impassible, school closings likely, government operations adjusted, flights are delayed and some are canceled
  • Category 4 = Major storm — roads impassible or very hazardous, school closings are certain, the government is closed or impacted, significant airport and transit delays
  • Category 5 = Crippling/Historic Storm — travel difficult to impossible for days, schools closed for days, government shutdown for at least a day, airports and mass transit closed

Washington, D.C. seems to have a challenging time dealing with snow — particularly because the city is often located on the “rain/snow” line of winter weather, making it hard to predict and susceptible to a “winter mix” of snow, sleet, and icy rain.  As Jason Samenow, who came up with the idea and the scale explains, when it comes to a winter storm, its severity depends on a number of factors such as “how cold it is before, during and after the storm, how long the storm lasts, and how hard the precipitation falls” (and I would add if there are multiple types — the rain-snow combo is particularly tough).

And for those of you reading this in the DC region, just an FYI, The Weather Gang predicted that today’s winter storm would be a Category 2-3, depending on where you are in the area, with more disruption the farther north and west of the city you are.  The Gang intends to also evaluate the storms after the fact to see how they and the scale did.

Why This Matters:  With climate change, extreme weather is going to get more difficult to predict — and snowstorms may not “act” the way they have in the past.  So rating a winter storm by its impact rather than the traditional measures of snowfall totals is a good idea, in our view.  Maybe this impact scale should be used in other areas of the country.  We need more and better tools like this one to deal with the complexity of storms in the future.  This sounds like a smart adaptation to us.

To Go Deeper into the Whacky Weather This Week:  The jetstream’s windspeed hit a U.S. record over New York on Monday at more than 230 mph over Long Island.  It was moving so fast across the U.S. that the Capital Weather Gang reported that a Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles to London peaked at a whopping 801 mph Monday evening 35,000 feet over Pennsylvania. “[N]ever ever seen this kind of tailwind in my life as a commercial pilot,” tweeted Peter James, a jet captain.  And for those of you who are into nerdy details — that is faster than the speed of sound.

Bonus:  For laughs, watch how one DC school announced yesterday before the first flake fell that they would be closed today.

Image: The Washington Post and Flight Aware

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