They were wrong. Like the pollsters in New Hampshire a week ago, meteorologists spent Monday morning poring over their computer models after predictions of the first big snowfall in the New York City region fell flat.
Meteorologists blamed their faulty predictions on unseasonably warm weather, competing computer models and themselves.
Predictions for heavy snow in New York were based on differing computer models of how a critical area of low pressure forming along the Atlantic coast would behave. Weeks of unseasonably warm weather in the metro area, forecasters said, led to some rain Sunday night but not snow.
New England, however, took the brunt of the nor'easter that began developing along the Carolina coast last week, with 8 inches of snow on the ground in Boston by Monday afternoon.
"We have to watch as a storm develops," said Michael Wyllie, the National Weather Service's head meteorologist for the New York region. "In this situation, we were trying to forecast something that was not yet even on the map. We were relying on several different models to determine exactly where an area of low pressure would develop. When those models say different things, we have to determine which one is right or which combination, or average of models will determine how a low will develop."
In other words, a flub.
The 353 trucks the New York City Department of Sanitation deploys in a blizzard were the picture of unnecessary anticipation last night as they waited for snows that never came.
"We start planning for a snowstorm at least two days in advance. By Saturday, all 353 of our salt spreaders were lined up with ploughs attached and ready to go," said department spokesman Keith Mellis. "Battling the weather is like going to war. Your army has to be ready even if the other decides they're not going to show up that day."
Mellis said an extra shift was put on duty overnight Sunday, but that total costs for the storm that never was would not be known until the end of the year.
Computer models could tell forecasters that there was enough moisture and pressure in the atmosphere that snow was inevitable but could not pinpoint exactly where.
"Someone was going to get a lot of snow out of this. There was plenty of moisture moving up from the Gulf of Mexico," said Wyllie. "It just didn't develop as strong or as far south to get New York into the ballgame. … We got everyone ready and we spent money we didn't really need to spend."
WABC's meteorologist Bill Evans, who apologized on air for getting the forecast wrong, said the excitement of predicting the weather comes from extrapolating the raw data and trying to figure out what will happen.
"The models giveth and the models taketh away," he said. "This is not an exact science. Even with the computers and technology, there are sometimes aberrations we just didn't expect. This was an extremely hard storm to forecast, and we wanted to make sure the public was prepared if something happened."
Evans also said the recent warm weather contributed to the lack of snowfall. "When you have five days of 65 degree weather you need extremely cold temperatures to make snow."
If anyone knows the sweetness of the words "snow day" to a child's ears, it's Mark Donovan, supervisor of transportation for the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District on Long Island.
Donovan was awake this morning at 4 a.m. to determine if there was enough snow on the ground to tell the district's superintendent to cancel school.