"There are many areas over the oceans where we don't get frequent observations," says McCarthy.
Still, Hoke points out that forecasters were mostly accurate in forecasting the storms now pummeling the Northeast and West since they predicted the amount of precipitation, even if they may not have always guessed right how much of each kind would fall.
Jon Neese, chief meteorologist with the Franklin Institute of Science in Philadelphia says that's because at least two wild cards entered the weather maps late in the scene early today. An intrusion of warm air, about 1,000 feet up, changed expected snowfall into rain or freezing rain. And the edge of this slow-moving Nor'Easter shifted farther north and east than predicted.
"The thing is we were really close," he says. "But a forecast error of 50 miles in the populated Northeast corridor is noticed by a lot of people."