National

Storm brewing over snow forecast hype

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. —The nomenclature smackdown among meteorologists started with "snowmageddon" and "snowpocalypse." When the latest snowstorm — laden with flakes and whipped by heavy winds — headed for the winter-weary Northeast this week, the folks at AccuWeather Inc. warned of a coming "snowicane."

That did it for the more reserved National Weather Service, which accused the for-profit forecasters of overhyping to the point of inciting panic. The Weather Channel, an AccuWeather competitor, also took issue with the word, calling it an example of "bad meteorology."

As "snowicane" foreshadowed impending wind-and-snow doom Wednesday on AccuWeather's Web site, National Weather Service meteorologist Craig Evanego said the federal forecasters were taking a more measured approach, because the storm hadn't yet fully formed.

"It's almost inciting the public, inciting panic," Evanego said of AccuWeather's terminology.

His weather service colleague, meteorologist Roy Miller in Mount Holly, N.J., put it bluntly to the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa.

"It's not responsible to be putting out things like this," he said.

The newspaper called the brouhaha a "meteorologist smackdown."

Richard Grumm, the government service's chief science and operations officer in State College, said science and "getting people's attention and entertainment" each serve a purpose.

"Scientifically, I have my own opinion of what a hurricane is," he added. "The word, 'snowicane' — I have a glossary of meteorology, it doesn't exist."

A key meteorological measure of a hurricane is sustained winds of at least 74 mph. As this week's storm barreled into New England, it had wind gusts into that range and higher — but those winds were not sustained. It therefore failed to achieve hurricane status.

It did, however, dump even more snow on a region digging out from the deepest cumulative snows ever recorded for a winter season and knocked out power to more than 1 million homes and businesses.

Evan Myers, chief operations officer of AccuWeather, defended the choice of words but said his firm wasn't trying to panic anyone.

"The storm performed as advertised," Myers said, noting, among other things, the coastal flooding from Maine to eastern Long Island and heavy snows in some areas.

"We said it would have the characteristics of a (hurricane or tropical system), and in fact, it did," Myers said.

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