Angry Over Forecasts, Cuomo Wants State Weather System

At a storm briefing Gov. Andrew Cuomo held on Nov. 26 with cabinet members ahead of the epic snowstorm in Buffalo, N.Y. (Office of Gov. Cuomo)
At a storm briefing Gov. Andrew Cuomo held on Nov. 26 with cabinet members ahead of the epic snowstorm in Buffalo, N.Y. (Office of Gov. Cuomo)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants New York to create the nation’s best weather monitoring system, one more robust than even the National Weather Service and more capable of predicting events like the snowstorm that buried parts of the Buffalo area under seven feet of snow.

But although Cuomo’s $18.7 million initiative will help the state respond to events like floods or wildfires, it’s unlikely to live up to his grander expectations, meteorologists say.

To accurately predict lake-effect snowfall in western New York, the state would need weather satellites and a supercomputer to handle complicated weather modeling, plus monitoring stations in the Midwest and Canada, said Christopher Vaccaro of the National Weather Service.

“It will definitely help with short-term weather,” Vaccaro said of Cuomo’s idea. “But when you’re forecasting three days in advance for lake-effect snow, it’s not really going to be helpful.”

Cuomo picked a fight with the weather service following the storm in Buffalo, saying the federal agency failed to predict its intensity and timing. His comments prompted meteorologists Al Roker and Jim Cantore to defend the accuracy and precision of the weather service’s forecasts.

The day before the storm hit, the agency correctly predicted a “historic” storm that would bring feet of snow and localized snowfall rates of 3 to 5 inches per hour.

“Seems like [Cuomo’s] folks didn’t look” at the forecasts, Roker tweeted.

Don Paul, chief meteorologist at WIVB in Buffalo, wrote that “Cuomo’s attempt to scapegoat the National Weather Service for an inaccurate forecast in advance is not only completely in error — the NWS did an outstanding job — but is a disservice to the public and to the hardworking staff of this federal agency.”

Cuomo later said he never meant to offend forecasters, adding that weather service meteorologists “perform the best they can with the information they have.” He said he was just trying to highlight the value of the state’s new weather service — which he said in January would be “the most advanced weather detection system in the nation.”

The network will include 125 sensor stations deployed around the state that will automatically relay current conditions on wind speed, precipitation, temperature and pressure. Cuomo says the monitoring devices will outnumber those now used by the weather service, giving the state a better look at conditions.

The data would also be sent to the National Weather Service, where it could be analyzed and used by the same meteorologists Cuomo criticized.

“So, when the wind starts to pick up, when the rain starts to fall, you can detect it very early in the pattern’s development and then you can track its trajectory of that weather pattern, which would obviously give you more data, would give you more information, which would be more reliable,” Cuomo said.

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