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US blizzard wasn’t a bust, but it was a miss for many

January 27, 2015

In the wild world of winter weather, location is everything. So small last minute changes in the air morphed what was supposed to be crippling deep snow into a handful of inches (a few centimeters), leading forecasters to apologize, politicians to explain themselves and some Northeast residents wondering where the much-hyped snow went.

The not-so-great blizzard of 2015 did wallop the Northeast: Long Island and Massachusetts got hammered with more than two feet (more the 0.6 meters) of snow.

But snowfall in the self-absorbed media capital of New York City, shut down in advance, was under a foot (0.3 meters). New Jersey and Philadelphia also were spared.

Meteorologists say the nor’easter stayed about 75 to 100 miles (120 to 160 kilometers) east of its predicted track, which meant the western edge — New York and New Jersey — got 10 inches (26 centimeters) less than forecast.

“That miss occurred in the most populous corridor in the nation,” said David Robinson, director of the Rutgers Global Snow Lab and New Jersey’s state climatologist. “Had it been between Albany and Syracuse, not to disparage them, no one would have made much of this.”

The region girded for something historic or epic but got much less.

“I expected tons of snow,” New York cabaret singer Susanne Payot said, walking through Central Park with her home-from-school daughters and their golden retriever, Alvin. “This is nothing. I don’t understand why the whole city shut down because of this.”

Before heavy snows began falling, officials shut down roads and public transportation across in New York City, in New Jersey and on Long Island. The Amtrak railroad suspended train service and air traffic slowed to a stop. Schools along the East Coast on Monday canceled Tuesday classes.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his decision to ban travel on all state roads. “We were acting based on what we were being told,” he said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was criticized for under-reacting to the November mega storm in Buffalo, so he worked “on the theory of living learned and a little wiser.”

A National Weather Service forecaster who was called a hero of 2012′s Superstorm Sandy tweeted an apology for the errant forecast.

“You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn’t. Once again, I’m sorry,” wrote Gary Szatkowski, a National Weather Service forecaster in New Jersey.

Late Monday, the computer models started to move the storm more east and away from New York City, but by that time “media and social media hype was out of the bottle,” said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd.

The European computer model that was praised for accurately forecasting Superstorm Sandy failed more than others, Masters said.

Meteorologists defended the forecast — to a point.

“It’s just that we didn’t get the western edge of the forecast correct. If you want to call that a bust, I think you’re being a little harsh,” Masters said.

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Borenstein reported from Washington, Mulvihill from Haddonfield, New Jersey. Associated Press reporters Verena Dobnik, David Bauder and Ula Ilnytzky in New York City and Jill Colvin in Jersey City, New Jersey, contributed.

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Online:

National Weather Service snowfall totals: http://1.usa.gov/1yLn87Q

Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

Geoff Mulvihill can be followed at http://twitter.com/geoffmulvihill

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