Post-Stella, Baker disappointed in National Weather Service

Most predictions for Boston came up short

BOSTON, Mass. (State House News Service) – After Tuesday’s snowstorm failed to deliver the punch many expected in Greater Boston, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday tried to be diplomatic toward the National Weather Service, but even in a radio interview his frustrations seeped through.

Baker as early as Tuesday morning was still telling residents that Boston should expect 8 to 12 inches of snow, with 10 to 24 inches expected elsewhere in the state. Those snow accumulations, and the threat of 2 to 4 inches falling per hour at the peak of the storm, never quite materialized, and even the National Weather Service by that time was predicting far smaller totals for southeastern Massachusetts.

Then came a report on Tuesday from the Associated Press that meteorologists in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington held a conference call Monday afternoon about computer models showing much smaller snow totals for the Northeast, but decided to keep their earlier public forecast so as not to “confuse the public” as they prepared to deal with a storm known as Stella. The meteorologists, the report said, were still concerned about rain and sleet creating hazardous conditions.

During his appearance on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio” on Thursday, co-host Jim Braude asked Baker if he had been aware of the updated snow forecast.

“How much latitude do I have to say what I really think about this?” Baker said, before turning to two of his aides who were in studio with him.

“You have total latitude, governor,” Braude said. Co-host Margery Eagan concurred: “Let it rip, governor. We’re ready.”

Baker started by saying the National Weather Service has been a “wonderful partner” in helping him navigate serious weather events during his time in office.

“On this particular one, I guess I would say as one of their customers I’m disappointed that it seems they gave one message to us and a slightly different one was traveling around the office,” Baker said.

Early Tuesday morning, National Weather Service snow maps showed Boston and the North Shore getting eight to 12 inches, Merrimack Valley and central Massachusetts in line for 12 to 18 inches and western Massachusetts bearing the brunt with 18 to 24 inches, and up to 30 in the farthest west points. The South Shore and the Cape had been downgraded to 6 inches or less.

Most of those predictions came up short as the snow transitioned early to freezing rain, with Boston ultimately receiving about 6.6 inches, according to NWS spotters, and most areas north and west hovering at or below a foot of snow. Some communities in Worcester County and more western regions saw higher totals of 16 to 20 inches.

The governor said that he remains comfortable with the decisions he made to keep state workers at home, to urge drivers to stay off the roads and to recommend to private employers that they let employees work remotely.

“I think we made, for the most part, the right kinds of decision and this storm definitely had some erratic behavior to it,” Baker said.

Still, the governor said he and his staff seriously considered a statewide travel ban based on the information that the NWS was giving them, and believes it would “not have been unreasonable” to do based on the information he had. Connecicut Gov. Dannel Malloy took that step of banning all road travel in his state based on the forecast.

“A bunch of us were scratching our heads at the end of this thing sort of like what the hell…what happened here,” Baker said.

Braude then asked Baker whether he was more upset privately than he was letting on in public. Baker said nothing.

“He’s shaking his head yes,” Braude said.

Copyright 2017 State House News Service

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