Winter Gridlock 2014: What went wrong? - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Winter Gridlock 2014: What went wrong?

Posted: Updated:
JEFFERSON COUNTY - AL -

Today has been the first "normal" day for many of us since Tuesday. The snow, for the most part, has melted.

Businesses are open. The gridlock is gone.

One of the big topics of conversation this weekend will be, how did all that happen? How did a forecast go so terribly wrong?

Jim Stefkovich, the meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service forecast office.

Mr. Stefkovich says this was a complicated and complex weather scenario. The National Weather Service did expect the snow to move into Jefferson County. What meteorologists missed, was how precipitation would fall.

"We were basically off by one county. But, that county happened to be the most populated county in the state of Alabama," Stefkovich says.

He explains the multiple variables that played a role in the Winter Gridlock of 2014.

"We didn't anticipate a quick heavy band that occurred further to the north. The second issue is, when you look at all the vehicles that were on the road and what happened once it hit the road and refroze that really caused a lot of problems."

Early Monday: Models began to indicate the precipitation could trend more to the north than anticipated.

Monday 8:45 PM:
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for areas just south of Birmingham

Stefkovich says, "That includes Bibb, Shelby, Talladega counties. As the models continued overnight, going into Tuesday morning, the trend for a little more precipitation to go north. We then upped the amounts of snow we were anticipating up to about 1 1/2 inches of snow."

Tuesday 9:00 AM:  A winter weather advisory was issued for Jefferson County.

"What we didn't' anticipate was as much snow getting further north into Jefferson County."

Tuesday 11:06 AM: The advisory finally was upgraded to a winter storm warning.

Here's the problem.

"We underestimated the amount of snow that would actually reach the ground, initially. And, the precipitation came in a little bit earlier, it saturated the entire atmosphere a little bit faster and because of that, we were off by about one to two inches of snow for Jefferson county and area's northward," Stefkovich explains.

Frigid temperatures kept the accumulation right where it fell.

Despite the chaos that ensued, Stefkovich comes to the defense of other agencies and municipalities.

But he acknowledges there's plenty to learn from this weather event.

"We're going to have what's called a 'hot wash'. We're going to be talking with emergency managers, looking at all of our data. Could we have done a better job on our end. And we'll review that and work to improve for the next time."

Stefkovich adds that many people may not know the difference between a weather advisory and a warning.

In central Alabama, an advisory is between one quarter and two inches of snow. Anything above two inches is a winter storm warning.

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