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New rating system tracks winter storms

ALEX MILLER
eagle county correspondent

VAIL ” NOAA’s new NESIS protocol is in place from the NCEP.

Translated from weatherman-speak, that means the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center’s Environmental Prediction arm has created a new system for categorizing winter storms ” but only in the Northeast so far.

Dubbed the “Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale,” the system is being introduced in a 13-state region, with plans to roll it out over the rest of the country over time.

The idea is to better understand the impact of snow storms, said Jay Lawrimore, chief of the administration’s climate monitoring branch in North Carolina. Previously, climatologists had only have historical perspective to compare one storm to another, he said, not a rating system like the one used to categorize hurricanes and tornadoes.

The Snowfall Impact Scale will use five categories ranging from 1-5: Notable, Significant, Major, Crippling or Extreme.

It could be a while, Lawrimore said, before we see the system expanded to include the Rocky Mountains.

“There’s quite a bit of work to be done to develop the climatologies for different regions,” he said.

With the nine different climate regions of the U.S., he said each had different kinds of storms, and that benchmarks had to be established to create a ranking system. The one for the Northeast is based on data from 30 previous storms in the region. That kind of information would need to be compiled for other areas before a similar system could be put in place, he said.

“A major storm for the Northeast may not be a major storm in the Southeast, so you have to look at different things,” he said.

As for the ability to more accurately predict snow storms with the new system, Lawrimore said it’s possible in theory, but that the technology doesn’t yet exist to make the most of the data.

Mostly, it’s a means to gauge how much a storm affected a population, said Louis Uccellini, director of the administration’s Environmental Prediction center.

“The snowfall impact scale is designed to look retrospectively at a recent snowstorm ” not to forecast one,” Uccellini said. “With its rankings, the scale will also give a better perspective on how these major storms affected populations in the Northeast.”

Already in use in the Northeast, the snowstorm that moved through the region

Dec. 8-9 was rated a Category 2 (Significant) storm.


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