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Project: Blizzard– Putting a snow forecast together

ROCKFORD (WREX) — As with any winter storm, you want to know as soon as possible how many inches may drop. However, the forecast may stay murky until a day or two ahead of the storm.

This is why: snow forecasting is a tricky business. A few miles can be the difference between a light dusting and a hefty helping of snow.

A difference of only a few degrees could change what falls out of the sky.

A couple of degrees one way or the other in the clouds may yield rain, freezing rain, or sleet instead of snow.

Small changes in the storm path and environment can cause the forecast results to change plenty from 10 days out to right before the storm.

Because of these small differences, the forecast may start out one way 10 days out, then change as it gets closer. The good news, is that as the storm approaches, we get a much clearer picture of what the storm may do.

When putting a snow forecast together, one of the first things we as meteorologists do is compare the potential track of the storm to historical paths. Certain storm paths lead to certain results. If a storm takes a familiar track, we should get a good estimate on what the storm may do.

Up next, we pour over the computer models and see which model handles the storm track the best. This can change as time goes along, as a particular model may handle the storm early, then another performs better as the storm gets closer.

As the storm approaches, we can look at weather balloon data and radar to better diagnose the storm and fine tune our forecast.

After seeing the behind-the-scenes part of the forecast, here's what you can expect from us from 10 days out to the day of the storm:

Days 8-10:

We'll alert you of the first sign of snow or harsh cold. As this range, the forecast is very murky and can change plenty. That said, we can see hints that something may be on the way.

Days 6-7:

We highlight the potential for a storm or cold outbreak. The chances are higher that a storm is on the way. It'll be something to keep an eye on over the rest of the week.

Days 4-5:

By this point, the forecast looks a lot clearer. We are able to map out the general area of hazards. You should be able to see if your area is in the potential impact are. The storm track can still change at this point. That said, you'll be able to see whether it's time to make back-up plans or not.

Days 2-3:

With the storm only a couple of days away, we should be locked into getting something from the storm. The 13 Weather Authority should have a general picture for you, including timing and a range of snow possibilities. You won't get specifics yet, but you can at least make plans around this.

One day out:

As the storm is a day away, you'll get specifics from the 13 Weather Authority. This includes specific snow ranges, specific timing, and even snowfall rates. The snow rate is key, since you'll know then how quickly the road conditions may change. You should have a clear idea of the precautions you need to take on the day.

Day of:

As the storm hits, it is all about tracking the storm. You can check in with the 13 Weather Authority throughout the day to see where the storm is, when the worst of it arrives, and when the area is in the clear.

Once all is said and done, we repeat the process and keep an eye out for the next storm! Look for this flow of information all winter long.

Author Profile Photo

Alex Kirchner

Alex Kirchner is the Chief Meteorologist at 13 WREX. He joined the 13 Weather Authority in 2014. Alex earned Certified Broadcast Meteorologist recognition from the American Meteorological Society, and his work at WREX earned him a Best TV Weathercaster award from the Illinois Broadcasters Association and 2 regional Emmy awards.

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