Cecily Tynan Beats Hurricane Schwartz in Long-Range Winter Forecast Battle

Just how accurate — or inaccurate? — are their winter weather predictions? We analyze the data.

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Thursday was pretty much the Super Bowl of the local weather wars, with 6 ABC gale force goddess Cecily Tynan delivering her yearly Winter Weather Outlook and NBC 10 El Nino nerd Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz with his 19th Annual Long-Range Winter Forecast. Schwartz was the guy who brought the idea to the Philly market, back when Tynan was cutting her pearly whites as the station’s first weekend meteorologist, picking up some general assignment reporting on the side.

Though they could never admit it, we’re going to take a wild guess and assume that both of these bona fide meteorologists hate doing these ridiculous predictions about as much as people love to take to Facebook to chide them for doing so. But ratings are ratings and year after year the stations turn on their hype machines and yell “GO!” 

By the end of the winter, with the giant piles of sooty snow subsiding, everyone forgets what was said way back in November, and the meteorologists hunker down, waiting for summer to roll around (when people will finally care about weather again). But just how accurate (or inaccurate) are these frivolous forecasts? We decided to take a look at the data to find out.

But first, this year’s forecasts:

Earlier this week, we heard that Tynan would be bringing hers to the people on Thursday night at 11 p.m., and we wondered what of Schwartz. Would Schwartz be bested by the brainy bombshell? But then Schwartz came from out of nowhere with a blustery blitzkrieg, beating Tynan by a matter of hours.

Wearing a blue bow tie, Schwartz seemed downright giddy as he went on and on about El Nino, something called the Pacific blob, and the effect of Eurasian snow, which apparently is key to unlocking the winter of 2015-’16. In the end, Schwartz boils it down to just a couple of snowstorms, with less snow than normal in January and the biggest snow of all in February. Schwartz’s predicted snowfall: 30 to 38 inches. cecily-tynan-winter-forecast-hurricane-schwartz For her part, Tynan shone forth with the radiance of a thousand of our Earth suns as she used terms like Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The greatest moment occurred as she was wrapping up the segment, recalling all the “piddly little” snow events we had last winter. “Drips and drabs torture,” anchor Jim Gardner chimed in, unable to resist laughing at all of this. “You know, we’ve been trying to get you to use the phrase Winter Decadal Oscillation for years!” (“Pacific,” she gently corrects.)

I concur with Jim Gardner.

Posted by Frankie Tommy DeVito on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tynan says we’re probably going to have more than normal precipitation but that December and January will be on the mild side with rainstorms being more likely than snowstorms. But February could get frigid. “This is when we could get one or two big snows if things line up right,” she explains.

Ah yes, the old caveat: if things line up right. After all, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and here we are talking about what may or may not happen in February. Tynan goes so far as to call it a “low confidence forecast” — as opposed to all those high confidence forecasts of what may or may not fall from the sky three months from now.

As for her snowfall predictions, Tynan lands on 20 to 24 inches but admits that “we could get as little as 12 inches” or “up to 32 inches” depending on a variety of factors. Only “one thing is certain,” she points out: “You’ll need to stay tuned in to the AccuWeather forecast each night because things can change very quickly this winter.”

Only a true star like Tynan could admit, essentially, Listen people, I have no freaking clue what the hell is going to happen this winter and in the same breath throw in a plug for the station. Somebody give this woman a raise. No, really.

We got our hands on the Schwartz and Tynan long-range winter forecasts for the last three years and compared their predicted snowfalls to the actual snowfall totals, and if accuracy is important in this game, Tynan wins. The line graph below compares actual Philadelphia snowfall with the arithmetic mean of each meteorologist’s range of prediction in each year.

In 2012, Tynan predicted 24 to 32 inches, while Schwartz went with 30 to 35 inches. We got just over eight inches. Tynan was more accurate than Schwartz but at best was still off by a factor of three.

Both were way, way, way, way wrong in the winter of 2013-’14. Tynan expected 12 to 18 inches, and Schwartz landed on 14 to 18 inches. What did we get? We got absolutely annihilated: 68 inches. Apparently, no one saw that coming. Because it’s the weather.

Last year, Tynan once again edged out Schwartz, going with a prediction of 30 to 36 inches compared to Schwartz’s 40 to 45 inches. Philadelphia saw 27 inches of snow.

Well, here’s what we’ve concluded from all of this. Looking at the last three years of data (finding all of the reports going back prior to that proved to be sketchy), Tynan comes out as a more accurate prognosticator than Schwartz. She also tends to call for less snow that he does, but he offers a narrower — and therefore more daring — snowfall range, while Tynan usually opts for a wider spread.

So who will win this season’s Long-Range Winter Forecast Battle? After we dig out on March 19th, we’ll be sure to let you know.

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