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No hype with Northeast storm; experts call it the real thing

Published: Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 2:48 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Elise Amendola STF)
A warning sign flashes for motorists on the expressway into Boston as snow starts to fall on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. A major winter storm is heading toward the U.S. Northeast with up to 2 feet of snow expected for a Boston-area region that has seen mostly bare ground this winter. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

WASHINGTON – You can call it a snowstorm of historic proportions. You can call it the return of New England's blizzard of 1978. You can call it simply dangerous. And you can even call it Nemo.

But don't call it hype.

The new director of the National Weather Service says some may be getting carried away in describing the winter storm bearing down on the Northeast. But he says the science is simple and chilling.

Louis Uccellini is an expert on snowstorms. He says meteorologists are telling people that this is a dangerous storm because it is.

He says he's confident that this storm is "a very dangerous situation and people need to take proper action."

Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground, said the storm deserves the attention it's getting. "This is a serious life-threatening storm if you're trying to travel in it and getting stuck."

One of the big differences between this one and the 1978 blizzard is that the one 35 years ago surprised people and stranded them on the roads, said Keith Seitter of the Boston-based American Meteorological Society. This time preventive steps, like closing schools and an early order for people to be off Massachusetts roads before dark, should save lives and make roads easier to clear, experts said.

For more than a week, forecasters have seen it coming. New Englanders compare it to the 1978 storm that hit that region so hard. Meteorologists put it in the category of those that earned nicknames like the even bigger East Coast blizzard of 1993 dubbed the "storm of the century." The Weather Channel is even giving it a name — Nemo.

The National Weather Service has rejected the cable TV network's decision to give The weather service uses names for hurricanes and tropical storms created by the World Meteorological Organization, but not other types of storms.

Snowbound MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel agrees that forecasters are telling it like it is. But he adds that extreme weather like this fascinates not just weather geeks, but the media and everyone.

"People sort of like it," says Emanuel, who is stuck in his Lexington, Mass., home. "It's the weather porn phenomena. There are people glued to The Weather Channel."

Heidi Cullen is a climate scientist who once worked for The Weather Channel. Now chief climatologist at Climate Central, a nonprofit science journalism group, says our fascination with this storm is normal and this is a blizzard worthy of the attention.

"This is historic. This is a big one," Cullen says. "When you have a good forecast and a long lead time... You see it form and develop a personality. And if you name it, it has even more of a personality. It's the intersection of science, technology and media."

"By definition when we give things a name, it does allow us to connect with it," Cullen says. "It gives it a narrative. We're hard-wired for stories and we can turn these weather events into stories."

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