22 or 38 inches?

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
This screen shot was shared often on Facebook following the large winter storm. The 38.3 has been tossed out by the National Weather Service.

Yes, the snow was deep Jan. 22 and 23 from Winter Storm Jonas. Maybe it came up to your knees or your waist. It took several runs with the shovel or snowblower, or maybe a professional had to get it out of your driveway. But the Storm of 1996 remains the big one to tell tales about. That’s the year a blizzard dropped 28 inches of snow, and etched a place in everyone’s memory.

The Storm of 2016 left behind a total of 22.3 inches. That is the official National Weather Service figure for Greencastle, an indication of the average snowfall in the community. It was measured by Robert Wertime, Greencastle weather observer. He is a trained spotter and has had a NWS number since 1994. He has been reading the weather since the 1960s.

Social media, national publications and other excited users posted screen shots of a NWS/NOAA chart which claimed Greencastle received the fourth highest snow total in the storm, 38.3 inches.

“I believe that was a bad report,” said Craig Evanego, NWS meteorologist at State College. “We issue public information statements. I remember seeing it and took it out when we updated the information.”

Evanego said someone else had taken the call, but when he came to work the next day, the data just didn’t mesh with any of the other information they had collected. The difference in the 38.3 report was so stark, a good five inches over anyone else, and 16 inches more than the report of the trained spotter. Evene    go did not know who called the number in.

“We do quality control before giving the totals to the public,” he said. “That one slipped by.”

He acknowledged that “once its out there, it is hard to reign in.”

He continued that Greencastle was in a valley, so its snow total should be lower than places on the ridge tops. No other valley regions were that high. Mont Alto, which had greater elevation, was at 33.3 inches, submitted by a trained spotter. The areas east of Greencastle also received more snow.

Some of the reports published on the NWS site come from social media and members of the public.

The other side

A person with a weather-related handle Tweeted an Echo Pilot reporter Jan. 26, stating he took the 38.3 inch measurement and verified it to be true. The reporter responded, asking for the person’s identity, and permission to phone him. The Tweeter never replied. His profile said he was a sports communications specialist from Syracuse University, and a broadcast meteorologist from Penn State.

Meanwhile, Wertime had spent the days after the storm verifying his calculations. He had considered eight forms of compaction, dispositional elements of the storm, radar readings, melt factors and other conditions in Franklin County. He had seen a few areas windswept bare. Valley fill occurred in some places, making snow deeper than what truly fell.

He was confident in his findings.

“No question about it,” Wertime said. “The 22.3 inches was a dead solid hit, a very general average for the area.”

The forecast had put Greencastle in the center of the storm, in a band that should receive 18 to 24 inches. Wertime had not paid attention to that, and discovered the prediction had been true.

So do not be dismayed with the truth. It was still a rough storm and caused problems for many people. Even though Wertime stated last week that the storm was typical for an El Nino year, it is not often Greencastle sees a snowfall of this magnitude. Just remember, when telling stories to your children and grandchildren in the future, it was a 22.3 inch snowfall, even though it felt like 38.3.