Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 8, 2013

Snowquester: Prevention was wise (as far as human wisdom goes)

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on March 8, 2013

On Wednesday the threat of snow shut down much of DC.  Very little snow penetrated the Beltway.   In the wake of the “unnecessary” shut-down has come a blizzard of second-guessing.

I perceive three broad critiques:

Bad Intelligence Analysis (in this context called weather forecasting):  From a late February blogpost by weather-geek Cliff Mass, “U.S. numerical weather prediction is lagging behind the European Center and others–a diagnosis pretty much universally accepted in my field. I listed some of the reasons: inferior computers, poor management, lack of effective leadership, inability to tap the large U.S. weather research community, and others.” (At the Cliff Mass Blog you will find thoughtful self-critical analysis of the weather profession specific to the Snowquester).

Poor Communication between Intelligence Community and Decision-makers: “We made our decisions based on, unfortunately, faulty weather predictions,” said Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). “You can’t really blame the government officials for using the data the scientists gave them.”  More self-critique from the Weather Gang, “Communication of uncertainty is something the entire weather forecasting community should strive to improve… One of the reasons, as we get closer to the onset of the storm, that we drop some uncertainty information is that some readers want to know the bottom line, without qualification. They view scenarios and percentages as “cop-outs.” Ultimately, there has to be a sweet spot, where we can effectively communicate uncertainty concisely and effectively while also presenting a most likely forecast. We’re constantly working to find that and came up short in this last case.”

Over-dependence on Signal Intelligence (weather models) contrasted with Human Intelligence (common sense):  A reader comment posted on the Weather Gang’s blog, “Driving my car on Tuesday afternoon I listened to dire predictions of snow for Wednesday. Somehow I couldn’t equate the fifty six degree reading on my dashboard thermometer with the supposed 5-10 inches of snow set for the next day. Do weather forecasters ever engage in predictions that include going outside?  Sorry, my mistake I referred to them as weather forecasters and of course we know it’s weather guessers.”

Meanwhile about thirty miles west of the Beltway– and admittedly a thousand feet higher — the snow accumulated to over ten inches and power was out for tens of thousands.

Uncertainty can be denied, but it persists.  There is no “sweet spot”.  Humans cannot communicate clearly enough for everyone to accurately hear.  Many will not even listen.

Randomness is fundamental reality.  Perceiving patterns is possible, but precise prediction should not — cannot — be depended upon.  We have some important control along the margins, but we should not fool ourselves into overestimating  our capacity.  On a global scale a thirty mile margin is pretty impressive.

We will fail in both directions.  This time we seem over-cautious.  Some day soon we will seem neglectful.  There are consequences both ways.

The readiness to self-critique demonstrated in this instance is encouraging.  We should learn what we can.  But it is a profound error — the ultimate in tragic hubris — for any of us to expect perfection of ourselves or others.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn

4 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 8, 2013 @ 8:30 am

First the Reagan Administration destroyed NOAA and never has recovered. Second, more critical issues exist in atmospheric modeling. Specifically over 50 models and few understand exactly where, when, how, and why they should be utilized in crisis management.

But then before the airplane the subject of meterology did NOT exist.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 8, 2013 @ 8:31 am

And of course meterology is a quantitative science and why work for NOAA when you can work for a hedge fund.

Comment by Dan OConnor

March 8, 2013 @ 9:02 am

Well…I am 35 miles south of DC and it snowed nonstop for approximately 18 hours. There was accumulation, maybe as much as 8″ but not so in DC. And I was one of the many without power for several hours. And it’s all gone now. To your point Phil, while we like to believe that certainty is growing the fact remains we are often fooled by randomness. The weather report was accurate, but not in the way we had hoped.

And there is something to be said for a growing risk averse culture. The mere idea of inconvenience has become a planning requirement.

There is a cascade aspect as well. VRE and its 18,000 +/- riders were notified at 0300, followed by an OPM message, followed by. . .etc. Once a decision is made, the rest fall in line. Imagine an additional 18,000 vehicles trying to park in DC!

The movement towards building a mobile workforce has slowed dramatically and the actions of Yahoo and Best Buy with regard to telework will, I think have impact on the federal government and the continuity mission. It will diminish government workers capability to telework when there is an interruption.

And in this terse fiscal environment, there are opportunities to recoup regional cost of living increases and diminish costs by allowing people to work away from DC but control and bureaucracy go hand in hand when generating work for works sake.

“This time we seem over-cautious. Some day soon we will seem neglectful. There are consequences both ways”

Aptly stated Mr. Palin.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

March 9, 2013 @ 10:08 am

as to the matter of communication and inconvenience…open the WH doors to our children who are planning their WH trips!

As to the 22.5 inches of snow measured outside my door using one of the few remaining “The Official Blizzard of ’78 Snow Stick & Measure” which i cerated, sold and distributed throughout New England soon after the great Blizzard of ’78 and even to forecasters surprise and astonishment that at the (www.bluehill.org) Blue Hill Observatory some 29.8 inches fell these last two days, fifth highest snow total and daily and hourly climatological weather record-keeping recorded since February 1885, even with the most sophisticated equipment and computer runs, no one could imagine a storm so far off the coast would bring such a long fetch of wind and heavy snows so let’s be prepared for all possibilities, but heck, when the chef and photographer at the WH have not been given their pink slips, but our youngsters are being prevented from visiting and being toured through the WH by volunteers by this continued charade led by Barry Obama and the “Chicago-Hollywood-Washington Express” and when we see Madame HLS Secretary turn her cheek to the letting go of illegal criminals and supposedly and – conveniently – knowing little as did Barry Obama and Hillary Clinton did with leaving four of our brave Patriots behind…first, let’s get the White House doors opened to our youth today for while Michelle Obama and Barry Obama may not be proud of our Judeo-Christian and beloved Republic and obviously prefer to continue in their obvious pledge in promoting political and hurtful ways upon We the People and some how along the way, those we entrust by precious vote have gained the notion that they do not serve us, but they are above the law and they are in the elected position for self-serving ways…

…unless we get back to our Constitutional ways and thwart the outright murder of humans up to eight months…how dastardly a deed, this nation is very much unprepared to avert any further calamity certain to besiege us for while We the People are running to McDonald’s for breakfast and doing our utmost to overcome the inflation we feel at the pump and at the grocery store, let’s begin by opening the doors at the White House, getting rid of the chef, the WH photographer and keeping Air Force One on the ground for the $197,000 per hour for its ops costs to enable Barry Obama to play golf with the self-proclaimed womanizer supposedly giving Barry Obama some golfing tips. well, open the WH doors and to those referencing themselves as Democrats and Republicans, begin calling yourselves Americans first and get the White House doors opened for whether a host of the infamous Five or Sean Hannity graciously offering to put up the monies to open the doors of the White House, we can’t even keep the doors open to the White House and now we are worried that folks must have their little knives in their affinity in relationship to same…give us a break!

The charade in divisiveness, this disparagement of our American way and values initiated by this “Chicago city street organizer” and nothing more, this half-white man who has left the Black community with high unemployment and an individual so pledged in his ways to Hussein Obama and Bill Ayers and the likes of these socialists and marxists that the White House in its communications – its blatant lies, its intentional usage of social media and other such as late night television where we can see the height of elegance when we see Michele Obama moving her hips or her new communications in advertisement now telling us how we should feed our pets…

…get a Life America and wake up…the communications and the the now four plus years in Barry Obama’s politicizing seeking to undermine is in every way allowed by the incredibly ignorant and biased mannerisms of such an ill-prepared nation when an aircraft carrier was supposedly pulled back from deployment because of cost concerns while this White House and its closed doors – what an affront to each and every one of us, never mind our kids visiting this Spring – sends 250 million to the Islamic Brotherhood and its generals so hateful much like the derogatory comments the Rev Wright made over the same twenty years Barry Obama sat in his pew, referring to the right of the “Brutes of Tehran” to have WMD in hand as long as the “Zionists” have same…

Wake up – this is the 21st century…many seek our demise! The “KGB Putinites” and the “Brutes of Tehran” as I refer to them are very much astute and on to our reality show here depicting complete subservience to America’s weakened arsenal and bowing before another sovereign King! I hope that the wonderfully dedicated and true Americans at NSA are keeping tabs on every WH telephone call especially from the Oval office these days…

…and further, when we talk about communications and preparedness, what is the federal government doing buying hugh numbers in ammunition and weapons while Barry Obama et al and Hollywood play this game along with the illustrious Mayor of New York spending millions to support anti-gun candidates while poverty in New York is up 61%!!

We have had enough…29.8 inches of snows as of this morning at (www.bluehill.org) where daily and hourly climatological weather record keeping has been recorded to date since February 1885!

We the People and especially as hearty New Englanders can shovel the heavy snows, but the shoveling of …. from the WH and politicians is enough for there is little in real American planning and communications going on, just politicizing and folks, nearly $16.5 trillion in deficit with the numbers growing and these partisan ways continuing and a WH and State caring little as the “Benghazi Massacre” unfolded w/little response and now, to continue this Chicago political crap game, hurt us in every way and by slapping us in the face by closing the doors of the WH and shutting us as well as your supposed media pals which you dissed as well at the golf course just as you removed the bust of Winston Churchill cause you and your Kenyan anti-colonialist pals, your anti-Christian and so socialist and marxists in your ways…let me say to you Barry Obama et al,

Open the White House doors today for your well thought out planning and communications so telling of your deceitful ways, so divisive and your lessons of slavery…well, this is America in the 21st century and before We the People, Americans further allow such to continue in eroding our family and our Blessed ways, Open the White House doors today and I pledge my natural born citizenship and Right to Citizen’s arrest to any and all Congressional members who will call me and ask me to sign a Citizen’s Arrest for you Barry Obama for suspicion of breach of faith, treason for the “Benghazi Massacre” which includes an add’l Citizen’s Arrest warrant for Ms. Hillary and now you Madame HLS Secretary for the buck does stop with each of you and no, We the People will not allow prisoners to be let free who are committed offenders so they may hurt us on the streets…

and when talking about planning and communications, We, too have much to say for you work for us…every American has a Right to have the WH doors open and as well to carry their muskets high – for all lawful purpose – and enough of his portrayal of Isaiah verse 5: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint”

We are on to the game and have been from the first day back in your days in Chicago and your perverse ways so we admonish you to open the doors of the White House today and to all true Americans who truly believe in your Judeo-Christian values:

…in the words of James Madison (1785):

“If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. But, in reality it will be an Enemy from within” –

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>