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Meteorology is not a simple science—forecasting is still a challenge even when practitioners have the best knowledge and equipment. But when weather bureaus make the wrong call, it can frustrate those who canceled travel plans, stayed home from work, or just bought two-dozen flashlight batteries. Here is a short list of some of the worst calls.
This might be called the great blizzard that never was. State and local governments along the northeast corridor declared states of emergency, instituted travel bans, and, taking their cue from weather reports, referred to this storm as "potentially historic." Some areas, such as Boston, were in fact blasted with two feet of snow. But only inches have fallen in New York City, and winds are far from the 50 mile-per-hour gusts some had been estimating.
The severity of a storm that struck the Buffalo, New York, region in late 2014 came as a shock to many, even though inclement weather had been predicted. Several feet of snow pelted the region, burying houses and stranding drivers in their cars. The government called in the National Guard to assist with relief efforts. The sheer force of the storm is what was unexpected.
The National Weather Service issued largely accurate predictions of Superstorm Sandy's path and characteristics as it approached the eastern United States in October 2012. Issues arose not with the weather forecast itself but with the classification of the storm.
Sandy shed its hurricane classification when it merged with two cold-weather systems to become a hybrid storm. The National Hurricane Center stopped issuing advisories for the storm, and some underestimated its danger because it was not classified a hurricane.
The storm battered coastal New Jersey and New York City, costing the areas tens of billions of dollars in reconstruction and lost business.
In 1987, British weather forecaster Michael Fish told viewers during a midday broadcast to ignore talk of a hurricane approaching southern England, saying it would merely become "very windy."
A severe storm later killed 20 people, felled 15 million trees and caused damage costing nearly $2.3 billion worth of damage (£1.5 billion), according to the Daily Mail.
But after years of suffering public ridicule for his supposed error, Fish finally has been exonerated. His boss, Bill Giles—the lead forecaster for the station—took the blame for the mistake in 2011.
Moreover, since the storm did not originate in the tropics, it technically was not a hurricane.