FOX Files: The Blizzard of ‘82

Posted on: 9:26 pm, February 1, 2013, by , updated on: 10:18am, February 2, 2013

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – The “Blizzard of ’82″ is arguably the biggest missed forecast in our region’s weather history. The outlook that evening called for rain to change to snow with up to four inches accumulation possible.  But when the city awoke that Sunday morning, they found the heaviest snow in nearly 80 years. 

Twelve to twenty-four inches of snow buried much of St. Louis County, Downtown and the Metro East.  The region was paralyzed for days.

Back then forecasters didn’t have any of the sophisticated technology we have today.  There was no Digital Doppler, nor Futurecast. There was just one very crude computer weather simulation. Today there are dozens.

That one computer simulation was called the Limited Fine Mesh.  Limited computer power meant the model was only able to generate forecast data for distance points separated by 70 miles or about as far apart as St. Louis and Hermann.

Today’s modern simulations have a lot more computer power.  Now we are able to forecast for distances as close as Busch Stadium to Forest Park.

With the help of National Weather Service Meteorologists Jim Sieveking and Doug Tilly, Meteorologist Chris Higgins set out to see if today’s sophisticated simulations could do any better. The results are dramatic.

Every single weather feature we track for winter storms was forecasted correctly by the modern computer models.  Most importantly, its placement of the heavy snow band was spot on. The model forecast 14″ to 16″ of snow for St. Louis. Lambert Airport reported 13.9″.

Clearly our weather models have improved, but so has our understanding of how and where heavy snow forms.  It is the combination of better model simulations and better overall understanding of winter storm dynamics that will lead to more forecast improvements in the future.

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