The nor’easter forecast to slam the state Friday is creating a perfect storm of expectations, fueled by increasingly dire weather reports, a flurry of tweets relying on the reams of raw data available online, and the yearning of at least some in the populace for the first major snowfall in the Boston area in two years.
Snow is an annual rite of passage we were denied, or escaped, last winter. The approach of the storm — whether you view it as a potentially dangerous nuisance, an excuse to skip school or work, or a badge of New England courage — is generating a frenzy of pent-up exhilaration.
“People do get excited about it,” said Don McCasland, program director at Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton. “We call it weather porn.”
As Wednesday progressed, the National Weather Service increased its estimates of accumulations to a maximum of 24 inches with blizzard conditions. Meteorologists admitted they had to battle the temptation to blow the storm out of proportion.
“How can you not get excited? I love the intensity of what Mother Nature can do,” said Boston.com weather blogger and meteorologist David Epstein, who predicted the storm would be big, possibly historic compared to the top snowstorms of the past half-century.
Two Januarys ago, a seemingly ceaseless series of winter storms piled a Shaquille O’Neal-sized snowfall on Boston. The crystal wonder of the first snow dissolved in the monotony of shoveling, scraping and sliding around. And then it stopped. Subsequent winter storm warnings fizzled.
But not this time, said AccuWeather meteorologist Mark Paquette.
“I certainly expect this to be a blockbuster storm of historical proportion,” he said. “I think you could see 30 inches.”
Paquette, who grew up in Leicester but now lives in Pennsylvania, said that getting excited about winter weather is what got him into this business.
“I love the winter. I love snow, and I love to see you guys get buried,” he said. “But you can’t be a snowmonger and call for snow all the time.”
A bit of historical coincidence has added to the frenzy of anticipation. This is the 35th anniversary of the legendary Blizzard of 1978, which struck Feb. 6 and 7 and blanketed much of the state with 30 inches of snow and dumped more than 40 inches in some places. With its wind and tidal surges, it also displaced thousands, caused more than $1 billion in damage, and took nearly 100 lives in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
No one Wednesday was calling for — or wanted to see — a repeat of that.
“This storm is somewhat similar, but certainly not to the magnitude, as the 1978 blizzard,” said Charlie Foley of the National Weather Service in Taunton.
To be able to make such statements, meteorologists use various supercomputer models to predict weather patterns. Often, those models provide differing forecasts. On Wednesday, they started to coincide.
“That’s when you can have a high degree of confidence,” said McCasland, who predicted the storm, while not quite as strong as the Blizzard of 1978, might be similar to the January 2005 storm that left Plymouth under 38.5 inches of snow, but dropped only 19 inches on Blue Hill. “Unless things really change,” he added.
The models are easy to find online. Thanks to social media, Epstein said, people who got all their weather from the television a few years ago now can make their own forecasts.
The trouble is that while anyone can look at weather data, not everyone knows how to read it. Twitter prognosticators do not have to answer for their predictions. On Wednesday afternoon, Brad Panovich, a meteorologist in Charlotte, N.C., tweeted to more than 15,000 followers: “So Boston could get either 51” of snow or 3.5” of snow. The ensemble mean is 24.” He was citing the Short Range Ensemble Forecast of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, a model that gave a small chance of both extremes. “But still possible,” Panovich tweeted.
As much as weather observers were excited, the state was calm. Charlie Vandini, owner of North Plymouth Hardware in Plymouth, reported no rush on snow-clearing equipment.
Mountainous salt piles at the Chelsea storage yard of the Eastern Salt Co. and Massport’s Moran Terminal in Charlestown stood idle, as they have for most of the winter, ready to be spread on the state’s roads and highways. Shelagh Mahoney, president of Eastern Salt, said a barge carrying 65,000 tons of salt is due to arrive Thursday and another ship will bring an 55,000 tons more.
If anything, Mahoney said, “we were panicking about where we were going to put [the cargo] if it didn’t snow.”