Could Mayor Thomas M. Menino still be smarting from criticism of his administration’s decision to close schools and declare a snow emergency last week for a ballyhooed snowstorm that was more dust than doom?
As heavy flakes fell on the city today, the mayor deflected some of the barbs by taking a swipe at an easy target: weathermen.
“Just imagine if you have a job like a meteorologist,” Menino said as he appeared before the Massachusetts High Tech Council, according to the State House News Service. “You’re right 25 percent of the time, and you make big bucks. It’s amazing, it really is. Last week, we had this fake snowstorm.”
The snark didn’t faze Harvey Leonard, the dean of local meteorologists, who knows what it’s like to be the butt of a joke.
“I’m going to take a guess that he was exaggerating,” said Leonard, who brushed off questions about his salary at WCVB's Channel 5. “But if I take him seriously, his statement that we’re 25 percent right is 100 percent false.”
He was willing to grant the mayor that meteorology remains an imperfect science.
“You can be perfectly right for one area, and wrong for another area,” he said. “It’s tricky to forecast for a large area. ... Believe me, when things don’t work out, no one feels worse than I do.”
Bob Thompson, chief meteorologist of the National Weather Service in Taunton, said his office is investigating how meteorologists got last week’s forecast so wrong. They predicted up to a foot of snow would fall last Wednesday, prompting the state to send non-emergency workers home early and hundreds of schools to close.
“Most of us have heard our share of weatherman jokes,” he said.
But he insisted Weather Service forecasts are usually right, and he pointed to the accurate forecast for up to 6 inches of snow in Boston for today's storm.
“When it comes to winter storm warnings, we have an accuracy rate that exceeds 90 percent; we track them,” he said. “The National Weather Service is very aware of the impact that our forecasts have, and we make a point of verifying our forecasts and warnings. There are high-stake decisions made with weather forecasts.”
One of those decisions, which spawned criticism, was the city’s declaration last Wednesday of a snow emergency parking ban, which resulted in the city issuing 3,353 tickets and towing 229 vehicles. After the storm failed to materialize, the mayor canceled the tickets and forgave fees on vehicles towed.
Dot Joyce, Menino’s spokeswoman, said today that the mayor had no intention of picking a fight with the city’s weathermen.
“His comments were in jest,” she said. “He was making a reference to the snow emergency when it wasn’t snowing. We hope people understand it was a joke meant to brighten the room that had windows opening to a snowy day.”
Count Kevin Lemanowicz, chief meteorologist for WFXT’s Channel 25, among the ranks of weather watchers unperturbed by the mayor's commentary. He said it wasn’t the first time Menino has criticized a forecast.
“This is nothing new, nothing I take personally,” he said. “He gets plenty of his own criticism, so now he gets to be on the other side and throw it out. I understand the frustration.”
David Abel can be reached at email@example.com.
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