Forecasters today have more advance warning

Benjamin Duer

Forecasters knew 30 years ago that a winter storm with some punch was converging on Ohio.

A warning was issued a day in advance.

“We had a good handle on it,” said retired meteorologist Bob Alto -- one of the forecasters on duty at the Akron-Canton Airport that day.

What they didn’t know was how intense the blizzard of Jan. 26, 1978, would be.

Would today’s technology have made a difference?

You bet, says Lynn Maximuk. Maximuk is regional director for the National Weather Service in Kansas City. He spent 19 years in the Cleveland bureau, including 1978.

“It wouldn’t be a huge difference, but there would’ve been a difference,” he said.

In the 1970s, a weather forecast was the product of data plotted on a chart and human analysis. A radar, then, couldn’t pinpoint snowfall amounts or wind speed.

Maximuk said a forecast then was an educated estimate; now, it’s more objective.

A Doppler radar bounces an electromagnetic signal off an atmospheric object, such as rain or snow. A returned signal helps determine the approach speed of the object.

Maximuk said Doppler radar can analyze the entire atmosphere every six minutes, measuring snowfall and wind speed more accurately. Computers analyze this information. A person checks for any errors, then a forecast is given to the public.

The result, Maximuk said, is much earlier notices -- six days earlier -- on a developing storm system.

“Today’s technology would’ve provided a better level of service,” during the 1978 blizzard, he contends. Still, “the warning was pretty well decent” back then, he said.

Reach Repository writer Benjamin Duer at (330) 580-8567 or e-mail