Frequently Asked Questions by Sean Sublette

As you may imagine, I get asked a lot of things in passing. At the grocery store, in the restaurant, at church, at the ball fields. I'm always happy to help out with a question about the weather. I was once told, "I'll bet you get asked that a lot. You should do a Frequently Asked Questions blog."

Okay, why not

"Can't you do something about this (heat/cold/rain, etc)?"

After a smile, I usually respond one of three ways:

If I could do that, I wouldn't need this job.{}

The line for requests starts right over there.{}

We take Visa and MasterCard.

"What's the winter going to be like?"

Seasonal forecasts have limited skill. We actually did a good job for the winter of 2009-10, but a lousy job for the winter of 2011-12. Since it is a high demand question, we do our best to put some type of answer together and publish it on our website every fall.

"When is it going to snow?"

Nine times out of ten, the answer will be, no time soon. Even in winter. After all, this is not Upstate New York.

Every January and February, I get, "When is it going to warm up?"

That's easy, March and April.

"Are there going to be a lot of hurricanes this year?"

There is tremendous year-to-year variability of hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin (Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico). In addition to sea surface temperature, wind shear plays a large role in hurricane development. We can diagnose the expected seasonal average wind shear from the El Nio/La Nia oscillation (more correctly, El Nio Southern Oscillation or ENSO). Right now, we are quickly coming out of a La Nia (cooler than normal central equatorial Pacific Ocean), and most indications are that conditions will either be near neutral or slightly toward El Nio (warmer than normal central equatorial Pacific Ocean).

This suggests more shear and a less active season, but remember, it only takes one storm to make a huge impact. And it is the impact that people remember most. If we have 19 named storms which all stay out over the ocean, few people will remember it as an active year.

By the way, we have not had a major hurricane (category 3+) hit the United States since 2005. Hurricane Ike was a high-end Cat 2 storm when it hit the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008. Irene in 2011 hit near Cape Lookout, NC as a strong Cat 1. This is the longest stretch (on record) that the country has gone without a hit of that magnitude.

Even though the average number of total storms is expected to be down this year, we are statistically overdue for a big hit.

What did you do before television?

I worked for a private company, contracted to work on site at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in suburban Washington, DC. I wrote computer code that was used to diagnose atmospheric water content from a low-orbiting NASA satellite. Important work, but it became a little tedious writing code for someone else's project. So when an opportunity came along to move in another direction, I took it. That was in 1995.

How do I become a meteorologist?

College. Lots of science and math. Basic 4-year bachelor of science degrees are most common. I'm partial to Penn State, University of Oklahoma, and the startup program at Virginia Tech.

What do you think about global warming?

We don't have time to get into that right now. I have posted a couple of blogs outlining my position. And chances are, what I tell you isn't really going to change your mind.