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BOYER: After five years of forecasting, it's time to say farewell
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BOYER: After five years of forecasting, it's time to say farewell

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Leading edge of Elsa's rain arrives over Richmond

This wasn’t an easy column to write.

It’s almost as tough as predicting the rain-ice-snow dividing line the day before a winter storm.

Almost.

This is my farewell to you, the readers, as I move on to new pursuits beyond forecasting.

Five years ago, my editors and I set out to reinvent what local weather and climate coverage could look like.

A destination for context. A clearing in the blizzard of forecast sources.

An embrace of the complexity and nuance in meteorology, all while staying approachable.

I hope we delivered on that vision.

There were some humbling days. Can I ever forget that Sunday morning front-page headline of ‘3-6 inches of snow likely ...’ quickly buried beneath 1 foot of snow?

There’s no doubt in my mind: The passion for weather runs deep across the commonwealth. And everyone has an experience of it as unique as their neighborhood.

It’s been a privilege to try to write the best first draft of weather history for my home state.

***

Some looking back feels natural at a time like this.

In keeping with my love of statistics, I’ll leave you with a final dose that covers the time since I joined the RTD in November 2016.

  • 3,122 severe thunderstorm warnings, 602 flash flood warnings and 308 tornado warnings throughout Virginia.
  • 339 freezing lows in Richmond, but only one night below zero.
  • 251.38 inches of precipitation in Richmond on 627 days.
  • 103 tornadoes in Virginia. But all nine that affected Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Richmond were on one day: Sept. 17, 2018.
  • 101 Atlantic tropical storms from Otto to Victor, 26 of which brought at least some rain to Virginia.
  • 68 daily records set (or tied) for warmest highs and lows in Richmond, 12 daily records for coldest highs and lows, and 18 daily rainfall records.
  • 41.1 inches of snow in Richmond. Only 12 days had 1 inch or more.
  • 21 floods at the Westham gauge on the James River.
  • 3 of Richmond’s 13 warmest months since 1897, including a tie for first place in July 2020.

***

Regular readers are likely familiar with our many retrospectives on Virginia’s major storms.

There was a point to revisiting the past that’s much bigger than trivia or nostalgia, and it brings me to a parting thought.

At some point in the decades or century ahead, the right conditions will come along for another hurricane reminiscent of Isabel, Hazel, 1933 or 1667; a tornado outbreak with power rivaling 1993 or 1834; enough snow and ice to shut down daily life for a week; another punishing March nor’easter; another cloudburst unleashing several inches of rain; another 105-degree heat wave; another seemingly endless drought; and another major flood hurtling down the James River.

That’s not to be alarming or fatalistic, those are the existing bounds of what’s possible in a lifetime of experiencing Virginia’s variable weather.

And the next major happenings will all be unique and challenging in their own ways, particularly in light of expanding development, accelerating sea level rise, and climate change stacking the deck in favor of more extremes.

But we are also empowered to apply lessons, heed improved warnings and make preparedness a priority. Regulations, policy and engineering are important, too, but my hope is that a healthy respect for those memories will keep us on the right course.

It may sound obvious and repetitive, but there are potentially lifesaving benefits to having a household disaster plan, some extra supplies and an awareness of how to identify and shelter from threatening weather.

While being mindful of risks, there’s always a pleasant side to the weather that awaits. Or at least something new.

Crisp spring mornings and autumn afternoons. A surprise skiff of flurries. Perennial debates about which season is best.

Change is what made weather a favorite topic in newspapers long before my time, and the demand for reliable information doesn’t appear to be going down anytime soon.

So I’ll look forward to someone new writing that next chapter but, in the meantime, you’ll continue to find the same daily forecasts and data from AccuWeather in its usual spot.

***

So here’s a thank you ...

... to the survivors of Camille’s unimaginable flooding who trusted Bill Lohmann, Bob Brown and me to retell their experiences 50 years later.

... to the sources and experts who were so generous with their time, from Wakefield to Washington to Wallops Island. (If I ever seemed like I knew what I was talking about in regard to cicadas, daffodils, dragonflies, fireworks, foliage, king tides, planets, pollen, pumpkins, rip currents, rocket launches, Saharan dust, soybeans, wildfire smoke or a solar eclipse, it was thanks to their insights.)

... to my weather-writing collaborators and colleagues, Kevin Myatt at The Roanoke Times and Joe Martucci at The Press of Atlantic City.

... to our editors, designers and copy desk who guided me into a totally new medium, and made our maps, charts and last-minute updates work accurately every time.

... to the folks keeping the pulse of the environment with community science projects, and applying it toward making this a more livable and resilient place for the generations to come.

... and to the many of you who have sent your snow measurements, rain gauge readings, pictures of curious clouds, invitations to speak, recollections of storms and thought-provoking questions.

The next time we have a snow day, I plan to be out playing in it. See you around!

Check Richmond.com/weather for John Boyer’s forecast updates. Contact him at JBoyer@timesdispatch.com.

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