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Fearless forecasting

Features - L&L Snow and Ice Report

Technology not only helps in planning for storms, but can also aid in defense of lawsuits.

David McPherson | July 8, 2013

When it comes to weather, Mother Nature is unpredictable.

Snow in June? No thanks. But flash back to 1816 and 1842 and New Englanders experienced this rare occurrence when a nasty nor’easter brought Old Man Winter for a surprise summer visit.

While no one can truly understand her mood swings, long-term weather forecasting and real-time, on-the-go updates thanks to smartphone apps make it easy to stay abreast of what she might be planning.


Informed decisions.
With proprietary technology, built for both businesses and the general public, Weather Trends International in Bethlehem, Pa., specializes in helping clients in all industries plan ahead to make better business decisions that can cut expenses and increase revenues.

Working mainly with Fortune 1,000 clients, Weather Trends International currently generates year-ahead weather forecasts for 6.4 million locations worldwide with an 80 percent accuracy rate.

This year they called for the snowiest spring in a decade in the United States and it was the coldest in 17 states and the snowiest in 20 others for the February to April timeframe, according to the company.

“If you’re in a weather-sensitive or seasonal business, keeping track of past weather and how it’s impacting your business is key to understanding just how much revenue is made or lost due to weather,” says Bill Kirk, CEO and co-founder of the company.

“If you just look at seasonal totals for snow, it may not tell the full story as 20 small events bringing 20 inches in a season is significantly more profitable than two storms each bringing 20 inches of snow. From there, you can quantify the results that every inch or greater snow storm means increased revenue.” 

Five questions to better plan and prepare for a snowstorm

Joe D’Aleo, co-chief meteorologist at WeatherBELL Analytics, has more than 30 years experience in professional meteorology. D’Aleo was the first director of meteorology at The Weather Channel. Here, he offers five key questions a snow contractor should ask their weather provider as a storm approaches.

  1. What is the weather provider’s confidence level for the event?
  2. Is the event a “plowable” event in the area of interest?
  3. Is there a risk of icing?
  4. What is the timing of onset and end of accumulating snow?
  5. What is the forecast temperature trend through the event and following the event – i.e. will rain follow snow? Liquid water/snow ratio.

Fritz Frazier, owner and operator of Winter Services, is a fan of Weather Trends International and his revenues and expenses have benefited by using its services.

In 2006, after a retail career with Kohl’s – where he first became acquainted with the weather forecaster – Frazier bought the Wisconsin snow-removal business.

“All I do is snow … I have no other revenue coming into the company,” Frazier says. “Weather is critical for me, so when I bought this business I reached out to Bill (Kirk). They really didn’t offer anything at the time for small businesses, but because of our previous relationship at Kohl’s, he worked something out for me.”

Having an accurate picture of what Mother Nature might bring one-year, or even six weeks out, helps Frazier make better business decisions – from hiring to purchasing.

For example, knowing in February that this winter was far from over, he could gauge how much salt he would need to last the rest of the season. “Knowing Weather Trends International) forecasted winter was going to stick around for quite a while longer this year, I was able to secure salt, so we didn’t have a shortage,” he says. “That was really beneficial to me as a small business owner.”

Flashback to February 2012. Due to a more mild winter than normal, Frazier was having a tough year. Again, he reached out to Weather Trends International for advice. “Everything that came back to me was that winter was over,” he says. “So, on March 1, I returned all of my leased equipment, which was leased through April 16. That saved me six weeks of lease payments or about $80,000 dollars.”


Slip and catch. Being better prepared for the weather can also help snow contractors protect themselves when it comes to lawsuits. This is one of the many services WeatherBELL Analytics – a meteorological consulting firm that assists weather-sensitive businesses to better manage their weather risk – offers.

“We have certified consultant meteorologists available in slip-and-fall cases to reconstruct the weather to evaluate whether snow or ice was present at the time of an incident, using official NWS reporting stations where possible,” says Joe D’Aleo, co-chief meteorologist at WeatherBELL Analytics.

No matter what you are looking for in your weather service provider, Kirk says the key is to always look at long-term weather patterns first versus short-term trends.

“Don’t expect last year’s weather to repeat,” he says. “It only repeats about 15 percent of the time. Weather typically goes in cycles. You can have a few years of not much snow and then years with a lot of snow.

“The key is to track it and then understand that if you had a record snowy winter one year, don’t expect the same the following year. Or, if it’s been on the dry side for a couple years, expect a bounce the other way the following year.” 

At the end of the day, no matter what Mother Nature brings, for snow-removal clients like Frazier, having detailed historical data and analysis at their fingertips alleviates some stress.

“It’s just one more tool in the tool box,” he says. “Anything I can have in a weather-related industry that helps me make better decisions, and sleep better at night, is a real asset.”

 


The author is a freelancer based in Toronto.