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Weather and Skeptical Schedulers

I hope everyone was safe through the “Blizzard of Historic Proportions” that struck New England on January 26-27, 2015. This storm illustrates some of the hazards of current weather forecasting technology and why I’m sure there are schedulers who have to take these events with huge grains of salt.

Let me start with my credentials. I am a licensed Advanced Class amateur radio operator. I am both ARES [Amateur Radio Emergency Service] and RACES [Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service] certified and I have completed several advanced Skywarn training classes. I’m not in an area known for heavy snow, but, living within two miles of the Atlantic Ocean in a southern state, I do prepare for hurricanes each year. When there is a hurricane, I’m at the city Emergency Operations Center.

I can understand why there are schedulers who may be skeptical when shoppers cancel because of storms. I can also understand the local/regional/state government’s reasons for wanting to get the word out about staying off the streets, or possibly evacuating. And then there is Mother Nature, who may just decide to make a fool of all of us.

I can appreciate organizations like The Weather Channel and the role they play in helping get information out to the public. At the same time, they do have a tendency to “hype” things to help their ratings. As of 10 AM on January 27, The Weather Channel is still hyping the storm. That reminds me of one of the first hurricanes they ever covered live at the location. They had a crew in South Carolina. We were watching the broadcast in the Emergency Operations Center and saw what appeared to be chunks of buildings being blown behind the announcer. The police chief dispatched a patrol car there and it turned out there was a person out of sight of the camera who was throwing chunks of Styrofoam to make things look worse than they were. I take whatever The Weather Channel says with a grain of salt. Looking at the pictures from New York, the on-air personality was having a difficult time finding snow that was much above his ankles—so much for the expected two feet.

The National Weather Service does the best job they can of predicting where the track of the storm will go. Middletown, NJ was forecast to receive 16-24 inches of snow. But, because the track of the storm was 75 miles East of where it was forecast, they escaped with 8 inches. Middletown is about 15 miles, as the crow flies, from New York City.

I don’t want to say that government agencies encourage the “hype”, but they do have a vested interest in these events. The fewer vehicles on the road, the easier it will be to clear the roads, and the easier it will be for first responders to get to emergency situations. I know that in my community, the Chamber of Commerce cringes whenever there’s a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. And I don’t envy our Emergency Management Director. He has the toughest job of all. He knows, within about 20,000 people, how many people are in the evacuation zone at any one time. He also knows, based on the strength of the storm, how long it will take to get all those people out of the area. Additionally, because of errors in the track of a storm, the “Cone of uncertainty,” he knows things could turn out much worse than predicted, or much better. So far we’ve been lucky; we haven’t had any false alarms.

So what does all of this have to do with schedulers and mystery shopping?

Just this…schedulers in all likelihood don’t live near you, or in the area that’s being affected by the storm. Also, what is true in one town, likely isn’t true for a town 100 miles East or West. I’m sure we all remember the story of the boy who cried wolf. He cried wolf so often that, when the wolf really did show up, no one believed him and he was a tasty dinner for the wolf.

If you’ve got shops scheduled and you’re near an area that’s impacted by severe weather, communicate with your scheduler. Let them know what’s going on. If you aren’t sure if the road conditions are going to be safe, don’t rely on national news sources. They are painting in very broad strokes, and are talking in generalities. Go instead to county or city emergency management websites—usually a page on the city or county website. There you will find the most current, and the most accurate, information.

There are two major cities, and four smaller cities, that I regularly shop. If there’s the chance of inclement weather, I will check their websites before making the trip.

Your safety is the most important thing. Schedulers understand this. Just don’t be a shopper who’s continually crying wolf.

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