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Posted: 1:17 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, 2014

Rich Wirdzek answers questions about upcoming winter storm

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Kettering traffic

Traffic moves slowly on snow-covered Patterson Road in Kettering Friday morning. Jim Witmer/Staff

By Breaking News Staff

Storm Center 7 Meteorologist Rich Wirdzek answers your social media questions about the winter storm headed our way next week.

Q: I heard we are getting a big snow storm next week, is it true? - Kelly Robinson Lacy

A: It is true that a "big storm system" will be moving through the area Tuesday into Wednesday, but there may be a combination of snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain that make up the precipitation types.

Q: Some people are predicting 20 inches of snow. How much are we actually going to get?

A: It's simply too early to know, but 20 inches would be highly unlikely. Because of the possibility of a snow, ice, rain combo, we would first have to nail down how long it would snow before a changeover. Secondly, the water content of the snow needs to be determined…a wet snow yields lower inch amounts and a dry snow yields higher snow totals. We won't know that for a few days at least. As far as 20 inches — I even saw 30 inches on one site — those type of totals historically are rare in this part of the country. It would have to snow for a very long time, and this storm will not be hanging around long enough for that. Also, the water content needed in the air to produce that type of snow is typically associated with warmer temperatures, i.e. above freezing.

Q: (Are these predictions) a hoax going around? - Cathy Cooper Wilczek

A: I wouldn't call it a hoax. I don't think anyone is deliberately trying to fabricate a forecast. Usually these "snowmaggedon" forecasts come from amateur forecasters who simply do not have the education to properly forecast these extremely complex events. I feel they are very smart, passionate people and I admire that. That's how I got to be a meteorologist myself! But, there many quality control checks of the data, plus other variable checks that they simply have not done when reading long range models. And this simply comes down to a lack of education. I always encourage these folks to pursue a degree, because I know that if they got the schooling they would be fantastic forecasters! Unfortunately, after these forecasts get released via social media, it becomes a game of telephone, and even crazier scenarios get cooked up.

Q: Why are some of these storm prediction models drastically different from one another?

A: Each model has its own "niches", where each one does better at handling certain situations than others — such as upper air patterns, temperature, winter storms, thunderstorms. There are so many variables in the atmosphere, no one model can handle them all correctly. You have to watch each one closely.

Q: What can we realistically expect next week?

A: I would expect this to NOT turn out to be the storm of the century, to ease some concerns on that. However, I would expect the possibility that you will get wintry precipitation at some point. The storm track will ultimately decide for how long. A track that stays south of us will allow for cold air to stay in place, giving us more snow or ice. A northerly track will allow for milder air , thus producing more rain than wintry precipitation.

More questions?

Have more weather questions? Join us Monday, Feb. 3 at 12:30 p.m. for a live chat with Meteorologist Rich Wirdzek on whio.com. You can always pose questions to the Storm Center 7 team via Facebook and Twitter and the meteorologists will try to respond.

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@StormCenter7 on Twitter

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