By Kevin O’Rourke
As Winter’s chill begins to creep back into the air and fireplaces are lit for the perhaps the first time since early April, the National Weather Service has announced that is changing the way it handles weather advisories for Montgomery County and surrounding counties.
The weather in Germantown may not change all that much, but the way the National Weather Service warns residents of pending potential weather events will be more precise this winter.
Starting December 3, more geographically-precise watches, warnings, and advisories will be issued for the western and northern metropolitan areas of Baltimore and Washington, and the Blue Ridge Mountains in central and northern Virginia will be subdivided for National Weather Service watches, warnings and advisories for long duration hazards, such as winter weather.
In Germantown, that means our watches and warnings will more tailored to our geographical area. For example, prior to this change, the National Weather Service recognized Montgomery County as a single geographic region with common climatological characteristics. Therefore, residents of eastern Montgomery County would get the same Winter Storm Warning as the residents of western Montgomery County.
Residents, however, have long known that there is usually quite a variation in snow accumulations between downtown Silver Spring in southeastern Montgomery County, and the typically larger snow accumulations in upcounty areas such as Germantown or Damascus, in northern Montgomery County.
With this change, residents of Germantown will get a separate warning than the residents in Silver Spring, with both warnings being more precise and accurate for their respective areas. Moreover, in some situations if the differences were great enough, southeastern Montgomery County might not need a warning at all – reducing false alarms, according to the National Weather Service.
Montgomery County Public Schools do not expect this change to affect the way MCPS handles snow days, according to spokesman Dana Tofig. “It’s important to remember that our employees don’t necessarily live near the schools where they work,” said Tofig. “So, a school in Silver Spring may be staffed by people who live in Damascus, Poolesville, Fairfax County, Howard County and/or Frederick County. Even if roads are clear in Silver Spring, we have to make sure our staff can get to the school and provide a meaningful day of instruction.”
“Also, not all of our students go to their neighborhood school, either. A student in Gaithersburg may attend a school in Silver Spring and a student in Rockville may attend a school in Poolesville,” said Tofig.
The National Weather Service is making similar changes in Howard, Baltimore, and Harford Counties in Maryland and Loudoun County, Va. Additionally, the higher elevations along the northern and central Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia will also be segregated into two new forecast areas.
The new Montgomery County zones will be officially known in the National Weather Service as Northwest Montgomery - MD503 and Central and Southeast Montgomery - MD504. The National Weather Service said that the spilt will not affect shorter duration watches and warnings such as tornado, severe thunderstorm or flash flood warnings and advisories.