Westport is the hot spot for young weather forecasters.
The other day, “06880” highlighted Scott Pecoriello — the 2015 Staples High School grad whose WeatherOptics app offers a new way to look at meteorology.
Jacob Meisel was 2 years ahead of Scott. In high school, Jacob earned thousands of followers — and legendary status — with his accurate-to-the-snowflake wintry predictions of when schools would close.
He graduated this spring from Harvard University, with a focus on climate and politics. He minored in energy and the environment.
Along the way, Jacob’s “SWCTWeather.com” — his original, Southwestern Connecticut-centric creation — morphed into something much more.
After his first year at Harvard, Jacob got a call from Justin Walters. The co-founder of Bespoke Investment Group — a Westport resident — said he and his wife used SWCTWeather often to plan daycare, nanny times and more for their preschool kids.
He asked if Jacob would be interested in developing a subscription service.
Of course! That fall, he launched. For $15 a month, or $99 a year, subscribers in Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester counties received several updates a day during storms.
The next summer, Jacob — who had developed an interest in how energy markets are driven by weather — interned at Bespoke. He studied topics like how winter heating and summer air conditioning affected the natural gas industry.
He now works full-time at Bespoke. There he runs 2 businesses, under the Weather Services LLC umbrella.
One is his hyperlocal site. He partners with small businesses, schools, libraries and others to provide “impact analyses” to help determine opening and closing times, inventory and more.
He also analyzes weather trends — and develops custom reports — for corporate clients.
“Say a winter will be warmer than normal,” he explains. “There’s less salt on the road. Cars don’t get as worn down. They’re repaired less. That drives an auto parts store’s earnings down.”
Bloomberg interviewed Jacob Meisel, about weather-related trends.
Another business — a construction company — might use Jacob’s data to schedule roadwork.
Clothing retailers want to know about, say, October’s weather. That tells them whether to stock their shelves with sweaters, or keep shorts on display.
“Every day when I wake up, there’s new data and patterns,” Jacob says. “In high school, when I wrote 2,000-word posts on what type of snow was falling, I did it for fun.”
Wednesday night, winds howled past 60 miles an hour. Yesterday morning we flicked on flashlights, picked up debris, and wended our way around blocked roads.
This was the scene yesterday morning — and afternoon — on North Avenue near Adams Farm Road. The major north-south route — home to 2 schools — was closed when a tree toppled in the early-morning windstorm.
I’ve lived here all my life. I forget a lot of things, but I’m pretty sure that until a few years ago, the only time we worried about high winds was in a hurricane or nor’easter.
Now, every few weeks the weather forecast includes a “High Wind Warning.”
Bob Dylan said you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but I wanted confirmation that it’s windier now than when, well, Dylan was a rebellious young folk singer.
So I went to my favorite weatherman: Jacob Meisel.
This tree snapped in Wednesday night’s windstorm. Fortunately, says Juniper Road homeowner (and photographer) Mark Mathias, the only thing damaged was the tree itself.
The Harvard-bound Staples senior — whose forecasts are more accurate than anyone else’s, and whose Southwestern CT Weather blog sits atop my Favorites list — said this:
“You are right that these wind events are becoming more common, at least in the past 5-10 years or so.
“Through my experiences here in the past 7 years, a High Wind Warning would only be issued once a year, if that, with Wind Advisories being more common, especially as they rarely cause much damage. However, over the past 2 years there has certainly been an uptick in the number of High Wind Warnings.
Jacob Meisel, ace weatherman.
“A lot of this has to do with technology. As weather models have gotten better measuring wind speeds in the atmosphere and not just at the surface, they can more accurately predict wind gusts and how much of the atmospheric wind will mix down to the surface.
“I also believe the National Weather Service has gotten a little less conservative with the High Wind Warnings over the last few years. The last time one was issued winds did not come very close to the 58 mph criteria, and I questioned why they were issued.
“Over the past few years there has been an uptick in storms that can produce these strong winds as well, possibly due to a 10-20 year pattern known as the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation. Changing ocean and climate patterns that occur naturally over a 10-20 year span can often dictate paths low pressures take over a long period of time, and the positive phase we are in now is more commonly attributed to tropical disturbances along the east coast, hence both Irene and Sandy.”
So to paraphrase Jacob: The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
Staples junior Diego Alanis snapped this shot, of a snapped tree that took down power lines and a transformer, on Country Road off North Compo yesterday morning.
But if you really want accuracy, listen to Jacob Meisel.
Jacob Meisel, and his trusty laptop.
The Staples senior’s blog and Twitter feed are both called “SWCTWeather.” SWCT refers to Southwestern Connecticut.
And for in-depth, minute-by-minute, micro-isobar reporting, both are essential for hundreds of local students, teachers and administrators, plus area politicians, TV anchors, and anyone else who cares which way the wind blows.
Jacob became interested in weather as a young child. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much variety in his native Los Angeles. Fortunately, his parents moved to Westport when he was in 6th grade.
He’s almost entirely self-taught. He learned about warm air advection, baraclinic waves — and stuff far more complicated — online.
That’s also where he studies tons of computer models.
And, much of the time, he discounts them.
Jacob seems to be right more often than the government agencies, and fancy websites. And he’s definitely right more often than the handsome/pretty faces who are paid big bucks to repeat breathlessly, and in spectacularly unorganized fashion, their predictions on TV.
This satellite image of Hurricane Sandy scared most people. Jacob Meisel was fascinated by it.
Take Hurricane Sandy — which everyone except a weather buff like Jacob wishes he hadn’t nailed. A full week before it hit — when everyone else hedged their bets — Jacob said there would be widespread power outages, and many days without school.
On the weekend, the moment Mayor Bloomberg said that evacuations were not needed and New York City schools would not be closed, Jacob tweeted that the mayor was wrong.
Jacob was right.
That Monday night, Jacob tweeted and posted updates. He was eerily close in predicting when the winds would be worst — and when they would subside. Some people appreciated hearing why — meteorologically speaking — the storm was so bad.
Others were comforted just knowing it would end.
But Sandy pales in comparison with a Saturday storm last January. Jacob posted that the snow would end at 2 p.m. It stopped at 2:01.
Jacob Meisel accurately predicted this 2011 snowstorm, which Huffington Post illustrated with a photo of Westport.
The December 26, 2010 blizzard also stands out for Jacob. He calls it “the worst forecast in history.”
Jacob says, “The National Weather Service didn’t alert people. I tried to.”
His inner weather buff emerges. “It was chaotic, and very exciting. It defied all the odds, and came right up the coast!”
What started out as a small website has turned into a major operation. Students rely on Jacob’s predictions — not of weather, but of school delays, early dismissals and closings.
State legislators and town employees follow his tweets.
The pressure is mounting — and he loves it.
In preparation for this winter, Jacob studied every local winter since 1949. He calls for t talsnowfalls “slightly above normal”: 32 to 41 inches.
But as exciting as Westport weather is, Jacob is a senior. College beckons.
He hopes to major in economics or political science. He looks forward to analyzing the impact of weather on politics, and local and world economies.
Jacob will do that wherever he goes. Weather Whether he gets into his 1st choice or not.
No contest. Bet the farm — and your snow day — on the Staples sophomore.
“They’re pretty conservative, for fear of being wrong,” he says of the government agencies and private services, with their sophisticated computer models and high-tech gadgets.
“They’re big, so they can’t take risks. I say what I see. I can take being wrong.”
He seldom is.
Jacob has built a cult following by being forthright — and right. Taking data from the big boys — including Canadian and European weather models — and analyzing trends, Jacob has an uncanny record of nailing snow totals with tremendous accuracy.
And for noting when a much-hyped storm will deliver only a few wimpy flakes.
Jacob Meisel crunches the latest data.
Jacob’s Connecticut Weather Blog includes breaking news, short- and medium-range forecasts, snow day predictions, and detailed explanations of how Jacob arrived at each prediction.
He’s had 20,000 hits since the December 26 storm — which, Jacob admits, he “under-forecasted.” He thought it would go out out to sea.
But, he adds, “I reversed my forecast before the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel and Accu-Weather.”
He is not afraid to pull punches. A recent blog post declared:
Most weather agencies have completely written this (upcoming) storm off. I challenge (them), and say that if we see more than 2 inches of snow, then I was right to warn the public about a storm earlier than they did. I completely see the potential with this system, especially since the CMC Canadian weather model bombs out the storm and gives us around a foot Tuesday.
Jacob started his “Weather Wiz” website as a Coleytown 8th grader, 2 years after moving to Westport. He came from California — which, he laments, “doesn’t have a lot of weather.”
His passion was ignited watching intense lightning storms on Cape Cod. When he realized the power of snowstorms here to affect daily life, he was hooked.
He attended a 5-day weather camp at Penn Sate — “one of the main weather universities in the country,” he notes — but is largely self-taught. He studies other meteorologists, while taking nothing at face value. Each model has “biases,” Jacob says, and he figures those into his own predictions.
“I love the feeling of nailing a forecast dead-on,” he says. And he loves bad weather.
“Sunny and clear is boring,” says Jacob. “A severe storm is exciting.” When it hits he talks to fellow meteorologists, follows radar, and updates his blog constantly.
He’s a mini-celebrity at Staples. “Most kids just want to know if we’ll have school or not, but I think some of them are learning about models and interactions,” he says. Teachers are very interested too, he says.
It’s too early for Jacob to know if he’ll make meteorology a career. He enjoys public speaking, and is active in Staples’ Debate and Junior State of America clubs.
He’s also very interested in politics. Though, if you think about it, that’s just another field with blustery winds that frequently shift.
For now though, weather is Jacob’s primary interest. As the “06880” interview ends, he pulls out his cellphone.
“The European model just added an update,” he says. “Let me check it out.”
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