Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dispelling the AP's '15 inches in 16 days' rumor

Michelle Mead, a National Weather Service warning coordinator in Sacramento who's one of my key sources on long-range weather outlook stories, emailed reporters and others on her mailing list today with a story that might seem rather familiar to anyone who's dealt with the Associated Press.

She wrote:
You may have seen the AP story, or heard on the national news that forecasters are saying northern CA could see 15 inches of rain in 16 days.

On Monday we received a call from the SF AP asking if we could confirm a forecast she'd been seeing on SM [social media] about Northern CA getting 15 inches in 16 days. (There were some SM posts from non NWS meteorologists highlighting one of the solutions from one of the global models that advertised ridiculous precipitation forecasts out to 16 days with over 12 inches of rain).

The forecaster she spoke to told her, No, and that we do [not] forecast out to 16 days. She then asked about the current weather system moving into Northern CA and the forecaster confirmed that the northern Sierra would see 12 to 15 inches of snow with up to 2 feet of snow in the higher peaks.

What was quoted in the AP article is as follows: "As much as 15 inches of rain could fall in the next 16 days in Northern California, with about 2 feet of snow expected in the highest points of the Sierra Nevada, said Johnny Powell, a forecaster with the National Weather Service."

I have a call into the AP to get this quote corrected. However, I wanted to let you all know that we did not make that forecast. Any opportunity you have to help us correct this information would be appreciated.
So the weather service got the call on Monday, the story with the erroneous quote was posted that day, a later version that we posted on our website yesterday morning still contained the erroneous quote, and as of today the NWS still couldn't get the AP to correct the misinformation, so Michelle had to resort to sending the rest of us an email warning us not to trust the AP's account. Great.

We use the AP, largely because we cover such a big geographical area that it comes in handy to have a wire service with reporters in places we can't get to right away. We mainly use it on our website for breaking news, then follow up with our own staff stories if the situation warrants it. But the fact remains that the AP has a major credibility problem, particularly with its political and environmental coverage. And aside from their more obvious agenda-driven reporting, there is a culture at AP that is unwilling to change or correct errors or misinformation that they have published, even amid loud calls by their would-be ideological allies for them to do so.

Two summers ago, the press office at the State Water Resources Control Board spent more than five weeks trying to get the AP to retract or correct its bogus assertion that senior water rights holders are exempt from drought-related restrictions, to no avail. In 2009, the AP was one of the last news organizations to continue to refer to H1N1 as swine flu, even after pointed remarks by Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack that calling it swine flu was factually incorrect. During this past year's drought, the AP joined environmental groups in calling out almond producers and other farmers for what they saw as an over-use of water, even after state officials urged that there be no finger-pointing and after a UC study found that almond production had a lighter carbon footprint than other crops.

This reporter was going to write "15 inches in 16 days" for the AP's "Dynamic Stories" feed and not let facts stand in her way. That's why if you're reading newspapers that rely on AP for any more than filling in gaps, you're probably not getting a very accurate view of the world.

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