In the wild world of winter weather, location is everything, which New York and Massachusetts learned too well Tuesday.
Small last-minute changes in the air morphed what was supposed to be crippling feet of snow into a handful of inches in New York, leading one forecaster to apologize, the National Weather Service boss to get defensive, politicians to explain themselves and some Northeast residents wondering where the much-hyped snow went.
The not-so-great blizzard of 2015 did wallop the Northeast: Long Island and Massachusetts got hammered with more than two feet of snow. Auburn, Mass., got hit with 32 inches and there was severe coastal flooding, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said.
But snowfall in New York City, which shut down in advance, was less than a foot. New Jersey and Philadelphia also got off easy.
A defensive Uccellini wouldn't say his agency's forecast was off. Instead, he blamed the way meteorologists communicated and said the service needs to do a better job with uncertainty.
Private meteorologist Ryan Maue of Weather Bell Analytics criticized the public agency for ratcheting up forecast storm amounts before the system, instead of telling people how uncertain it was.
"The public should be upset that the forecast was blown for NYC and ask for answers," he said.
Meteorologists say the nor'easter strayed about 75 to 100 miles east of its predicted track, which meant the western edge — New York and New Jersey — got 10 fewer inches than forecast.
The region girded for something historic but got much less. "I expected tons of snow," New York cabaret singer Susanne Payot said, walking through Central Park with her home-from-school daughters and their golden retriever, Alvin. "I don't understand why the whole city shut down because of this."
Before heavy snows began falling, officials shut down roads and public transportation across New York City, in New Jersey and on Long Island. Amtrak suspended train service and air traffic slowed to a stop. Schools canceled Tuesday classes.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his decision to ban all road travel.
"I was being told as late as 9 o'clock last night that we were looking at 20-inch accumulations in most of New Jersey," Christie said Tuesday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was criticized for underreacting to a November storm in Buffalo, so he worked "on the theory of living learned and a little wiser."
A National Weather Service forecaster who was called a hero of 2012's superstorm Sandy tweeted an apology for the errant forecast.
"You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn't," wrote Gary Szatkowski, a forecaster in Mount Holly, N.J.
The storm spun up in the ocean, where there are few monitors to help pinpoint the track, forecasters said. In such a storm, an error of 50 miles "can be a big difference," said Jeff Masters of Weather Underground.
Late Monday, the computer models started to move the storm away from New York City, but by that time "media and social media hype was out of the bottle," said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd.
The European computer model that was praised for accurately forecasting superstorm Sandy failed more than others, Masters said. "We didn't get the western edge of the forecast correct. If you want to call that a bust … you're being a little harsh."