Jay Hatem has had a lifelong love affair with snow. It started when Hatem and his family moved to Northern Virginia from Lebanon when he was 8, and a major snowstorm dumped on the region during his first American winter. “My first winter we had a big blizzard—like two feet—which I’d never seen before. I was kind of taken aback by it,” Hatem said. “From that point forward, I’ve just really enjoyed snowstorms.” Now, Hatem’s Jay’s Wintry Mix Facebook page has developed a cult-like following in the region, with more than 40,000 followers and growing. Hatem is up-front about the fact that he’s not a professional meteorologist, but his uncanny forecasting skills make him even better than the pros for thousands of local fans. With his thorough but not too complicated forecasts, conversational tone and unabashedly pro-snow bent, Jay’s Wintry Mix is the go-to for weather watchers and snow lovers around the region. Hatem said some of his most ardent followers are area teachers who want a solid projection on whether school will be in session. And he’s definitely not an unbiased observer: on Jay’s page, snow is always a win. “I try to be cautious, but I’m also very biased toward snow so I’m going to show displeasure if something is not going my way,” he said with a laugh. But Hatem’s fans also like him because he’s a realist and doesn’t always get carried away with over-the-top projections. “We have so many different situations where things go bust,” he said. “I’m not one to just say it’s going to snow all the time just to get some likes.” Fans also respond to the sense of community on the page, full of engaged followers who enjoy interacting with each other—and celebrating their mutual enthusiasm for snow and snow days. “It’s a simple page. There’s not much technical talk,” Hatem said. “I think people like the back and forth,” he said. “It’s become a place where people can talk about Loudoun weather.” Hatem, now in his 40s, grew up in eastern Loudoun and graduated from Broad Run High School. Around the year 2000, he discovered an early internet forum for fellow snow lovers and was immediately hooked. He started studying weather models in-depth and delving into how storms work and how to forecast them. He initially started emailing friends and family with forecasts. But in 2008, at the urging of a friend, he started Jay’s Wintry Mix, initially intended for a small group of friends and family. But as word of his forecasting skills and charming enthusiasm spread, the likes, well, snowballed. Hatem, who lives in Leesburg with his wife and three children, works as a project manager for a software company, emphasizes that he’s an amateur, but he can’t help getting asked about the weather at work at church and at social functions. “This is just a hobby. I’d be doing this without my Facebook page, and I was.” But even as an amateur, Hatem’s access to and skill at interpreting a range of weather models is a big part of the page’s appeal. For Wintry Mix followers, the celebrated European Model is always front and center. This high-tech forecasting model developed intergovernmental European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, which makes weather predictions using meteorological information from satellites, weather balloons and other sources, is known for its accuracy. It’s Hatem’s hands-down favorite and one of the few that requires users to pay to subscribe, but the fee is 100 percent worth it for Hatem. “Usually, it’s my go-to model for these storms,” he said. Hatem called last week’s unseasonal snowstorm fairly early, leading one western Loudoun Facebook fan to suggest that the Virginia Department of Transportation make him its official forecaster. And Hatem has been projecting for months that the 2018-2019 winter will be a snowy one thanks to this year’s El Nino effect, bringing in wet weather in contrast with last year’s dry and cold La Nina winter. Hatem sees echoes of the El Nino winter of 2009-2010 when a pre-Christmas two-footer was followed by the legendary February Snowmageddon double whammy, dumping almost 50 total inches on Loudoun. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime winter,” he said. “This year probably won’t be quite that extreme.” But given the crazy wet fall, there’s a good chance for plenty of white stuff. “It’s already showing up as far as the pattern,” Hatem said. “Come December and January when cold air gets introduced, we’re going to have situations where the storms hit the cold air. I think we’ll have a very snowy winter ... probably four or five good storms, and I think we have a chance for a blizzard.” And while the rest of November is likely to remain snow-free, there are indications of good things to come for snow lovers, as Hatem predicted in a post last week: “There are strong indicators right now that December could be fun.” jmercker@loudounnow.com

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