"We're already getting some feedback," said Gary Szatkowski, the head of the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly, who spent much of his day on the telephone explaining what didn't happen. "People are saying, 'Where's the snow, man?'
"When you start to mention one to two feet of snow, that tends to stick in people's minds."
They were getting one to two feet yesterday and last night - about 300 miles north of here, in Upstate New York and New England. They got what we were supposed to get.
So forget the predicted major coastal flooding and severe beach erosion at the Shore. At last check, Shore towns from Cape May Point to Sea Bright remained intact, as did their beaches.
By the end of the day, most of the region's weather problems were in the nuisance category, save for 165 canceled flights and a handful of minor traffic accidents. Peco Energy Co. reported few power outages, and even the Roxborough and Manayunk bus was operating without problem.
One person was killed in a traffic accident in Solebury, Bucks County, that police said might have been weather-related. A sport-utility vehicle struck a car and then hit a tree. The driver of the car was not injured.
The forecasts apparently had a major impact on attendance at the Philadelphia Flower Show, which opened at the Convention Center on Sunday - usually the most heavily attended day of the show's eight-day run.
"The consensus is that attendance is down 20 percent for the first two days," said Steve Maurer, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the show. Some bus tours were canceled yesterday.
All in all, the most serious injuries reported were the bruised egos of meteorologists.
"How can they keep getting it wrong?" asked Joseph Martz, Philadelphia's managing director, adding that the city had had no choice but to prepare for the worst - and thus waste money. "If we don't do it, we get hammered for not being prepared," he said.
"This storm became more of a media event than a weather event," said Wayne Rupert, Ocean County's undersheriff and director of emergency management.
"It's a major bust as far as snow amounts," conceded John Bolaris, a meteorologist with WCAU-TV (Channel 10), for whom it was especially brutal.
Channel 10 began talking last Tuesday about the threat of a major storm, saying the following night that it could be one of the biggest of the decade. Until Sunday, it appeared that Channel 10 was miles ahead of everyone else.
After flip-flopping all week about the potential of a major storm, the computer models that commercial and government meteorologists consult for their seven-day forecasts came together on Friday to indicate that something very big was brewing for the East Coast. At the same time, the short-range models that predict weather for the next few days concurred that those longer-range computer runs were onto something.
"It caused folks to get excited," Szatkowski said. A deep upper-level storm was moving from east to west toward the Great Lakes and then was forecast to move southward. "It was almost a perfect storm possibility," Szatkowski said.
In fact, said Bolaris, based on the computer runs, the station's Wednesday night forecast looked conservative.
What resulted was the ultimate bust. Instead of forming off Virginia, where it would have pounded the beaches with strong winds and generated heavy snow across South Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, the storm came together farther north, off the New Jersey coast. The heaviest snows and the strongest onshore winds tend to occur well north of storm centers.
The storm did get off to a promising start Sunday with light to moderate snow sneaking into the region slightly ahead of schedule. In reality, however, that was the beginning of the end of the Storm of the Millennium, said Ken Reeves, a meteorologist with Accu-Weather Inc., whose Web site had three million hits on Sunday.
The moisture moved in before the storm had a chance to form and draw in the cold air it needed to start a good snowfall. What fell in the morning was little more than white rain, and by the time it got cold enough to stick, the snow had changed to sleet and freezing rain and fell at the rate of about an inch a day.
The sleet and rain were another symptom of doom for schoolchildren counting on a day off - an unexpected invasion of warm air in the upper atmosphere. The air at the surface was cold enough for snow, but the air at 3,000 feet was not, said Louis Uccellini, director of the government's National Center for Environmental Prediction. He added that getting the correct temperature profile through the atmosphere is one of the hardest problems for computer models.
That warm air probably shaved several inches off snow totals predicted for Sunday into yesterday, Reeves said.
But the big factor was that the storm took so long to come together and happened so far north. The delay allowed the warm air to make its way into the atmosphere over Washington, Philadelphia and New York. The storm finally matured late yesterday, south of Long Island, causing heavy snow in the Hudson Valley of New York and parts of New England.
"This has been the toughest winter to forecast that I remember," Bolaris said. "But people don't want to hear it. They want to know, 'Where is my snow?' I take that responsibility."
Anthony R. Wood's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Inquirer staff writers Joseph A. Gambardello, Tom Infield, Monica Yant Kinney and Denise Cowie, and Inquirer suburban writers Alicia A. Caldwell, Erin Carroll and Jacqueline L. Urgo contributed to this article.