Ask Anything: 10 questions with Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel
Posted October 7, 2008
Updated October 14, 2008
In your 25 years of covering weather, what is the weather event that you will never forget? – Micheal Warren, Dunn
There are several, but the one that still sticks out even to this day is the March 1984 tornado outbreak which devastated many areas south and east of Raleigh.
I had been at WRAL less than three years, and was still very wet behind the ears. To be honest, I thought I knew a lot more than I did. Still, my basic forecast knowledge acquired from my years at Penn State helped me to determine that there was the very real threat of a major severe weather outbreak.
I was very aggressive on the air both the day before and the day of the event, warning of the potential of serious problems. By 9 p.m., the evening of the tragedy, we had received very few reports of any problems, and while in one sense relieved, in another sense I feared I had blown the entire event out of proportion.
Well, the lack of reports was due to most of the communication channels being knocked out, and by the next morning, we had word that 44 North Carolinians had lost their lives in the worst tornado outbreak in North Carolina in 100 years! Now, I suddenly felt like I hadn't done enough. It was an emotional roller coaster the likes of which I have never experienced since that time.
When a forecast doesn't happen as predicted, such as the snow that didn't come last winter, do you take it personal? – David, Cary
In many ways, yes, although I have gotten better about this over the years. My old news director in Salisbury, Md., used to say that he could always tell when I had blown a forecast, because I wouldn't speak to anyone for three days! That wasn't far from the truth.
Since that time, I have slowly learned that when things don't go as planned, it is an opportunity to learn. I don't go for this "Oh well, I goofed, too bad" attitude. I believe one has to care enough about the "mistake" to go back, study it, and then attempt to learn from it. This is the only way to get better at whatever one is attempting to do.
My 9-year-old wants to be a meteorologist and he is fascinated by the weather (and your reports). What made you interested in the weather? – Ann Hale, Cary
As a small child, I loved snow, and was scared to death of thunderstorms! Every time a tornado watch was issued, I assumed there would be a tornado, it would be a bad one, and that its sole purpose was to destroy our house!
Then, upon reaching my teenage years, I stumbled upon a Public Television show in Pennsylvania called "State of the Weather, Shape of the World." It was a 15-minute show, with half of it devoted to the weather.
Elliot Abrams, now one one of the senior vice-presidents of Accu-Weather, was one of the mainstays on this program, and he is the biggest reason I decided to pursue the field of meteorology.
His combination of knowledge and wit captivated me, and my parents were so thrilled I was interested in something legal, that they enthusiastically supported me in my desire to attend Penn State and to major in meteorology. To this day, I have absolutely no regrets!
I never thought you would go to a 7-day forecast. What made you finally decide to use it? You usually tell everyone not to plan too heavily on a forecast that far out. Thanks for your educational method of weather forecasting. You are the best! – Ralph Everett, Raleigh
Thanks for the kind words! Sometimes, decisions are made by folks that have a bit more power than myself. But, I fully understand their reasoning.
The rest of the world had gone to a seven day forecast, and viewers were demanding that everyone provide this type of information. So, we give it our best shot, but at the same time, I feel it is imperative that we are honest with the public, and let them know when the degree of uncertainty is so high that even a 3 day forecast can be next to useless!
Where is Chris Thompson? I watch Channel 5 everyday and if he has left I must have missed it. You are all wonderful weather people and I thoroughly enjoy watching you all everyday! I met Chris at the N.C. State Fair a couple of times and I noticed recently he has not been on the air. Just curious. – Gay Hicks, Smithfield
Thank you so much for the nice comments! Chris Thompson is pursuing other areas in the field of meteorology.
One thing I feel compelled to say is that I have known Chris for almost 25 years. He is a genuinely nice guy who treats all people with respect and who loves his wife, Lisa, and his two daughters, Roxanne and Alex, more than they will ever know.
He has been there for me many times, both professionally and personally, and I am proud to call him one of my very best friends. We all miss him very much!
In your years of experience as being a meteorologist in North Carolina, what would you say are the most interesting weather areas in this state and why. – Lynn, Lillington
In many ways, the central part of the state can experience the wildest weather. One scenario that immediately comes to mind is when warm, oceanic air tries to come inland during the winter season, and succeeds, but only to a certain point.
One Friday night many years ago, I was doing the 11 p.m. broadcast and showed a current temperature map. It was 61 degrees at the RDU airport and 33 degrees in Burlington!
I can't tell you how many times that boundary has set up somewhere in our viewing area, and the result is some of our viewers thinking our forecast was great, while others are left to wonder if any of us made it past the 6th grade!
Hey Greg, I'm wondering how you choose which city you show the temperatures for each night. Is there a schedule? I sometimes see Hillsborough one night and the next night a different city. Just curious. – Stephen Sechrist, Hillsborough
There is a plan, believe it or not. Several years ago, we looked at the most populous cities in our viewing area, and set up a routine to get as many of them on the forecast graphics each week as possible.
Spacing also comes into play. For instance, Durham and Raleigh are close together, and to put both of them on the map at the same time really clutters up the map! We really love Durham, as evidenced by Capitol Broadcasting's commitment to the Durham Bulls and the American Tobacco Project. We just can't always fit the letters on the map.
When I was a little girl, I saw a tornado. Ever since then, I have been fascinated, and at the same time terrified of them. I would like to learn more about tornadoes and sometimes think that I would even like to ride with a storm chaser one day, so that I can see one. Face my fear. Any advice? – Stacey, Rocky Mount
The old saying goes: Learn more about what you're afraid of, so you won't be as scared anymore! I am a great believer in following one's passion(s).
If this is something you really want to do, go for it. My only other advice is to find a group who actually knows something about meteorology, and who are scientifically oriented. You are much less likely to put yourself in a truly dangerous situation by doing this.
Pure thrill seekers who don't know what they're doing could end up increasing your terror level exponentially! If you decide to go storm chasing, good luck, and send pictures-lots of pictures!
We appreciate your humor, professionalism, and the way you educate viewers. We are long-time fans. We also share your love of snow! Are we out of the snow loop for a while? Is there hope of even one good snow day to come? Seriously, why did we have several years of good snow in the late 1990s then nothing since? Thanks! – Mary Huntley, Cary
You are very kind-thank you! I could tell you it was all the fault of global warming, but it's just not that simple.
Don't get me wrong, I do believe that our society is having an influence on our climate, and that as stewards of the earth, we need to do all we can to understand the effects of what we're doing, and to the extent possible, implement alternative solutions to our energy needs.
But, there is natural variability in our climate, and our snow/ice drought during the last four years is a drop in the bucket compared to the entire history of the earth's climate.
Our biggest snows occur when areas of low pressure form near the Gulf coast, and then travel up the east coast. For whatever reason, the upper atmospheric winds have not been in a favorable configuration for such a storm track for several years now. I do have faith, if nothing else, that we will see at least somewhat of a snow resurgence in the coming years!
What are you most passionate about in meteorology? What types of weather or weather phenomena do you get the most excited about? If I were to make a guess, it would be snow and hurricanes! – Kathy Sears, Apex
You are truly a soothsayer! Although, I must say that dramatic changes over very short periods of time really get my juices flowing! If it's 70 degrees and sunny, only to be 32 degrees and snowing 12 hours later, it doesn't get any better than that!
No meteorologist wants to see anyone suffer, or for their property to be destroyed. But when the atmosphere displays its awesome and majestic power in various forms, those of us with that passion for the weather are absolutely captivated!
It is then our duty and obligation to transform that captivation into a desire to help and protect people during those times of atmospheric violence.