Fishel recalls forecasting record 2000 snowfall

Posted January 25, 2010

— WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel recalled difficulties forecasting the record snowfall of 2000 and lessons learned from the storm.

Starting around 7 p.m. Jan. 24, 2000, 20.3 inches of snow fell at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, breaking snowfall records dating from 1893.

Friday Marks 8 Years Since Record-Breaking Snowfall Record snowfall paralyzed Triangle in 2000

The first hint of the record snowfall came the day before with thunderstorms and 40-degree temperatures in Georgia.

"It was certainly indicative that this was a very, very potent system," Fishel said.

Still, computer models downplayed the possibility of a major snowstorm in North Carolina.

"I can't sit here and honestly tell you that it wasn't until late that evening that I had an idea it was going to turn out to be the epic storm," Fishel said.

Fishel blamed too much reliance on computer models and not enough on old-fashioned forecasting.

"We really have to be sensitive to the observations," he said. "Computer models are fiction by definition. They're great tools, but they're not infallible. They're only as good as the stuff human beings put into them."

Ten years of advancement in technology have made predicting big storms easier, Fishel said, but he fears that the same mistakes could be made again.

"The disease that embedded forecasting, and I'm pointing the finger at myself as much as anybody, still holds true today – that there are times when we need to look at the data, do our best to recognize the pattern, think about the processes that are involved and go with that," he said.

Although it is easy for a veteran meteorologist to go it alone when disagreeing with the models, the motivation needs to be right, he said.

"You can't simply go with your gut simply for the sake of standing out," Fishel said. "I actually had someone tell me they would always go with a different forecast, because if they happened to be right, they would be a hero. That's not the right motivation.

"There's a great forecaster who used to be with the National Service who said, 'I'd rather be right than first,' and I've always remembered that," he concluded.


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  • Bulldog22 Jan 29, 2010

    I have enough to common sense to actually listen and comprehend when they say "scattered thunderstorms" that it might not happen right over top of my house, therefore I do not consider the FORECASTS and predictions to be a promise or a contract.
    Greg and his team must be right enough of the time or else everyone wouldn't turn to them, and obviously all these "bashers" do infact tune in to see what Greg and his team think about the weather in this area or else they couldn't quote him and point out his errors. Also people need to realize that the WRAL viewing area covers a very vast area and there is no way possible to predict the exact events for each neighborhood in such a widespread area... if you folks don't trust Greg to get it right- change the channel and go bash someone else.

  • iLoVeNc Jan 25, 2010

    I feel bad for meteorologists. Growing up, my dad told me I could be whatever I wanted, except for a meteorologist because he didn't want to yell at me everyday for the rest of his life! It's a tough job - and NC is a hard place to predict weather. It's a science - just an inexact one :)

  • ncouterbanks69 Jan 25, 2010

    I HATE winter and cold weather. Although one storm like that a year would be great. It was AWESOME!!!!

  • BigUNCFan Jan 25, 2010

    BTW, you could move to LA where the weather is easy to predict (sunny and hot inland and about 72 on the coast and rain once every 2-3 months) but have wildfies and earthquakes.

    I think out there they still just have a pretty lady do the weather because it is not cost effective to hire a team of meteorologists.

  • BigUNCFan Jan 25, 2010

    time4real must really have an axe to grind with the wral weather team. Every weather story and he is posting the most harsh posts about how they always get it wrong.

    Not trying to flame but what is the deal with t4r?

  • jgilchr Jan 25, 2010

    I wish we could get a repeat this year :).

  • bpayne80 Jan 25, 2010

    People who can get on here and bash Fishel just don't have lives. The fact is this is one of the hardest areas in the country to predict snow. Everything has to happen exactly right for us to have a substantial snow storm. I would take Greg's knowledge and forcasts on weather before anybody else in this state and probably the country.

  • time4real Jan 25, 2010

    you can put yo' money on whoever you like, fact is, as bad as Mr. Fountain wants it to snow, outside of another 15 minutes of flurries, it's done for this year. Yesterday was 0 for 3 when there "would've been enough" liquid "equivalent" to equate a big snow storm. now, ground temps are too warm and it will take 10+ days of at or below 32 for more than 10 hours a day to bring ground temps back down low enough to where IF IT DID SNOW IT'D STICK! Move on to heat and humidity, that's next on our agenda!
    Right "Lulu the snow goat"!

  • lizard Jan 25, 2010

    "Computer models are fiction by definition. They're great tools, but they're not infallible. They're only as good as the stuff human beings put into them."

    Does that mean the computer models predicting global warming could be wrong? Hmmm....

  • 1 of the original Americans Jan 25, 2010

    lol... I did not live here at the time but worked for a company based here and they annouced lay-offs were going to happen and would let us know by end of week which department was going to be hit.... and then the storm hit!! the most stress full week waiting to find out ... it was my dept!!