Barry Saunders

Don’t throw shade at the TV weather folks when snow underwhelms – Saunders

Ice skating through the streets of North Raleigh

Raleigh resident Scott Peterson took advantage of icy conditions and went skating down Cape Charles Drive Sunday, January 8, 2017.
Up Next
Raleigh resident Scott Peterson took advantage of icy conditions and went skating down Cape Charles Drive Sunday, January 8, 2017.

Most meteorologists are the mellowest, chillest dudes you’d ever want to meet.

Greg Fishel certainly is, and so is WTVD chief meteorologist Chris Hohmann. Hohmann and I participated in an Iron Man competition many years ago – I’ve forgotten who won. Over the decades, Fishel and Hohmann have seemed as cool both on air and off as that little patch of snow in your driveway that doesn’t melt until June because the trees are shading it.

Know the one I’m talking about?

A sanguine disposition may be a prerequisite for being a meteorologist, and no wonder. If you were in a business where the switchboard lit up with angry calls every time you stepped on your Doppler, you wouldn’t take yourself too seriously, either.

“Yes, people get mad when they don’t get the snow that was forecast,” Hohmann told me Monday. “They expect us to be right. ... I am surprised at how nasty some people can be, and the profanity or insulting personal remarks take me aback sometimes. But that’s the downside of social media.

“The upside,” he said, “is that the vast majority of people that comment are kind and understanding, and they realize we do the best we can.”

Raleigh resident Scott Peterson took advantage of icy conditions and went skating down Cape Charles Drive Sunday, January 8, 2017.

Why, though, would anyone get so upset when the storm isn’t as bad as forecast? Why not rejoice?

“I’m not sure,” Hohmann said. “I think they get all excited, go to the store, stock up, etc. It’s like a festival.”

There was, to be sure, a festival-like air Friday at The Pig as I stocked up on Jiffy mix, cracklings and ’lasses for my famous cold-weather, hot-water cornpone. Many fellow shoppers seemed almost giddy while throwing everything within reach into their buggies. (Double-stuffed Oreos, apparently, have been designated a survival food.)

The snow forecast wasn’t a bust, but having girded their loins and stocked their pantries for a major event, some Triangle residents wanted more, more, more.

Fishel, the heretofore unflappable forecaster on WRAL, lost his cool on Facebook after this recent “weather event” that left some viewers disappointed. Area meteorologists told us there was a chance the Triangle could get socked with as much as 8 inches of snow, so of course we giddy-upped to area Piggly Wigglies, Food Lions, Krogers and Harris Teeters to stock up on provisions.

The forecast wasn’t a bust – “It’s not like nothing happened; this was still a major winter storm,” Hohmann said – but having girded their loins and stocked their pantries for a major event, some Triangle residents wanted more, more, more.

Visitors to Fishel’s Facebook page let him know they wanted more. After reading his response, they might’ve needed more snow – to soothe the burn he directed at them for blaming him for the fickle forecast.

“MY FORECAST WAS WRONG, BUT,” Fishel wrote before explaining why Snowmageddon 2017 didn’t materialize. He used some meteorological terms most of us wouldn’t know from the white meat of a chicken, and he told them so.

“I sometimes wonder,” he wrote, “how many of the harsh critics have a clue as to the effort I put forth, and if they could tell the difference between the hydrostatic equation and their posterior.”

Ooh, I know, I know: the posterior is that part of their anatomy that just got scorched by Fishel’s fiery response.

The hydrostatic equation is not.

Fishel is attending a weather dude and dudette conference in Colorado, so I couldn’t reach him to get a more specific explanation of what happened. However, every local meteorologist I saw before the storm, including Hohmann and Fishel, noted that there were so many variables involved in the weather forecast that snowfall amounts could range from negligible to a lot.

“In the weekend storm,” Hohmann said, “I tried to explain that the all snow/sleet line would be right over the Triangle, resulting in a wide range of accumulations over a short distance. I thought the line would be over central or southern Wake County, with 4 to 6 inches over northern Wake and Durham counties, but only an inch of snow/sleet over southern Wake. But any change – even a 20- or 30-mile shift – would make for huge changes, and it’s nearly impossible to forecast such a small shift with 100 percent accuracy. ... Winter storms are always tough to forecast.”

Indeed they are. The meteorologists’ mistake was not recognizing that when we native North Carolinians hear the word “snow” – or even “sn--” – our brains go into automatic Donner Party mode, in which we fear being stranded with nothing to eat but each other.

As a survivor of the 2000 snowstorm in which the forecast called for 2 to 4 inches but we were slammed with more than 20 inches, my default position when I hear snow in the forecast is “expect the worst, hope for the best – and buy all of the cornbread mix, cracklings and molasses your covered wagon can carry.”

Cars struggled to make their way up an icy New Leesville Road Sunday, January 8, 2017 in Raleigh, N.C.

A bike-riding dad pulls his two kids while a dog pulls his owner in sledding action at Bond Park in Cary as the winter storm brought just enough snow to the area on Saturday morning, Jan. 7, 2017.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

  Comments