Weather

WRAL’s Greg Fishel, weather service explain forecast misses

Triangle-area meteorologists didn’t waste time explaining how their forecast of 6-8 inches of snow didn’t quite materialize through the weekend. But WRAL’s veteran meteorologist Greg Fishel’s explanation got attention from thousands on Facebook.

Fishel started off his public Facebook post – which as of about noon Sunday had earned 13,000 reactions, nearly 3,000 comments and close to 2,000 shares – in all caps “MY FORECAST WAS WRONG, BUT...” before launching into his explanation. Fishel had qualified his forecasts by noting the uncertainty of models used to predict snowfall.

On Sunday, Fishel and fellow WRAL meteorologist Nate Johnson took to the roads to check out conditions and streamed it on Facebook live, where they explained that warmer air had turned what was expected to be snow to more sleet and rain for the Triangle, but forecasts still were uncertain.

Fishel wrote Saturday that he was disappointed because he, too, loves snow.

“I suffer from the same level of disappointment I did as a little boy, and I make no apologies for that,” he wrote.

But he also hates being wrong. Triangle residents took to social media through the weekend to poke fun at forecasters, but sometimes the criticism wasn’t lighthearted.

“I sometimes wonder 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,” he wrote.

But he said he doesn’t have a problem admitting when he’s wrong in his forecasts.

“I’ve done it for 3 and a half decades,” he wrote. “But I will not apologize for busting my butt in an effort to provide you with the best weather forecast I can muster.”

Fishel said there weren’t guarantees that his forecast would be accurate and said he had explained how changeable the weather could be.

“So either many didn’t get that message or they simply chose not to listen,” he wrote, adding that people shouldn’t have been surprised when the snowfall amounts didn’t match forecasts.

“So either I did a lousy job of communicating my low level of confidence, or some folks just didn’t listen,” he wrote. “Maybe it was some of both. I’m certainly willing to examine myself, and I can only hope that those of you that chose to share your negatively charged pontifications online are willing to do the same. We live in a world where we love to find fault with others. Surely there must be something else better suited to fall in love with.”

The National Weather Service offered its own explanation of how and why the forecast didn’t work out, though it, like Fishel, had explained how uncertain its forecasts were earlier in the week.

“These graphics explain why our forecast snowfall was too high across some portions of the area and why this was a difficult forecast,” the weather service’s Raleigh branch said in a tweet on Saturday, providing several slides to explain why much of the area saw sleet and freezing rain rather than fluffy snow.

A “warm nose,” or area of warmer air, pushed into the Triangle, affecting whether precipitation appeared as snow or sleet or rain.

Subtle shifts in storm system tracks can lead to considerable differences in temperatures, which affects how precipitation falls, the weather service wrote. What may be a minor temperature change in summer could make all the difference in winter, meaning that 10 inches of snow becomes half an inch of freezing rain or a few inches of sleet.

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett

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