Friday, January 20, 2012

It's Time to Forgive Greg Fishel

Whiteout by Payton Chung
Whiteout, a photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

It was seven years ago today that the city of Raleigh, NC and several of the surrounding suburban communities were totally paralyzed by about one inch of unforecast snow. The photo above shows what a major snow event is was, and still the forecasters managed to miss it. Shocking.

Seven years ago today Raleigh got an inch of snow and the governor wound up declaring a state of emergency. The snow wasn't forecast and all of the trucks that spread salt and sand were out in the suburbs with vacuum attachments picking up leaves people had piled by the curb. The snow started about lunch time and the first thing the city did was to announce early school closings. This put all the cars in the area out on the roads at the same time, trapping the city trucks in traffic jams so no salt could be spread to melt the dab of white stuff off the roads. The guy at the next desk where I worked at the time left at 1:30 PM to pick up his daughter from school and didn't get home until after 3 AM. And his daughter got off easy. Lots of kids never got home and wound up sleeping at the school. We made national news with our inch of snow. Here's a link to the story in USA Today: Inch of snow throws Raleigh, N.C., into a tizzy.

We all figured that Greg Fishel owed us for that one. (He's our local weather guy on WRAL TV.) Of course, it was the Raleigh city government that seized the meteorological oversight and turned it into a first class snafu. But, it has been seven years. I suppose if the bankruptcy laws and the bible (Deuteronomy 15:1-2) both say you should forgive debts after seven years we should let Greg off the hook. Besides, forecasting winter weather in central North Carolina is hard and thankless work.

Most years we get some snow in Raliegh but it is notoriously hard to predict. Our cold air comes from Canada and is quite dry. Our moist air comes up from the Gulf of Mexico and is generally warm. Any straight-forward, predictable weather system -- some major front marching across the map -- will either be cold but dry, or rainy. The only way we get snow is when we get complicated, swirling, mixing of two air masses that average out just below freezing. Since half a degree is enough to make the difference between snow, sleet and rain the forecasters will frequently predict an 80 percent chance of "god knows what" in the next 24 hours. I have often suggested that meteorologists in the Triangle Area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) should take the winter off on the theory that they do more harm than good. I generally say this when I am disappointed that forecast snow has arrived as rain.

But my point is, it isn't easy. Greg, we forgive you.

Thanks to Flickr user Payton Chung who posted the only photo I could find of the great snow of Janary 20th, 2005.

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