Any visitor to this column over the last eight plus years knows what I think about weather forecasting that goes over the top. You know the forecasts you see that indicate that an area is going to get two to eight inches of snow or there is a possibility that an area could get over a foot of snow. You have read my term for these types of forecasters, “Snow Gooses.”
The reason these Snow Gooses create challenges for the ski industry is because when a viewer, listener or reader, sees, hears or reads the forecast they only take in the top number and many times that top number is only an outside reach and sometimes the forecast comes more than a week out. For the southeast ski region this can cause a problem because many of the visitors are not accustomed to traveling in active weather and have in many cases due to the extended forecast decided to cancel their ski trip. Meanwhile in reality the area ends up getting the two inches of snow, the highway department takes care of the roads and the skiing, snowboarding and snowtubing were awesome. So where was the other snow the Snow Goose predicted, in their minds of wishful thinking and exaggerated weather forecasting.
Now to the rescue comes weatherman like Brad Panovich, Chief Meteorologist of WCNC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina, the website your are logged onto Skisoutheast.com, Spencer Adkins, Chief Meteorologist of WOWK-TV in Charleston, West Virginia, Herb Stevens, The Skiing Weatherman and Liz Sommerville, Meteorologist, National Weather Service (NWS), South Charleston, West Virginia. This group of weather forecasters are the ones I follow very closely because they don’t jump the gun and really don’t start putting numbers in their forecasts until a week out of the pending active weather. They will give reports indicating that an active weather system is pending but they were going to allow more forecasting data to come to light and not rely on what “could” happen but what “is” going to happen.
Just last week on Panovich’s weather blog, wxbrad.com, he wrote an awesome article entitled Wishcasting Versus Forecasting. In it he basically take the Snow Gooses to task but enlightens everyone on what it takes to truly produce a forecast that everyone can depend on as they make their daily plans. Now Panovich admits to be a snow lover and he and I have disagreed on the levels of snowfall headed the regions way. But when it comes to forecasting what is going to occur in the mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland Panovich is dialed in as that is one tough region to forecast since so many things have to be taken into consideration and he goes into that in his blog.
I got a chance to sit down with Sommerville a couple of weeks ago and was happy to find out that meteorologists forecasting for the NWS can’t provide information to the public more than a week out through agency rules. She admits they look further out than a week but don’t start fine tuning their forecasts for you and me until we are seven days from the actual event and then are even changing that by the hour in some cases. Sommerville also informed me that the federal agency will not give more than a two-inch range when predicting snowfall in any given region. There may be multiple ranges throughout a state like West Virginia, but she said that can be expected in any state that has mountains and plenty of valleys. I gained a lot more respect for the agency’s weather forecasting efforts after my chat with Sommerville as I now get the feeling they don’t try to push the so-called panic button until it is absolutely necessary.
I have been following Adkins and Stevens for over 20-years, ever since my early days at Snowshoe Mountain in the 1990’s. Both of these veteran meteorologists have always used a common sense approach when predicting any upcoming active conditions. However, when you know what is hitting the fan, they are in the middle of things trying to put out the most up to date information facing everyone and not pulling any punches in doing so. Their continued common sense approach allows everyone to make detailed plans in dealing with the matter at hand. I recently learned that during the recent sub-zero cold spell that Adkins and his staff put out an email to the entire news department mentioning words not to use when describing the weather situation. One of the worse things I have seen during active weather is when a news reporter tries to be a meteorologist, it just doesn’t work.
Another thing that these veteran weather forecasters and I agree with is the current naming of winter storms by The Weather Channel. All of them think that is embarrassing to the industry. I couldn’t agree more.
That’s it for this week, more to come as the season continues, just remember whether it be cold or whether it be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Think about it! See you on the slopes and have some fun, you deserve it!