Dr. Ray Russell is a man of many talents. A minister with a Ph.D. in computer science and a running coach’s certification, Russell is mostly known around town as the weatherman. Self-taught in the art of meteorology, Russell first began reporting weather in the High Country after the blizzard of ’93 blew through Boone, bringing with it nearly 36 inches of snow. As a professor of computer science at Appalachian State University (a position he maintains to this day), Russell was one of the few who could decipher the inner workings of the Internet, which was then only in its infancy.
Using primitive web design, Russell crafted a snow report for western North Carolina on his university site, posting semi-regularly during the winters of 1994-96. By the time he received a weather station from his wife during the Christmas of ’98, Russell already had a well-established following of weather watchers.
Now, Russell’s forecast (raysweather.com) covers more than the High Country surrounding Boone, spanning the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Cherokee, N.C., to Waynesboro, Va. Though Russell now has five meteorologists working for him, he still updates daily forecasts for his hometown. The company’s annual Fearless Forecast has become like a Farmers’ Almanac to southern Appalachian powder hounds awaiting winter’s arrival.
BRO: CAN YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU EVER EXPRESSED INTEREST IN THE WEATHER?
RAY: When I was young, I bought every book a 10-year-old could get on meteorology and read. When you asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, well, I was going to be a meteorologist of course. As time went on, I did other things. The weather just kinda happened out of hobby and interest and accident.
BRO: WHEN WAS THE TURNING POINT FOR RAY’S WEATHER?
RAY: February of 2000. Unbeknownst to me, a local radio station started going to the site and looking at it. They wanted me to talk about weather on the radio. For the next three years, every day at 7:10, that became a staple of the radio station.
BRO: WHAT MAKES YOUR WEATHER FORECAST DIFFERENT?
RAY: If you go to weather.com, they’re going to tell you what the temperature is in Beech Mountain, but they don’t have any idea. They’re just guessing. With those national [weather] sources, there are no people behind that. It’s all computer generated. It goes from a computer model through some processing straight to the website or mobile device with no human brain that ever intervenes in that process.
BRO: DO YOU THINK YOUR ACCURACY HAS LED TO RAYSWEATHER.COM’S SUCCESS?
RAY: I call it my hobby gone berserk. I don’t really understand it all. Back in the day, I wrote some pretty zany things I couldn’t get away with anymore, but it was a creative outlet for me, not just the weather, but just to write something funny. We have a golf-o-meter for good days and snowman-o-meter for snow days. We’ll issue a white leg warning on the first warm day after winter, and if it’s windy, we’ll issue a big hair alert. We have fun with it but it’s a serious forecast.
BRO: SO WHAT’S OUR WINTER LOOKING LIKE?
RAY: It’ll be a slow start to winter, but snowier than average in the Foothills and throughout Southern Appalachia. The heart of our winter will begin late January and February.