A STORY ABOUT JAMES SPANN: He has been around a long time and totally immersed in weather. I first met him right after he came to Birmingham to be the meteorologist at one of the TV stations on Red Mountain. It so happened that the National Weather Service Office at that time was located not far away at 11 West Oxmoor Road. Our meteorologist in charge at the time invited him to come down and meet our staff. It was only about a seven minute drive for him and I happened to be on duty. From that moment on we became good friends because we instantly recognized that we were both very interested in severe weather.
But this is about a story many years later. James has spent many years taking almost daily trips to a school to present a weather program. It did not have to be a school, but the majority of them were schools and he especially enjoyed the younger age students. It could also be a business or church group or anybody. He traveled over much of the state. In fact today he is Calhoun County speaking to a group. He does not let that interfere with him getting back to 33/40 in time to do the afternoon and evening weather segments.
Way back when, I used to ride with him on some of those trips and they were so interesting. He wasted no time getting there or back to the station. Translation: he was a fast driver, but a very careful one. I never heard of him having an accident. Recently I got to thinking—I wondered how many miles he has traveled over the state doing the programs for the schools or whoever and how many BBQ joints he had stopped at. James is a fanatic about BBQ restaurants and he knows them anywhere in the state. I asked him recently to give me some figures on those and this is what he said.
…”My estimate is that I have traveled over one million miles going to schools and other groups doing weather programs since 1978. “
…James continued, ” No doubt I have enjoyed over 100 BBQ joints in Alabama and maybe more than that.”
This is JB talking now. I believe he has traveled more than one million miles and I believe he knows where every good BBQ place is all over the state. One final note from me: I have been around him many times and I have never heard James say a bad word or even get mad. I wonder if he learned that from all my early years in Havana Junction. Our only main difference is that I am not a huge fan of BBQ.
…I feel like James has saved hundreds and hundreds of lives being on TV during tornado threats. That is the end of my story. He is one fine gentleman. –JBE
What is the difference between the forecast terms “partly cloudy” or “partly sunny.” Well, you tell me. I think it is more or less a personal opinion. However, it became a sticking point between a couple of forecasters at the old National Weather Service Birmingham office at Birmingham Airport. I was involved and I did not want to be.
Back in those days, we would sometimes get an official memorandum from the USWB Regional Office in Ft. Worth or even the national headquarters in Washington. One day this memorandum came in from Ft. Worth suggesting that we try to liven up the wording on our forecasts somewhat to keep it from being so boring from day to day. Our MIC (Meteorologist in Charge) came out of his office and read the memorandum to us and said he thought it was a great idea. It so happened that I was about ready to do the afternoon forecast for Zones 1, 2, 3 and 4 and I asked if it would be okay to go ahead and make the change. He said, “Absolutely.” Back then, the Birmingham area of responsibility was only four zones. I made the forecast and issued it on the Alabama Weather Wire and also on the automatic telephones and several other outlets. Little did I know that the forecaster following me was going to blow his stack when he discovered what I had done. He ripped apart my official forecast that was on a clipboard, he redid the forecast on the statewide Alabama teletype system and rerecorded all of the telephone recordings. He said that he didn’t believe in any such changes. He and I were always good friends, so there were no hard feelings. However, for months on head, several of the guys I work the night shift with got to joking about what we were going to say when we issued forecasts in the middle of the night. One of them suggested, “partly moony” or “mostly moony.” Even then life went on with all the ups and downs.
I hope to have several more stories like this over the next few months. Most of them will eventually wind up in my book, “Scattered Brains and Scattered Showers.”
As promised, here is a list of cities that were too hot again today, maybe I should say “way too hot.” This has been a hot weather event to remember forever, not just in the Desert Southwest and other parts of the West, but also in the Midwest and East and even parts of the South.
Here we go with today’s list. Actually, the heat has backed off somewhat in some of these cities:
90 Eugene, Oregon and Denver
95 Corpus Christi
91 Dallas/Fort Worth
93 El Paso
98 Great Falls, Montana
95 Helena, Montana
112 Yuma, Arizona and Las Vegas
100 Salt Lake City
07 San Antonio
108 Fresno, California
95 Waco, Texas
93 Wichita Falls, Texas
USA extremes today included a low this morning of 37 at Silver Bay, Minnesota and Hayward, Wisconsin. Hottest this afternoon was 128 in Death Valley. That famous observation point is where the highest temperature in the USA occurred about 1936 with a high near 136.
In a few days I will write a J.B.’s Journal about our very difficult trip to Fraser, Colorado to check out the little town that was the coldest spot in the nation almost every day until the U.S. Department of Commerce put a stop to it after one of the Chamber of Commerce offices in Denver filed a strong complaint. I hope everyone has a very pleasant 4th of July. Weather folks have to keep working like any other day, but we don’t mind. Life goes on.
Another reason I often say that, “LIGHTNING IS FRIGHTENING”
Yesterday, a bolt of lightning struck a Boy Scout’s camp in New Hampshire. Nearly two dozen scouts were injured–all of them hospitalized. I have had several close calls with lightning in my life so that is why I try to head for the hills in a big storm. In my case, heading to the hills means moving to the center of my house, away from windows. At 9:30 this morning not a single thunderstorm in progress in Alabama or most of the Southeast. Excuse any misspelled words, have had only three cups of coffee so far this morning–usually have 6 or 7 by this hour!
This is another feature I love to do. I hope I am not being overbearing. As I mentioned several weeks ago, I absolutely will not post these when there is heavy weather traffic on this Blog. After all, that is what the ABC 33/40 Weather Blog is all about–to keep everyone posted about changing weather and dangerous weather. But on this clear calm morning, here are a few numbers to throw at you:
* 7.87 inches is how much rain has inundated New York City so far this month. More heavy rain is forecast in a broad area from Michigan to Virginia tomorrow.
* 35.49 inches is how much rain Anniston has received so far this year. That is almost one foot above average. Last year at this time they had received only 18.91.
* 22.84 inches of rain is how much Auburn has received so far this year–almost double the average amount.
* 114 was the hottest temperature in the country yesterday at Bullhead City, Arizona. 34 was the coldest in the country this morning at both Meacham and Redmond, Oregon.
* 1 strong tornado struck in Logan County, Kentucky late yesterday.
* 1,000’s of acres is how much the extreme drought has played havoc with in the Plains States so far this year.
* Goes 13 is the number of one of our vital satellites we use in our weather forecasting. It will be put back in service Saturday after being disabled back on May 22 by something (I don’t know what that was).
* 112 is the expected high temperature in Phoenix today. It is Arizona’s largest city and it really cooks during summertime. They expect a high of 110 Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Of course, the humidity is almost non-existent. My wife was raised in Phoenix and I can remember crawling out of my sleeping bag at daybreak on some summer mornings and feel completely comfortable.
That’s all for today. I hope you enjoy this feature. I’ve got many, many stories to tell but I will stretch them out over a 12 to 18 month time frame. Eventually, I hope most of them will show up in my weather book, “Scattered Brains and Scattered Showers.” Sometimes I think my little weather brain is already badly scattered. I have only had one cup of warm coffee this morning, so I have got to scram.
As promised, I am going to write a series of stories of some of the off-beat incidents in my 32 years of work at the U.S. Weather Bureau (later named National Weather Service) all in the Birmingham office. We had some good times and trying times and yes a few times of silliness in the few times we got caught up early in our work.
This is the story of Birmingham Bill. Three of us were on the midnight shift one night on Groundhog Day. We got through with our work early and got to wondering why Pennsylvania has the only famous groundhog. So one of my colleagues, forecaster Bill Herrman, sat down at the Alabama Weather Wire and wrote a story about Birmingham Bill which was to be our official groundhog. The Birmingham News mentioned it and we think later the zoo stole our idea. Later that morning, I decided to add some more names. They went like this: Bessemer Bessie, Carrolton Carrie, Jasper Joe, Tuscaloosa Lucy, Anniston Annie, Sylacauga Sally, Talladega Teddy, Mobile Molly and Montgomery Mary. Even until this day, Bill’s Birmingham Bill is still used. Doesn’t hurt to be a little bit silly a few times a year, but life goes on.
MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0927 NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK 0505 PM CDT SAT JUN 01 2013 AREAS AFFECTED...NCNTRL AL...MIDDLE AND ERN TN THROUGH ERN KY CONCERNING...SEVERE POTENTIAL...WATCH UNLIKELY VALID 012205Z - 012330Z PROBABILITY OF WATCH ISSUANCE...20 PERCENT SUMMARY...LINE OF MULTICELL STORMS FROM NRN AL THROUGH ERN KY WILL POSE A MODEST RISK FOR ISOLATED STRONG TO DAMAGING WIND GUSTS AND MARGINALLY SEVERE HAIL THROUGH EARLY EVENING. ANY SEVERE EVENTS SHOULD REMAIN SPARSE...AND UNLESS TRENDS BEGIN TO INDICATE STORMS WILL BECOME MORE INTENSE...A WW IS NOT ANTICIPATED. DISCUSSION...LINE OF MULTICELL STORMS STRETCHING FROM NCNTRL AL THROUGH ERN KY IS MOVING EAST AT AROUND 25 KT. ONLY MODEST INSTABILITY EXISTS DOWNSTREAM IN THE MOIST WARM SECTOR WHERE TEMPERATURES ARE IN THE UPPER 70S-LOW 80S WITH WEAK LAPSE RATES SUPPORTING MLCAPE FROM 1000-1500 J/KG. MOREOVER...VERTICAL SHEAR IS WEAK /AOB 25KT/ WITH SWLY 20-30 KT DEEP LAYER UNIDIRECTIONAL WINDS. STORMS WILL PERSIST THROUGH THE WEAKLY CAPPED WARM SECTOR INTO THE EARLY EVENING. GIVEN THE MARGINAL ENVIRONMENTAL PARAMETERS...FURTHER INTENSIFICATION/ORGANIZATION APPEARS UNLIKELY...AND ACTIVITY SHOULD BEGIN TO WEAKEN AFTER 01Z AS THE BOUNDARY LAYER STABILIZES WITH ONSET OF NOCTURNAL COOLING. ..DIAL/KERR.. 06/01/2013
The Famous Brent Tornado–40 Years Ago
There will always be tornadoes in Alabama as well as in all states of the good old USA. All we can do is stay alert and be ready to go to a safe place when one happens. Enough of that…
During my 32 years in the U.S. Weather Bureau, later called the National Weather Service, all at the Birmingham office, I have spent many hours and miles surveying tornado tracks and assembling final reports for the national publication known as Storm Data.
After the April 1974 outbreak that almost destroyed the city of Guin, I walked over the entire town interviewing residents that had lost everything. After talking to hundreds of people I was extremely impressed that not a single person questioned God or hated God for what had happened. They were instead very happy to be alive.
Very much of a similar story happened at Brent in Bibb County on that struck on Sunday evening May 27, 1973. It was rated an F4. Yesterday was the 40th anniversary. Bill Murray and I, along with his wife Sally, motored deep into Central Alabama to the town of Brent to attend an evening memorial service last evening. By the way, Sally is an excellent driver. She could drive a taxi in New York City and not blink an eye!
Included on the program was Dr. John Meigs, a local physician who moderated and had been 18 at the time of the tornado; Dale Black, the lifesaving radar operator; Bill Murray, weather historian; John Brasher, who thoroughly documented the event and was at the radar site when it was destroyed; and myself. After a very pleasant meal in the dining area of the church, we migrated to the new sanctuary, which was a beautiful one, for the memorial service. A lot of people did some speaking. Two of the main ones included Dale Black and John Brasher. Dale was the man in charge of the big WSR-57 radar mounted on a ridge southwest of Centreville. He was an employee of the National Weather Service just like the rest of us. In the same radar room was John Brasher, who has written dozens of stories about the event and he is considered the historian of the tornado.
The tornado was first reported near Demopolis. Later it did major damage across Southeast Greensboro and then it took off to the northeast and eventually moved right into the city of Brent. A few minutes before that, however, it destroyed the radar tower and part of the building where the NWS people were watching the radar.
I have been to many meetings like last night in many parts of the state after a tornado tragedy. We have never been better received than we were last night. After the meeting, many folks in the congregation came by to thank us and to welcome us. Believe it or not one of those persons was a long lost cousin of mine. She was born in the Valley community almost in the same place I was. I still have lots of kin folks in North Perry County, in Hale County at Greensboro, Akron, Moundville and good old Havana Junction. Brent mayor Dennis Stripling promised me if I ever retired and wanted to move back to Havana Junction, he would make an effort to go down there and make sure I got elected. We were all joking of course. It’s no sin whatsoever to have fun at such a meeting.
Final note…I am still very upset at what happened in Moore, Oklahoma over the weekend. Saturday morning some people descended on the town and solicited clean-up work from people that had no chance of doing it themselves. However, they wanted payment in advance. You guessed correctly, they vanished and did not come back. I wanted to drive out there and punch them out. Just a thought–I never would do that. Life goes on.
P.S. I will have a number of journal reports in coming weeks. Brent Mayor Dennis Stripling reminded me yesterday that I should hurry up and write my weather book, “Scattered Brains and Scattered Showers” before i
A Good Way to Never Shiver Again
It was a quiet day at NWS at 11 West Oxmoor Road. That is until the mailman came by. He delivered us a thick 11×14 brown Kraft envelope.
We opened it and it was about a 10-page document from some gentlemen who said they were local engineers. They had made elaborate line drawings showing a long row of huge windmills lined up across the U.S./Canadian border. They insisted that when they were activated they would blow all of the cold air back into Canada and Alaska. They wanted our approval and then they were going to submit the plan to the U.S. government explaining it would save U.S. citizens millions of dollars in heating bills.
We sat around and discussed it for an hour or two and all of us wound up laughing our heads off. There is no way in the world that could be accomplished. Besides, what would the Canadians say if they started feeling 25 below temperatures coming up from the South.
Our boss decided to repackage it and mail it to our southern regional office in Ft. Worth to see their reaction. Their reaction was absolute zero. We never heard another word.
We got a surprising amount of crank mail in those years. So much so that we had set up a thick file called that.
This is the third in a series of stories about some of my very strange experiences in my 32 years in the U.S.W. B. and National Weather Service—all at the same station.
JB’s JOURNAL / 5/17/13
An Illegal Weather Term Called Severe Clear
This is the strange story of an illegal weather term that was coined by a brave Birmingham pilot who owned his own small airplane and he was only licensed to fly VFR (Visual Flight Rules) instead of IFR (Instrument Flight Rules). He owned a thriving local business and he flew his small plane all over the country to purchase things for his business, most notably all the way to the Pacific Northwest where he bought timber in that prime timber-growing country. He would cross the Rockies in a relatively low elevation area, but he took all kinds of risks.
How am I involved? I am dead certain that I was on duty at the U.S. Weather Bureau at Birmingham Airport when that term was born. He had a habit of calling up our unlisted number that was used for pilots well before daylight. One morning he called up at 4:00 a.m. and wanted a complete briefing to Washington State and back.
He insisted “Don’t shoot any John to me. I have to have severe clear. I don’t want to hear you say it is clear all the way. Instead, I must have you say it is severe clear all the way.” Of course there is not such official weather term as severe clear. I knew that one day he would get in trouble demanding that and sure enough he did. One day flying back from Kentucky and Tennessee to Birmingham, he ran into ceilings so low that he could not see to fly VFR. He had to make a forced landing in a cow pasture in Tennessee. All the other pilots in the Birmingham area that knew him well named that pasture the Jones Airport. Let me insist that his last name was not Jones, but he was known as that for years afterwards. I don’t know if he is still around. He should be around 80 or even 90 years old now. I have another pilot friend that is retired and lives in Oregon. He knows him well. My friend in Oregon was a commercial pilot for a major Birmingham area facility and flew all over the U.S.
P.S. I plan to write as many as 100 of these type stories over the next twelve months and after I have written them all, I plan to publish my long awaited weather book entitled, “Scattered Brains and Scattered Showers.” Numerous interesting things have happened to me in 32 years of weather in the U.S. Weather Bureau and National Weather Service all at the Birmingham office as well as continuing in weather since I retired in 1989 with our local weather group known as the Weather Company and now the Weather Factory. (What a name!) By the way, James Spann likes to use the term severe clear occasionally and I do to. We also occasionally toss around the “illegal showers” term when there are only a few and they were not forecast! Life goes on.