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An Important Anniversary in Hurricane Forecasting

| 3:30 pm July 27, 2014

In July 1943, tracking hurricanes was a difficult business. Fewer ships were at sea because of the threat of German U-boats. Those that were at sea maintained radio silence. Britain suffered mightily from the lack of weather reports from over the Atlantic. The Brits were forced to use precious aircraft to fly weather observation missions. The U.S. feared that the West Indies would become a major theater of war if the Germans decided to attack through Central and South America.

In Bryan, Texas, Col. James P. Duckworh was in charge of the Instrument Flying Instruction School. Before the 1930s, there wasn’t any such thing as instrument flying. Everything was visual. Duckworth had been a pilot for Eastern Air Transport, the precursor to Eastern Airlines. He had resigned to go to active duty with the Army Air Corps Reserve. Duckworth said that he knew that the war wasn’t going to stop because of weather.

Weather map from the morning of July 27, 1943.

Weather map from the morning of July 27, 1943.

On the morning of Sunday, July 27th, Col. Duckworth made his way to the base to have breakfast. As he ate, he learned that there was a hurricane making landfall near Galveston. Hard to believe, since it was a beautiful morning at Bryan, about 100 miles from Galveston. The storm was expected to pass near Houston during the afternoon. Duckworth saw it as the perfect opportunity to do what no one had done intentionally up to that time: fly into a hurricane.

Joe suggested to one of his breakfast companions, Lt. Ralph O’Hair that they take an single engine AT-6 trainer and fly into the storm for fun. There were four new B-25‘s at the base, but it would be hard to justify using one of them for this unsanctioned mission. As 100 mph winds were raking the coast. Duckworth and O’Hair took off for Galveston. Enroute, they called the tower at Houston and said they were flying Galveston. The incredulous operator asked them if they knew there was a hurricane. When they said yes, the controller asked for updates so he would be able to direct crews to the wreckage.

As they flew toward the hurricane, they were in the weaker western semicircle of the storm. As they neared the eyewall, they experienced violent up and down turbulence that made them feel like a “bone in a dog’s mouth”. Suddenly, they broke into the clear air of the eye. They flew around for a few minutes and headed back to the base where they were met by the staff meteorological officer. The weatherman wanted to know why they had not included him in their historic flight. They responded by telling him to hop in, they would take him to the center. The meteorologist kept a very detailed diary of observations.

Duckworth did not immediately realize the significance of his feat. Later that year, one of his superiors summoned him to tell the pilot that he had been recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross. The unassuming Colonel did receive the Air Medal for flying into a hurricane for the first time, twice in the same day.

Realizing the benefit of more specific information on hurricanes, regular reconnaissance flights were started the next year. Weather Bureau meteorologists used the information about 1944’s Great Atlantic Hurricane to issue better warnings.

Tropics Quiet…For Now…

| 2:00 pm July 27, 2014
Tropical Storm Bertha next Saturday evening?

Tropical Storm Bertha next Saturday evening?

We are tracking a tropical wave in the far eastern Atlantic on this last Sunday of July.

Right now it doesn’t look like much, but several of the global models, including the American GFS and the UKMET are now on board with the idea that it will become tropical depression number 3 in the week ahead as it steams across the Atlantic. There is a chance it could even go on to become Tropical Storm Bertha.

It is expected to move near the northern Lesser Antilles or Virgin Islands Friday night and could affect Puerto Rico as well. After that, the GFS currently projects it curving around the Bermuda High and flirting with the U.S. East Coast, but not making landfall.

Another system will come off the African coast late in the week, but indications are that it will head toward weakness over the western Atlantic as the subtropical high shifts a little east temporarily.

Warmest Day of the Year?

| 11:53 am July 27, 2014

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An impressive cumulus field was blossoming across Central Alabama on this last Sunday in July. The healthy fair weather clouds have multiplied in the deeper moisture that is over the state today. Morning dewpoint levels are in the lower and middle 70s, some 6-7 degrees higher than those of the same time yesterday.

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The fair skies are the result of sprawling upper level high pressure over the southern tier of states, stretching from Utah to Alabama. This high should again put the kibosh on showers this afternoon.

It will also allow the mercury to warm well into the middle and upper 90s across the area. It was already 91F at Tuscaloosa at 11 a.m. and 88F at Birmingham. The Birmingham reading is some three degrees ahead of the temperature at the same time yesterday.

LATE NOTE: It had reached 91F at the Birmingham Airport at noon as temperatures continue to soar.

This may allow today to be the warmest day of the year in the Magic City. The 95F yesterday is currently tie with two other July days for the warmest day of 2014.

HEAT ADVISORY: With the combination of highs in the middle and upper 90s and high humidity, the National Weather Service has issued a Heat Advisory for West Central and South Central Alabama. Places like Vernon, Tuscaloosa, Demopolis, Selma, Montgomery and Troy are in the Heat Advisory for heat index values pushing 105F degrees today. Elsewhere, in places like Birmingham, Hamilton, Cullman, Gadsden, Anniston, Alex City and Auburn, heat indices today will top out above 100F, but remain just below Advisory criteria.

A line of showers and storms storms is expected to develop by mid-afternoon near the Ohio River and push southeastward this afternoon and evening. It will arrive at the Northwest Corner of Alabama around 9 p.m. and die out as it progresses. It should be completely gone by the time it gets to Birmingham and I-20.

This activity is ahead of a cold front that has passed St. Louis this afternoon. It will arrive in Northwest Alabama afternoon midnight and clear the Birmingham area during the late morning.

Much of North Central Alabama may miss out completely on the rain and storm, with the best chances tomorrow coming south of Clanton. We note that the SPC does have much of southern Alabama in a slight risk severe weather outlook, their standard forecast.

Cooler and drier air will follow on the heels of the front, much like last week. Look for several 50s by Wednesday morning, which is record country for July 30th in Alabama

Second Driest July on Record?

| 10:18 am July 27, 2014

As we start to close this books on July this week, I thought it would be fun to take a peek back at the month that was in the climate department, especially since there have been several nice stretches of cool weather.

So, at first glance, you would think that July 2014 was going to go down in the record books as one of the coolest in Birmingham history. But not so fast my friend.

We have broken a few record lows, and more records are on the way, but as far as the month goes, there will have been 29 Julys in Magic City climate history that have been cooler.  

The average high for the month should finish around 89.2F, which is 1.6 degrees below the 30 year average high of 90.8F. The average low for the month will finish at 68.7F, which is well below the 30 year average of 71.4F. That has really helped the month to feel a bit more comfortable. Warm lows in the middle and upper 70s really make it feel stifling.

The overall mean temperature for the month will finish at 79.0F, which is two degrees cooler than the long term average of 81.1.

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We have only measured 0.92 inches of rain at the Birmingham Airport, and the prospects for more out of the approaching front or from the rest of the week are not good. In fact, it looks like we will be lucky to get to one inch of rain for the month.

If we total less than 1.11 inches of rain for the month, it will be the second driest July on record, drier than the horrible drought year of 1952.

We are now nearly four inches down to average for the year in the rainfall department at Birmingham.

Is Tropical Depression #2 About to Form?

| 11:49 am July 21, 2014

The National Hurricane Center has given the designation over the Central Atlantic a designation (92L). Convection has developed near the center and it appears to have a circulation. It is in an area of low wind shear, that is favorable for development.

vis_lalo-animated 92L

It could become Tropical Depression #2. The NHC gives it a 50% chance of that happening.

It will likely weaken though as it encounters more hostile conditions as it approaches the islands. It still will bring squally weather to them Wednesday night and Thursday.

There is some chance it could flare back up as it nears the United States, so we will be watching!

Droughtwatch

| 3:23 pm July 20, 2014

Lots of folks across the middle of Alabama, from Cullman County southward to Autauga County have been very dry recently.

In fact, most of the five county Birmingham metro area have only received 10-25% of their typical rainfall over the past 30 days.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

These areas need 1-2 inches of rain just to make up for the short-term deficits.

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The GFS predicts 3-4 inches of rain over the next 16 days. We will keep our fingers crossed.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

The good news is that of last week, no part of Alabama was in full scale drought conditions. Abnormally dry conditions, according to the Drought Monitor, extend in a big backwards “C”, across Jefferson and Shelby Counties, over to and down the Georgia border into the Wiregrass of Southeast Alabama.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

Sunday Afternoon Update

| 1:41 pm July 20, 2014

An area of showers and storms has been moving across South Central Alabama this morning and early afternoon in response to a very weak surface low moving moving across southern Alabama. The mesoscale models picked up on this feature very well yesterday and predicted there would be showers this morning in places like Clanton, Montgomery, Greenville and Auburn.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

Mostly rainfall amounts were moderate, although there were some 3 to 4 inch amounts in places like northern Bullock, Lee, western Lowndes and southeastern Dallas Counties. Auburn has picked up 1.67 inches since yesterday morning.

There was a good bit of lightning in the I-85 corridor.

The heaviest weather is now exiting northeastward into Georgia, around the Lanett/Valley exit on I-85.

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ON THE WEATHER MAPS: In addition to the surface low northeast of Montgomery, a stationary front lies generally along I-59 and most of any shower activity that develops through the afternoon should be east of this boundary. In the mid levels of the atmosphere, a powerhouse of a high is near El Paso. To the right of it, a series of disturbances is rounding the top of the high, carving out a trough over the Ohio Valley down into the Tennessee Valley. One of the disturbances was sliding into northern Mississippi and we are tracking another over southwestern Missouri.

TROFFY PATTERN: Is “troffy” a word? For our purposes it is. Those kinds of disturbances will keep us in a troffy pattern into the coming work week. In fact, the trough may close off into an upper level low by Tuesday, which could lead to increase rain chances Tuesday and Wednesday. For today, drier air covers the northern half of the state, reducing shower chances to around 10-20%. Moisture levels will rebound a bit on Monday, allowing rain chances to return to 20-30%.   If the upper low materializes as expected by Tuesday, rain chances will likely undergo an uptick. This increase in rain chances should continue into Wednesday.

TEMPS: Highs today will be generally in the upper 80s, except over East Central Alabama, where clouds and showers are limiting the rise in the mercury. By tomorrow, everyone should be in the upper 80s and this trend should continue through midweek, except there will be an increasing number of 90s thrown in each day.

Preposterous…

| 12:27 pm July 18, 2014

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64F at Haleyville, 75F at Birmingham and 78F at Anniston on July 18th.

Preposterous, right?

Not on this July 18th as clouds are thick and showers and increasing across Central Alabama.

An upper low over northern Louisiana is pumping lots of moisture northward over a warm front that is lying across the Gulf Coast. Light to moderate rain covers much of Mississippi into northwestern Alabama, extending back into Louisiana and Southeast Texas.

At least a couple of rounds of rain will overspread the state this afternoon and tonight. Rainfall amounts don’t look to be too heavy, generally less than an inch, unless heavier rain is able to develop. There could be some thunder, but for much of Central Alabama, it will be limited.

Stronger storms are possible form south of Tuscaloosa back to near New Orleans this afternoon and tonight, but the chance of any severe weather even over southwestern Alabama is small.