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Hello Gonzo! Well, Actually Gonzalo…

| 1:07 pm October 12, 2014

We have experienced a little burst of activity in the tropical Atlantic as a cycle called the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is bringing favorable conditions to much of the basin.

Gonzalo avn-animated

Tropical Storm Fay scored a direct hit on the island of Bermuda overnight. Winds officially gusted to 82 mph as the 70 mph tropical storm passed just east of the island after midnight last night. Winds dropped to near calm as the center passed and the barometer was measured at 986 mb. It will continue to the east northeast over open ocean over the next few days.

Now comes Gonzalo…

Based on Air Force Reconnaissance reports from the disturbance east of the northern Leewards, the National Hurricane Center is now issuing advisories on newly formed Tropical Storm Gonzalo. Gonzalo will produce tropical storm conditions across the northern Leewards, Virgin Islands and perhaps Puerto Rico. The system will recurve to the north.

Here is the latest info on Gonzalo:
LOCATION…16.4N 58.4W

Here is the summary of watches and warnings:



Further east, Hanna is likely to form in coming days as well, but will recurve well to the east of the islands.

A Chilly Start

| 8:57 am October 4, 2014


The 49F at the Birmingham Airport is the coolest morning since May 3 when it was 46F at the Birmingham Airport.

Here are some lows from across the state this morning:

41F…Fort Payne, Bankhead Natiional Forest
42F…Decatur, Muscle Shoals
43F…Cullman/Vinemont, Valley Head
44F…Huntsville, Scottsboro, Crossville
49F…Birmingham, Tuscaloosa
50F…Calera, Anniston

Temperatures across the Central part of the state will be a few degrees colder tomorrow morning. The projected low at BHM tomorrow morning is 41F. There will be several more readings in the 30s as well.

Heavy Storms Pushing Across Central Alabama

| 4:47 am October 3, 2014


Heavy thunderstorms continue pushing eastward across the area early this morning.

The strongest storms extend along I-59 from Gadsden to Trussville, then bowing out to the east across eastern St. Clair entering Talladega County. This bowing segment has the highest chance to produce damaging wind gusts. No reports of serious damage were received from the greater Birmingham Metro from these storms, but they are capable of producing winds of 45 mph which can break tree limbs and do minor damage.

The storms extend from the bow back through Shelby County to near Montevallo into Chilton County near Jemison. They extend southwest from there.

Other strong storms extend from western Bibb County across much of Hale County.

A large area of light to moderate rain extends behind the main thunderstorm activity.

This morning’s thunderstorm activity has outrun its upper level support and should slowly weaken. The front is still well back to the west, extending from Little Rock to Shreveport. More storms will form this afternoon ahead of the front, but it will be over southeastern parts of the area, along and south of I-85.

So Far, So Good

| 2:44 am October 3, 2014


Storms continue across the northwestern half of Alabama early this Friday morning.

A nearly solid squall line extends from west of Athens to Winfield to Columbus MS. Ahead of this, scattered to fairly numerous storms continue in a line from Cullman to Jasper to Tuscaloosa to Demopolis.

Everything is moving east while individual cells move northeast.

The heaviest cells are in West Alabama over Sumter, Greene and Hale Counties. The storms from Cullman into northern Walker are packing a punch as well. Storms approaching Pickens County in about an hour will have to be watched as well. Lots of lightning, very heavy rain and the chance of a damaging wind gust or two in the stronger storms.

We can’t rule out an isolated warning or two, but he chance is slowly diminishing with time.

There has been very little damage in Alabama. The exception, some wind damage in Red Bay in Franklin County just after 1 a.m.

Just Past Midnight…

| 12:04 am October 3, 2014


Intense storms continue tonight across western Tennessee and western Mississippi ahead of a complex weather system.

The main line of storms extends from Jackson TN to east of Holly Springs MS to near Greenville, MS.

Storms have broken out just ahead of the main line. Areas from west of Corinth to west of Booneville to west of Tupelo tonight are experiencing some storms that have developed ahead of the main line.

Numerous severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings are in effect for western Kentucky, western Tennessee and the Missouri Bootheel.

Tornado damage was reported in northeastern Arkansas near Lake City around 10 p.m. with this same storm producing a possible tornado near Steele in the Missouri Bootheel. A semi full of chicken parts was blown off the highway near Lake City.

There have been numerous other reports of damaging winds and large hail from eastern Oklahoma and Northeast Texas into Missouri, Arkansas, northwestern Louisiana and northern Mississippi tonight. Possible tornado damage was reported near Senatobia MS a short while ago.

The storms appear to be weakening, which would be consistent with decreasing instability and shear that will continue to lift out to the north rapidly.

The storms out in front over Northern Mississippi could reach the Northwest Corner of Alabama shortly after 1 a.m. The main line will reach Lamar and Marion Counties around 2:30 and progress into Fayette and Walker Counties. The southern end of the line could reach Pickens County by 3-3:30 a.m., the Tuscaloosa area around 4:30 a.m. and the Birmingham Metro before 5:30 a.m.

We will continue to monitor the situation overnight with the severe weather threat continuing through early Friday morning. Keep a reliable source of weather information handy that will wake you and check back here for updates.

Gulf of Mexico: Friend or Foe for Rain Fans

| 6:04 pm September 28, 2014


The Gulf of Mexico can be the friend as well as the enemy of wet weather systems for Central Alabama, and so far it has been the enemy of this one. I know, I know. You wet weather fans have heard it before. The Gulf of Mexico moisture was cut off by convection along the coast. But this time it is more a factor of waiting on the front to move north as the upper trough over the western Gulf of Mexico moves only grudgingly to the east and we wait on a surface low to form to our south.

NEVER FEAR: Rain is on the way, but amounts will be on the lighter side it appears. That’s not good news, since we continue to be dry across Central Alabama. Much of the area has received less than 75% of its average rainfall over the past 60 days. And now drought conditions have crept into a large part of the area as well, especially from Jefferson and Shelby Counties back to Bibb County then eastward to Chambers County.

A CHECK OF RADARS LATE THIS AFTERNOON: Shows that showers were trying to organize along the I-85 corridor in East Central Alabama. Others formed at peak heating from Bibb down through Marion Counties, but those have since mostly fallen apart. It now appears that there will be chances of scattered mainly light showers from the band near I-85 through the evening hours with a better area of rain developing over South Central Alabama after midnight and pushing into Georgia as a surface low forms over the northeastern Gulf.

This means the heaviest rainfall will be over South Central and Southeast Alabama and into southern Georgia.

Overnight lows tonight will be in the 60s with highs tomorrow probably limited to the 70s with a considerable clouds and a few leftover showers.

A Beautiful Late Summer Day; Slight Taste of Fall Ahead

| 3:37 pm September 21, 2014

A gorgeous late summer day is in progress across the state.

Fluffy cumulus clouds populate the sky, with better development over the Tennessee Valley and North Central part of the state.

Temperatures were in the middle and upper 80s.

Showers and thunderstorms were starting to fill in along our cold front, which has passed Memphis and is knocking on the door of the Northwest Corner of Alabama.

Those showers and storms should fill in a bit more as the front pushes southeastward, despite rather limited moisture. This will give a chance for showers and storms later tonight as the front progresses.

They will begin to die again after midnight as they push south of I-20. Here is the 4 km NAM Simulated radar reflectivity, a look at what the radar might look like around midnight:


So there is a chance of showers and storms across North and North Central Alabama through the evening tonight, diminishing after midnight.

By sunrise, showers and storms should be well south of I-20, with decreasing clouds to the north. The showers and storms should be south of Clanton by late morning and pushing south of Montgomery by early afternoon.

Highs tomorrow will remain in the 70s in areas north of US-78, with lower 80s to the south.

50s will be the rule Tuesday morning with 40s in the normally colder locations.

JB, NWR, MOOCs, and Why Humans Matter in Higher Education

| 9:30 am September 17, 2014

This guest post was authored by Dr. John Knox, an associate professor in the Geography Department and the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia.

Why am I a meteorologist? Let me tell you a story that is mine, but others’ as well. A story that, in the end, touches on one of the biggest unsolved questions in higher education today: why, in this era of democratized education via sophisticated technology, we still need humans in the loop as teachers and mentors.

As my students know, I became fascinated by the weather at the ripe old age of four, at an Atlanta Braves exhibition game interrupted and ended by a severe thunderstorm. By the age of five, I was reading books about the weather. But such childhood fascinations can wane; my son became enthralled with trains when he was 2, but he’s not majoring in railroads here at UGA. Particularly if you don’t have an adult mentor in the specialty who ushers you to that next level.

That’s what I had in meteorology, courtesy of the U.S. government, starting when I was 11 years old. In the aftermath of the deadly 1974 Tornado Superoutbreak that killed hundreds and disrupted communications from Alabama to Michigan, the National Weather Service realized that it needed its own way to get the word out about tornado warnings. NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) was born.

As national networks go, NWR was and is kind of a rinky-dink affair. The radio console looked like a glorified 8-track tape affair. Meteorologists at National Weather Service stations would record forecasts, weather summaries, hourly weather observations, and watches and warnings and plug them in. The tapes would play sequentially, over and over again, broadcast to the public on high-frequency stations.

It sounds deadly-dull, doesn’t it? Especially to a generation that has not been raised on the radio.

But for an 11-year-old weather nerd in the days before The Weather Channel, it was heaven. Now, instead of trying to learn about the weather from a three-minute TV weather broadcast, or the very, very occasional special on network TV back then, I had a 24/7/365 mentor on the weather radio that I begged my parents to buy.

And when I say “24/7/365,” that wasn’t not too far off the mark in terms of my NWR listening habits. My parents and brother marveled at my ability to listen for hours, absorbing weather information while doing homework, reading, or just lying around. It was my constant companion growing up.

Even better, the voices on NWR were real meteorologists at our local National Weather Service office. Some read the weather information without inflection. Others sounded almost comically Southern. But there was one, with a resonant tenor voice, who was the best of the best.

This sonorous meteorologist’s name, I learned eventually, was JB Elliott. A native of Hale County, Alabama, JB had, in post-WWII America, worked his way into the Weather Service without a college degree. Over time he became the widely known and beloved resident historian of all things Alabama weather. I eventually listened to NWR all over the country, but there was no one like JB for conveying both the history and the excitement of weather. He would get up out of bed and drive to the Weather Service office in the middle of the night just to do NWR broadcasts during severe weather. I told my family that the weather couldn’t be that severe until I heard JB’s voice on NWR.

Then there was April 4, 1977. An “F5” tornado—the worst—hit just a few miles away from us in Birmingham, killing 22 people. JB went on NWR live—no tape delay—broadcasting the warnings and making sure listeners knew of the gravity of the situation. When JB went live, you knew it wasn’t just bad weather, it was the worst. The damage was so horrendous, photographs of it ended up in training guides for meteorologists. Some of those photographs were taken by JB.

I didn’t meet JB face-to-face until much, much later, in the early 2000s. I had just published the first edition of an introductory college-level meteorology textbook. And in it, I dedicated the book to two meteorologists: the late chair of the meteorology department of my Ph.D. institution, and JB. It might be the first time that a college textbook has been dedicated to a government employee without a college degree. But I think you can tell why I dedicated the book to JB. Without his voice mentoring me in the weather during my childhood, all the way into college, I would likely have lost interest in the weather somewhere along the way.

Now, what does this have to do with higher education? Today we are grappling with the role and scope of online education at universities. Why keep costly humans in the loop at all? JB Elliott and NWR can speak to these questions.

And that’s because, after about 20 years of live meteorologists on NWR, the Weather Service automated the whole shebang in 1997. This was a time-saving, cost-saving move, designed with good intentions to have meteorologists spend more of their time on science and getting warnings out to the public.

And so JB’s tenor was replaced with Igor the Computer’s automated voice. That wasn’t the official name of the voice; the Weather Service tried to personalize things by calling them “Paul,” and “Donna,” and “Tom,” and “Javier.” They’re all Igor to me.

An important point here: the computerized voices ‘read’ the same type of information that the human meteorologists had for decades: hourly weather summaries, weather forecasts, etc. Most of the time, the only difference is that the words are automated vs. coming from a National Weather Service meteorologist.

But that makes all the difference to me. As Will Smith says in I, Robot: “Robots, [gesturing toward his heart], nothing here, just lights and clockwork. Go ahead, you trust ‘em if you want to.” I tried to listen to NWR’s automated broadcasts. I couldn’t. It wasn’t the same, and in fact it felt like a betrayal to me. I spent many thousands of hours listening to NWR in my youth. From the time of automation in 1997 until now, I have listened to NWR for a grand total of 15 minutes. Other “weather nerds” have said the same thing to me.

And I predict that no one, ever, will dedicate a meteorology textbook to Igor the Computer Voice.

Now, back to the ivory tower. I contend that my experience speaks to some of the deepest issues in higher education with regard to automation.

• The mentor/instructor must be present. That often means physically present. But JB was present for me in his voice, and in his getting out of bed and going on-air at 3 am during severe weather. I’ll write another time about the crucial nature of physical presence, but it isn’t absolutely necessary as long as you are truly present in other ways. And even though ‘he’ is always there, Igor the Computer is not in any human sense “present.”

• The mentor/instructor must be passionate. I do get strange looks from meteorologists of my generation when I talk about good ol’ NWR. They had NWR, too, in other parts of the country, but there it was just a radio that set off an alarm during severe weather. They didn’t have JB, and other Birmingham Weather Service meteorologists who invested time, energy and interest. And nobody had JB’s passion for the weather, clearly conveyed via the radio. It was the same kind of information, yes, but it lacked passion.

• In recent years there has been a big push to use technology to create massively open online courses, or MOOCs. Millions can be reached, but comparatively few students finish such courses, and the grades can be even worse than ‘normal’ classes. However, other instructors report good results with online courses on smaller scales. What’s going on here? Presence and passion. As I know from my own teaching experiences, even a large class can feel small and alive if the instructor is willing to be present in his or her students’ lives, passionate about the subject, and if the students are willing to suspend disbelief and pretend that a large science class can be a community, too. If MOOCs can create that environment on the scale of thousands or millions, then they will succeed. JB created it, on-air, for thousands in the Birmingham area. So it can be done outside of a face-to-face relationship. So the MOOC advocates are right in this sense. But it’s not about information dissemination. Most humans have to be motivated, emotionally, to learn. “Lights and clockwork” don’t do that.

Automation does have its advantages. Igor’s voice will drone on as long as the government keeps the transmitters working. JB retired from the Weather Service back in 1989. Recently, due to health, he has had to step back from participating in the Birmingham-based, world-renowned “Weatherbrains” podcasts. People get old, retire, and eventually die.

No one will shed a tear when Igor finally “signs off.” The same will not be said for JB Elliott, not among his thousands of friends in the flesh in Birmingham, and thousands more around the world online. And certainly not among the not-small contingent of those who became weather fanatics and even degreed meteorologists because of him.

And that is what real education is all about.

JB Retirement Bham News 0417891 Picture copy 600

The hero in John’s story is our very own J.B. Elliott, who recently retired from his day to day forecasting duties, and someone that several of us called mentor. This photograph was from the Birmingham News article when J.B. retired. – Bill Murray