No one knows for sure how many tornado or severe thunderstorm watches and warnings he monitored, or how many hours he stayed at his post, but—in the 30-something years of being available around the clock to deal with Alabama weather—one thing is for sure.
Birmingham resident Carl Grover was a machine, relentless in his dedication to helping make sure that area residents received advance warning of approaching severe weather.
Grover, who was an amateur radio operator, spent decades volunteering as the primary liaison between central Alabama ham radio operators and the National Weather Service’s Birmingham Forecast Office.
When hams observed tornadoes, flooding, hail or other severe weather, they would tune in the Birmingham Amateur Radio Club’s 146.880 MHz repeater (a wide area coverage two-way radio system), looking for Carl. And, day or night, 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., nights, weekdays, weekends or holidays, they would find KA4JIR (Carl’s amateur radio call sign) monitoring the radio channel, waiting to take their information.
Carl would immediately call the Forecast Office and advise meteorologists, keeping them current on what storm spotters were seeing in the field.
In an era before Doppler weather radar, cell phones, camera-equipped smart phones, texting or instant messaging, the information Carl helped relay was frequently a consideration in whether the NWS issued a warning.
Sometimes, the forecasters would call Carl, asking him to find out what radio amateurs in a particular area were seeing, as part of the effort to obtain “ground truth” by verifying what radar might be indicating.
Is there actually a tornado on the ground? There were times that this was the only way forecasters could know for sure.
There is no way to know how many severe weather warnings may have been issued to protect the public, as a result of the cooperative effort Carl so frequently helped lead. Today, the work continues, but with a new generation at the controls.
Considered by many to be the father of amateur radio Skywarn communications in Birmingham, Carl passed away Sunday, December 9th. He was 86.
When severe storms threatened, it was always Carl’s voice on local amateur radio frequencies, providing operators with updates on current watches and warnings.
When it came to maintaining on-air decorum, it was Carl who gave unsuspecting radio amateurs the necessary corrections, reminding them that only important weather-related communications were appropriate. Those who deviated typically only did so once.
Carl was also a regular reporter of rain totals from his home near Eastwood Mall.
During the 1980s, as technology advanced and the Skywarn program’s value became more recognized for its life-saving potential, amateur radio operators and clubs began creating more formalized protocols on how to provide severe weather communications support more effectively.
It was also during this time that Carl and his late wife, Patsy, who also had an amateur radio license, organized Skywarn spotter classes in conjunction with the NWS. The classes took place at WVTM-TV atop Red Mountain (when James Spann was chief meteorologist and I anchored weather on the weekends) and drew radio amateurs from throughout central Alabama.
This was a valuable opportunity for training, with meteorologist Jay Shelley explaining what the Weather Service’s WSR-57 radar, based in Brent, could, and could not, see.
When the Weather Service went through a modernization in the late 1980s and 1990s, the changes affected how amateur radio operators throughout the Birmingham area would assist forecasters. To better serve the agency, Birmingham area hams formed ALERT, an organization dedicated to providing emergency communications support to the NWS upon its relocation from Birmingham to Calera as part of the modernization program.
With the shift to ALERT’s more formal operating system for handling severe weather communications, the stage could have been set for a clash between Grover’s long-held operating style and the new organization stepping in with its own rules and procedures.
Instead, Grover acted as a team player.
Operating a business out of his home helped give Carl the ability to get on the air and relay information quickly when severe weather threatened. His voice was often the first to be heard on local amateur radio frequencies when tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood and other watches were issued for the Birmingham area.
Once responding hams were able to get on site at the NWS to provide requested communications support, Carl would step aside and let ALERT’s operators take over. The result was a smooth and professionally run network that benefitted not just radio amateurs, but the Weather Service, other agencies and the public.
Carl is survived by three daughters and seven grand children.
“He was very dedicated,” said Ron Arant, a Shelby Co. amateur radio operator who remembers Carl providing severe weather communications during the mid 1980s. “He was somebody who had the public interest at heart.”
Trying to select a highlight from this week’s annual meeting of the National Weather Association is sort of like walking into your favorite bakery or doughnut shop and having to pick the treat you want most. Good luck. Pink or chocolate icing? With or without sprinkles? The task may be easier said than done.
There were so many informative presentations and panel discussions. There were so many prominent people from the meteorological, scientific, commercial and broadcast industries, and government, gathering at one spot, unleashing and sharing an incredible amount of knowledge.
Long before the first speaker ever stepped to the podium, the momentum of this week had been building. WeatherFest, the October 15th gathering of weather experts and the public at McWane Science Center in downtown Birmingham, was one of the catalysts for the success of this week.
WeatherFest’s weather was perfect, the turnout huge, and the enthusiasm tremendous. I saw the excitement in the eyes of young children, many of whom were probably getting a rare chance to be exposed to the sciences. We desperately need more young people pursuing careers in the sciences. Perhaps WeatherFest’s opportunities for such close up, hands-on involvement may have ignited the fire in some of these young minds. Our answer will come years from now.
As the NWA meeting itself got underway, it became obvious that the planning and logistical organizational work that started long ago had paid off.
From the next generation of weather satellites to dual polarization radar, from hurricanes to EF5 tornadoes, from ice to severe weather forecasting and research, a diverse array of experts shared thoughts and experiences, discussing what we’ve learned, and—very important—what we still need to learn.
What we still need to learn received heavy emphasis at the meeting because of Alabama’s April 27th severe weather outbreak. With all our sophisticated technology and so much advance notice, experts and non-experts alike ask why so many people had to die that day. It’s not an easy question to answer. But Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting took a serious try at finding answers that may well keep future generations alive.
As a volunteer, NWA was a wonderful experience (I played an extremely small role, about the size of one sprinkle on one of those doughnuts!). Being around so many experts and getting to sit in during this incredible sharing of knowledge was a rare opportunity and one I enjoyed tremendously. It was very educational … and loads of fun.
All of us who were involved in NWA 2011 have our memorable moments from the week of gatherings.
I’ll always treasure getting to help with Sunday’s session of meteorology students, who got tips and mentoring from some of our nation’s most prominent people in science, aerospace, government and broadcasting on how to get a successful career underway.
Looking across these students, I realized that the torch is being handed off, right in front of our eyes.
We are watching the next generation of scientists, researchers, forecasters and broadcasters move through a critical chapter in their lives. One of these young men or women may be who makes a startling breakthrough in atmospheric research, teaching us something new about our planet, or who develops a new way of understanding storm structure and behavior. Future mothers, fathers and children may owe their very survival to what these young people wind up accomplishing. And yes, the next James Spann is probably in this group, too (but I didn’t see anyone who had lost their hair—at least not yet!).
Another memory that’s hard to lose is seeing James almost break into tears, as he talks with a group of teachers about the horror of April 27th. It is still too raw to talk about. Too personal.
NWA 2011 was a lot more than just a meeting of weather experts. It was a chance for Birmingham to show its best to people from all across the country and the world. From the comments I heard, the meeting and the Magic City shined nicely.
Meetings that go as successfully as NWA 2011 went don’t just happen. Planning for an event like this takes meticulous attention to the smallest of details (most details are small until overlooked; then they’re not small anymore!). Making NWA 2011 work took a lot of devotion, time and effort. From people in professional careers related to weather to people with no formal connection at all (just a love and passion for weather), a lot of people in our community helped make NWA 2011 a success.
If there’s any one person who deserves credit for pulling off such a wonderful conference, I know of no one who has put in more time and effort than self-admitted weather geek Bill Murray. He certainly didn’t do this for the money.
Bill’s passion for weather is so intense that he began the effort to bring NWA to Birmingham years ago (literally). This week, that work paid off. We should be grateful that we have movers and shakers like Bill in our community. Bill assembled a team of volunteers who helped with making sure events and presentations went off as smoothly as possible.NWA 2011 has put our community on the world map for many, and one that will be remembered for years to come for the huge success it was.
Birmingham owes Bill a debt of gratitude.
Even from 438 miles above the Earth, you can tell that something very significant happened around Tuscaloosa and Birmingham April 27th.
For the first time, an energy-sensing instrument aboard a NASA spacecraft has been used to identify tracks left by the devastating tornado that tore through central Alabama.
Here’s what the damage path looks like as seen by ASTER, short for Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer:
ASTER, which flies aboard NASA’s Tera spacecraft, monitors visible and infrared energy reflected from the Earth’s surface. The destruction caused by the tornado shows up clearly in ASTER’s imaging, because of differences in how energy reflects back to the spacecraft from areas where houses and trees have been demolished.
The image above was captured May 4th, while Tera—which has a near polar orbit—made a pass over central Alabama.
Sometimes, knowing exactly where a tornado was on the ground can be difficult to pinpoint.
ASTER’s imaging is one more way we can use technology to better identify what’s happening on Earth.
You can find out more about ASTER and Tera by clicking here…
There are so many groups doing great work in the aftermath of Alabama’s April 27th tornado outbreak that it’s hard to single them all out.
Many working to help victims recover will get a lot of media exposure; their names and purposes will be known to all. Others helping are working much more silently, almost in the background, getting very little recognition for their efforts. The work of still others contributing their time and resources to try and ease the effects of this tragedy may never be known.
Many of the organizations helping went into action as soon as the devastation became obvious. But one group was active long before the first tornado touched down, and whose volunteers continue to provide assistance. This group has done its work to help others so many times in the past—mostly in the shadows, so to speak—that I can’t count them all.
Frankly, what they do is often not very visible or visual. Because it’s not exciting to watch, media attention is typically infrequent. But what these people do helps protect us all before the danger. And they are extremely valuable when it comes to help with recovering afterward.
So, who are these folks?
They are amateur radio operators, men and women of all ages and backgrounds. They share a commitment to help others in need.
I still remember being intrigued at the interesting looking radio my co-worker had placed on his desk in the small office we shared at Channel 13 in Birmingham one afternoon in the early 1980s.
At a time long before the era of cell phones, MP3 players and so many of the other small electronics devices surrounding us today, all the unusual switches and controls made my curiosity get the best of me. I had to ask: “What’s this?”
“It’s my handy talkie,” he answered. And so began my introduction and entry into amateur radio, courtesy of James Spann.
Ham radio is considered by many to be a hobby. I’ve never fully agreed with that description. It’s a public service. April 27th in Alabama is one reason why.
It’s true that many people get into ham radio for the communications contests and other fun activities. But amateur radio is one of the most valuable pathways there is to help your community in times of crisis.
Being a ham radio operator and providing communications support during emergencies is not always pleasant. But it’s rewarding. I can think of no more vivid proof of that than to listen to the stories of some of Alabama’s amateur radio operators active before and after last week’s storms.
The stories are chilling. They are enough to bring tears to your eyes.
I was able to speak with various hams involved in helping with the current disaster in Alabama, and thought you might like a behind-the-scenes look at what they were seeing and doing as the killer storms hit.
David Drummond, of Tuscaloosa, is among the hams who saw heartbreaking scenes they will never be able to forget.
Below is a report about what David and fellow amateur radio operators did across the state when devastation hit. This story is taken from The Amateur Radio Newsline, a weekly newscast about amateur radio and communications that is distributed worldwide.
By the way: If you visit The Amateur Radio Newsline website and download the full newscast, be sure to check out the story at the end of the newscast—the work of James Spann, ABC 33/40 and the team of Skywatchers gets some very prominent recognition.
The efforts of amateur radio operators may not be “all over the news,” but what Alabama’s hams have done makes me very proud to hold an amateur radio license.
I hope you are as thankful for what they do as I am.
John Oldshue and Ben Greer downplay it the minute you ask, but the question can’t be denied: How many lives did they help save when Alabama was slammed by the killer storms of April 27th?
No one knows, but one thing is for sure. Countless people are probably alive right now, because of the live video feed they provided from a spot they chose near a bingo hall southwest of Tuscaloosa.
What not everyone knows is what was happening behind the scenes, while John and Ben were trying to track the storm, find a good place to view from, stay safe, maintain communications and set up a video feed to be carried live on ABC 33/40.
And could their surprise encounter with “the Australian septic tank guy” at the bingo hall be a life-changing lesson about angels?
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening while John and Ben tracked the Tuscaloosa storm, and the key relief effort John has launched to try to help some of Tuscaloosa’s youngest storm victims: