Most of you know I work a pretty long day… up before 5 a.m… not home until around midnight. My passion for weather keeps me going and energized. Unfortunately the long hours prevents me from reading many books, but I was able to finish “Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather” by my friend Mike Smith this month.
For those that love weather, this is one of those books that is hard to put down. Not only is it a history of the severe weather warning system in the United States, it also weaves in the personal story of Mike’s long career.
Most of us in applied meteorology had some event in our childhood that triggered a deep interest in weather. For Mike, it was the Ruskin Heights tornado on May 20, 1957, just south of Kansas City, that was rated EF-5, and would kill 44 people that Monday evening. There were no tornado warnings in 1957; the U.S. Weather Bureau had a fear that that would set off a panic if they even mentioned the immediate threat of a tornado. Mike describes watching news cut-ins during “I Love Lucy” on WDAF as reports came into their newsroom.
The book goes on to tell the story of the first operational tornado forecast had been issued by Air Force Officers E. J. Fawbush and R. C. Miller at Tinker Air Force Base in 1948. These men laid the foundation for the current watch and warning system in use today.
There are many case studies in Mike’s book; one of great interest to me is the mircoburst of August 2, 1985 that downed Delta Flight 191, a regularly scheduled service from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Florida to Los Angeles International Airport, California, by way of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The crash came on the ground of DFW Airport in Texas; I happened to be the chief meteorologist for the CBS station in Dallas at the time, KDFW-TV, Channel 4. The plane went down during the first few minutes of our 6:00 news that evening, and soon it become pretty clear the big thunderstorm near DFW was responsible for the crash, which would kill 137 people.
Guess I can admit it now, but watching the live news coverage of the crash that night on our competing station, WFAA-TV, had a big impact on me, and inspired me to do long form coverage during tornadoes later in my career when it was allowed by management. Channel 8 did such a good job that night.
Mike also look at the warning process for Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina in deep detail… what went right, and what went wrong. It is especially interesting to read the chapter “Murder by Bureaucracy” concerning Katrina.
I do believe you need to know where you have been to have a better understanding of where you are going. This history of severe weather warnings in this nation is a very important story for all of us, and Mike did a masterful job of telling it. I encourage all in the weather enterprise, and those interested in weather, to get a copy. It is a very good read.
We welcome Meaghan Thomas to the ABC 33/40 Weather Team…
Ashley Brand left the station at the end of April, and we will miss her. Meaghan will step in as weekend meteorologist. She interned at ABC 33/40 a few years ago.
Meaghan was born in Atlanta and grew up in the suburb of Johns Creek. Her passion for broadcasting and meteorology became apparent in middle school and from that she has never deviated.
She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcast News and Geography from the University of Alabama. As an undergraduate Meaghan became a member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. She also became a certified storm spotter. Meaghan experienced, first hand, the devastating tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011. This experience further reinforced her desire to learn more about what causes such atmospheric events.
Meaghan is completing her Master’s in Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi State University. While attending MSU, she was a teaching assistant in the Department of Communications. She also accompanied a group of storm chasers into the Great Plains where she personally experienced the EF-3 El-Reno, Oklahoma tornado, EF-4 Bennington, Kansas tornado, and 5.25 inch hail. Her pictures of the phenomenon were featured on CNN, Good Morning America and ABC Nightly News.
That training paid off when Meaghan started work as a meteorologist at WCBI, the CBS affiliate, in Columbus, MS. She gained valuable experience tracking severe weather through eastern Mississippi and into western Alabama. Her next goal is to earn the prestigious CBM and NWA seal of approval.
Meaghan’s personal time is spent enjoying family, good food, travel, exercise, and cheering on the Alabama Crimson Tide. You can follow her on Twitter here….
Yesterday, Brian posted about the Birmingham NOAA Weather Radio Transmitter being off the air. Today we received an update from Jim Stefkovich, the Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service in Birmingham. Jim believes it is important for everyone to know about the situation, and has asked all media partners spread the word on the issue. Here is the latest information on this situation.
Initial issues with the Birmingham NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) transmitter occurred during the late afternoon on Saturday 4/19. Technicians determined on 4/20 that equipment on the tower, as well as cable from the transmitter to the antenna needed to be replaced. There are limited personnel available to make repairs and certified to make the approximate 450 foot climb on the antenna. We have received estimates that the transmitter may not be repaired until on or around 5/3.
They have provided a link to allow people the opportunity to switch transmitter sites and determine if they can in fact pick up broadcasts from surrounding transmitters. Map of nearby transmitters.
The last NWR weekly test occurred on 4/19. For some NWR receivers, if a weekly test does not occur within 10 days, the receiver will begin to beep constantly. This means that if not repaired by 4/29-30, these receivers will begin to beep until a weekly test is performed. It is their intention to perform a weekly test immediately if the outage lasts this long.
My first J.B. Elliott experience was probably in 1971. The National Weather Service in Birmingham had a recorded telephone line for the forecast. It was updated a few times a day by the meteorological technicians and forecasters that worked there at the office at 11 West Oxmoor Road in Homewood. When there was active weather, they could shorten the recording length and provide more frequent updates. One voice on the line could be counted upon to deliver excellent severe weather updates and even tropical advisory information. That was the trusted voice of J.B. Elliott.
As a nine year old that year, I had discovered tracking hurricanes and was using my trusty World Book Atlas to plot tropical cyclone positions from the advisories. The first storm I ever tracked was Edith that September. The major hurricane came together over the southern Caribbean and reached peak intensity on September 9th before it made landfall in Nicaragua. The storm weakened considerably and meandered northwestward, eventually crossed the Yucatan Peninsula and entered the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. It moved into Mexico then tracked slowly north northeastward along the coast. On the 15th, it was picked up by an approaching trough and shunted rapidly northeastward toward the Louisiana coast. It made landfall 30 miles east of Cameron as a minimal hurricane on the morning of the 16th.
As a fourth grader at McElwain Elementary, I begged to stay home on Thursday the 16th so that I could track the storm. It may have been the first hurricane weather day in history for a Birmingham school student. I followed the hourly observations by listening to the ATIS from the Birmingham Airport on an old Patrolman 6 VHF/UHF radio. The winds only gusted to 31 mph at BHM, but I recorded the reports diligently like it was a category five hurricane. 1.94 inches of rain fell at the Airport.
By the next year though, I was addicted to the reports on the recorded line. There was no Weather Channel, no internet, no weather radio, and barely any television weather. And you knew that it was going to be a good weather information day when you heard that reassuring voice.
But I didn’t know who it belonged to. It would be 1976 before I would meet the man behind the voice at the NWS. And in November of that year, NOAA Weather Radio came to Birmingham. Then it was on! J.B. quickly established himself as the trusted voice for Central Alabama weather on the new KIH-54 station.
Anytime there was active weather, you hoped J.B. was working. You knew then that you were in good hands for the next 8 hours or so. That never was truer than on April 4, 1977. I was the only kid at Huffman High School who carried a NOAA Weather Radio to school. I knew that we had trouble when a tornado warning was issued shortly before 3 p.m., which was dismissal time. I went up to the teacher and told her that a warning had been issued and that we needed to let someone know so that we could sound the tornado drill bell. She told me to sit down.
The rear flank downdraft struck with a fury even as the dismissal bell sounded. I hit the hallway running, but could not open the glass doors. The tornado bells sounded immediately afterwards and we were all hurried downstairs. The storm passed well to the north of us and we were allowed to leave. J.B. was broadcasting live on KIH-54, the first of several times that would happen under his watch.
J.B. would bolster his image as a weather legend with his updates that afternoon and over the next twelve years. Any event that warranted reports on the “Alabama Weather Situation” immediately got your attention. He would continue to be the voice of NOAA Weatheradio for everyone in Central Alabama until his retirement in 1989. The article that ran in The Birmingham News when he retired is shown here.
But that would not be the end of his storied career. He has been creating content for The Weather Company (now known as The Weather Factory) ever since. And while he has officially retired from his day to day forecasting duties, he still is an owner in the company. He has his logon for AlabamaWx and he promises you will see occasional stories under his byline in coming days. He will also make an appearance on WeatherBrains from time.
Sally and I went out to J.B. and Judy’s house last Thursday to take them a set of birthday cupcakes. J.B. was funny and said thank you to everyone for his birthday wishes. M&M were in rare form as well.
Thank you J.B. for your years of service to the people of Alabama, your mentoring and your friendship. You are an Alabama Weather Legend.
It is my sad duty to let you know that “the world’s greatest weatherman”… J.B. Elliott… is officially retiring this week from weather work.
J.B. is my mentor, and the main reason I am a professional meteorologist today. He is a trusted friend that never seems to have a bad day.
His roots are in rural Hale County, at Havanna Junction, south of Moundville. J.B. was born April 17, 1932, and it seems like he loved weather from the day he was born. The passion has never faded, and his enthusiasm for the science of meteorology spreads like wildfire.
He worked for the National Weather Service as a forecaster for 32 years… and all of that time was spent at the office here in Birmingham. He is has lived and worked through so much weather history… he was the one that issued most of the tornado warnings during the “SuperOutbreak” of tornadoes April 3-4, 1974.
Upon his retirement from the NWS, we had a deal for him waiting to join “The Weather Company”… now known as “The Weather Factory”. That is our private business that provides support for ABC 33/40; J.B. is widely known for his daily afternoon forecast package here on the blog. Not only is he known for detailed, accurate forecasts, he is also loved because of the personal stories he shares. For many years, the adventures of his dog “Little Miss Molly” warmed many hearts.
I cherish all the times we rode together to school visits over the years on the “roads less traveled”.
J.B. has been the long time severe weather voice for local radio stations WBHK (Kiss-FM), WBHJ, and WAGG.
J.B.’s wife Judy had a serious fall a few weeks ago, and both Judy and J.B. have decided it is the time to retire. But, even in retirement, we will always check in with J.B. anytime we have a big weather threat since he is the voice of experience and logic around here.
I hope J.B. and Judy enjoy the retirement years; they are active members of Huffman Baptist Church and live in Trussville. It has been my honor to work alongside the “legend” for all these years, and I will always be appreciative of his support and encouragement.
A great opportunity for all you weather enthusiast out there. This weekend, April 4-5, 2014 is the 12th Annual Southeast Severe Storms Symposium on the beautiful campus of Mississippi State University. This is a terrific, student-led conference hosted by the East Mississippi Chapter of the NWA/AMS. It is a real treat if you have the time to take the short drive out U.S. Highway 82 to wonderful Starkville, Mississippi. There are some great speakers this year, including our own Weather Historian, Bill Murray. Bill will be discussing The Deadliest Tornado Outbreak in Alabama history which occurred on March 21-22, 1932. Click on the image below get all the information about the Symposium or check out the Chapter’s Website.
Come one, come all to the first meeting of 2014 for the Central Alabama Chapter of the National Weather Association.
The meeting will be held Monday night, March 17th, 2014 from 7-8:15 PM, at the Homewood Suites in the Riverchase community of Hoover.
The Central Alabama Chapter of the National Weather Association is dedicated to promoting the important place of weather in every aspect of our lives. The Chapter brings together operational forecasters, broadcasters, government meteorologists, academicians, emergency managers and weather enthusiasts to network and learn about operational meteorology.
The goal of the Central Alabama National Weather Association Chapter is to increase weather awareness and education, and to make everyone a Weather Ready Ambassador. Members have plenty of opportunities to interface, network and work together in a relaxed setting, which will advance the understanding of each other’s roles and foster personal relationships that will come in handy when skies turn threatening. There are abundant opportunities to get involved in leadership through committees and officer positions.
The meeting Monday night will have guest speakers Kevin Laws from NWS Birmingham and Bob Dreisewerd from Baron Services Inc. They will be talking radar. We will learn more about the existing ways radar data is used and interpreted, some new more rapid scan strategies that will be used this year, and where the future of the technology is headed. It will certainly be an interesting topic and you will not want to miss out on this opportunity.
After an incredible 2013, the Chapter is looking forward to a better 2014. The main reason we can do this is because Baron Services Inc., from Huntsville, Alabama has signed on to be a corporate sponsor for the Chapter for 2014. This will allow us to achieve bigger and better goals for the year ahead.
Becoming a member of the Chapter is a terrific opportunity. What makes this so incredible is because the local dues are just $25. That covers the entire year and guarantees access to all Chapter events during 2014. Dues can be paid online with credit card or PayPal ($1.06 processing fee), or by check or cash in person at a meeting or by mail.
Please visit the Chapter Website, join the chapter and RSVP for the meeting Monday night. Hope to see you there!
On Saturday, March 1st, National Weather Association Central Alabama Chapter President Bill Murray and Past President Kevin Laws from the National Weather Service judged projects in the Central Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair at UAB.
They were pleased to present the Chapter’s First Award for Excellence in Atmospheric Science to:
Miss Caroline Borden
Miss Jaylan Jacobs
Of Indian Springs School
For their project:
Dissolution of Shells in an Acidifying Ocean.
In addition to the certificate, each of the students receive a check for $100 and are invited to be recognized at the Chapter meeting this coming Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Homewood Suites in Riverchase.
The Central Alabama Chapter of the National Weather Association is dedicated to the promoting the important place of weather in every aspect of our lives. The Chapter brings together operational forecasters, broadcasters, government meteorologists, academicians, emergency managers and weather enthusiasts to network and learn about operational meteorology.
The goal of the Central Alabama Chapter is to make everyone a Weather Ambassador.
MEETING THIS MONDAY NIGHT!
don’t forget to mark your calendars for the first Chapter meeting of 2014, which is this Monday night, March 17th at 7PM.
The meeting will be held at the Homewood Suites in Riverchase. Doors open at 6:30 PM and the meeting starts at 7PM. Come learn about some of the newest radar technology that is being used from Kevin Laws from the NWS and Bob Dreisewerd from Baron Services.
Anyone can join the Chapter for $25 which guarantees admission to all Chapter events this upcoming year.. Guest are also encourage to attend the meeting, but will have to pay the guest fee of $15. Join or pay your dues on the Chapter website.