When J.B.’s son Steve broke the news to me this afternoon, it almost took my breath away. Yes, we all know J.B.’s heath was failing, but I don’t think anyone expected his death so soon.
J.B. Elliott was born April 17, 1932, about one month after a generational tornado outbreak that killed hundreds of Alabamians on March 21 of that year. He would live through, and work two of those events in his long career; April 3, 1974, and April 27, 2011.
I could not ask for a better role model in the field of meteorology, living out the Christian faith, or being a husband and father.
J.B. is a 32-year veteran of the National Weather Service. (It was known as the U.S. Weather Bureau when he signed on in the spring of 1957.) Ironically, at the moment he arrived at the office at Birmingham Airport for the very first day on duty, a tornado was on the ground in Walker County causing several fatalities.
J.B. spent his entire NWS career in the Birmingham office and witnessed numerous major Alabama weather events. He always was especially interested in severe weather and spent many long hours on duty during adverse weather, including tornadoes, hurricanes, snow events and ice storms. He worked for 17 hours in a row without a break during the famous tornado Super Outbreak of April 3, 4, 1974. He was also on duty as part of a team when a powerful F5 tornado ripped across the western section of Birmingham in April, 1977.
It was known as the Smithfield tornado. During all his years in severe weather work, he was awarded not only a U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal but also the Silver Medal.
When growing up in West Alabama’s Hale County (Havana Junction!) he always wanted to be a weatherman, newspaper reporter, radio broadcaster or photographer. His career in meteorology has included all of that. He was one of the persons that handled the NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts from the Weather Service. He was responsible for thousands of weather stories, warnings and special feature items over the years.
As a kid, he built a small radio “studio” in the corner of his bedroom and practiced doing newscasts, and of course weather, with a wooden “microphone.” His main source of news was a day-old Birmingham Age-Herald, The Tuscaloosa News, The Greensboro Watchman and jotting down items he heard on WJRD Radio, Tuscaloosa. He also printed a two page weekly newspaper, “Hometown News” by hand and mailed a copy to relatives in Worcester, Massachusetts and charged them five cents. It cost three cents to mail it!.
Of course weather was often the main headline.
He ordered a $4 plastic rain gauge from a catalog. His parents bought him a 29-cent thermometer and a 5-cent notebook. He started keeping weather records and was hooked. At Akron High School, one of his teachers, W.W. Duncan, was very interested in weather. He encouraged J.B. to follow that and gave him an assignment to brief the science class once a week on all of the new developments in weather.
During his NWS career, J.B. was very active in photography and the duty of photographing storm damage sort of defaulted to him. In fact, for several years it was his responsibility to do storm surveys and determine the “F” rating of a tornado, path length, width, fatalities and injuries for the official NWS publication, Storm Data. The Super Outbreak in 1974 was an enormous task.
I met J.B. in the 1970s when I was an electrical engineering student, but with a true passion for weather. We bonded instantly, and during my early days as a television weather anchor in Birmingham at Channel 13, we spent much time together, especially during my break between the 6:00 and 10:00 newscast, and when he was also on the “night shift”. He was a friend, mentor, and father figure to me. My dad walked away from my family when I was 7 years old, so he filled a very important role in my life.
J.B. was always there with an encouraging word, and some weather knowledge for me to take away. It was that way when he worked for the National Weather Service, and when he worked for our private weather company after his retirement from government work, which came in 1989.
For many years J.B. would ride with me to school visits across Alabama. I cherish the stories and laughter we enjoyed on the roads less traveled.
Many loved hearing J.B. on our weekly show “WeatherBrains”, and he had countless fans that loved reading his afternoon weather discussion here on the blog, along with the adventures of his beloved dog “Little Miss Molly”.
J.B and his wife, Judy, were married for over 50 years. She grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, Ironically, she and J.B. met out at the Birmingham Airport when she and her “boy friend” visited the weather office. They have two grown children and six grandchildren. Son, Steve Elliott is a Birmingham and Center Point fireman. Daughter, Debbie Broome and her husband, Robert live in the Birmingham metro.
Thank you, J.B., for being my friend, mentor, and encourager. You never had a bad day… and if you did, you never let us know. See you again one day.
My long time mentor, J.B. Elliott, who worked at the National Weather Service in Birmingham for over 30 years, passed away this afternoon. Some of you recall hearing him on NOAA Weather Radio for years, and most of you loved hearing him on our show WeatherBrains. He wrote countless posts on the blog.
More to come…
Tonight is our first Chapter Meeting of 2015! The meeting will be at the NWS Birmingham with special quest speaker, Eric Jones, Elmore County Emergency Manager.
Eric, Emergency Management Director for Elmore County and former Director for the Alabama Association of Emergency Managers, will discuss how the Alabama Emergency Management Agency utilizes National Weather Service information prior to and during hazardous weather events. As it is the anniversary of the April 27, 2011 outbreak, Eric will also discuss EMA operations both during and after that historic event, providing an unique prospective of first responders from across the state.
Everyone is invited to arrive between 530-545pm to see the evening weather balloon launch and enjoy pizza (food and drink provided by the NWA). The meeting will begin around 615pm, after the balloon launch. After Eric’s presentation, Jim Stefkovich and Holly Allen will be available to give office tours for those interested. If you haven’t joined or renewed, please do so and be there tonight. Chapter website
An all new edition of the ABC 33/40 Weather Xtreme video is available in the player on the right sidebar of the blog. You can subscribe to the Weather Xtreme video on iTunes by clicking here.
WILD WEATHER SWINGS: A warm front is moving through North Alabama this afternoon; south of the front temperatures are nearing 80 over the southeast corner of the state; on the north side readings are in the 50s over the Tennessee Valley of North Alabama.
All of the state gets in the warm air tomorrow with highs generally in the 70-75 degree range. A few showers are possible during the day, but they will be scattered in nature and it certainly won’t rain all day. The most widespread rain comes tomorrow night as the Arctic front approaches.
Thunderstorms could be involved, but organized severe weather is not expected around here. We do note SPC has a “marginal” severe weather risk defined over parts of Central Mississippi and far West-Central Alabama for late tomorrow and tomorrow night.
WINTER STORM WATCH: NWS offices in Birmingham and Huntsville have issued a winter storm watch for parts of North and West Alabama for Thursday, as Arctic air spills into the state and an upper trough approaches from the west. The winter storm watches are generally west of I-65, and north of a line from Millport to Dora/Sumiton, where ice accumulation is expected to exceed 0.25″.
TIMING: The freeze line should be near Muscle Shoals at midnight tomorrow night… near Cullman at 4:00 a.m. Thursday… I-59 (Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Gadsden) at 7:00 a.m…. and Anniston at 8:00 a.m. Understand these are approximate times and could change.
PLACEMENT: Some icing is possible as far south as a line from Eutaw to Chelsea to Heflin during the day Thursday as the freeze line keeps moving south. The most significant ice accumulation will be north of I-59.
As usual, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Anniston, and Gadsden are on the border between rain and freezing rain, but models are in decent agreement that the freeze line will slip a little south of these cities by 8:00 Thursday morning, and icy travel is a very real possibility there.
PRECIPITATION TYPE: Most of this event Thursday morning will feature freezing rain (rain in liquid form that falls with surface temperatures below 32) and sleet (ice pellets); snow flurries are possible Thursday afternoon as the event winds down.
ACCUMULATION: Ice accumulation up to 0.30″ is possible in the winter storm watch areas (west of I-65, and north of a line from Millport to Dora/Sumiton). Elsewhere, amounts will vary from very little to 0.20″. For now significant snow accumulation is not expected with just light flurries on top of the ice.
IMPACT: Where freezing rain falls, travel conditions will become icy and dangerous. Also, where 0.25″ of ice or more accumulates, scattered power outages are possible due to the weight of the ice on trees and power lines, and a north wind of 10-20 mph.
DURATION: Temperatures will stay below freezing all day generally north of I-59, meaning icy travel could continue through the day Thursday, Thursday night, and possibly into Friday morning. Temperatures warm above freezing by mid-morning Friday when conditions will improve greatly.
REMEMBER: This forecast can, and will change. Check the blog for updates as we get closer.
FRIDAY AND THE WEEKEND: These three days will be dry, with partly sunny days and fair nights. We reach the upper 40s Friday afternoon, with mid 50s Saturday and Sunday.
Take some time to watch the Weather Xtreme video for the maps, graphics, and more details.
WEATHER BRAINS: Don’t forget you can listen to our weekly 90 minute netcast anytime on the web, or on iTunes. This is the show all about weather featuring many familiar voices, including our meteorologists here at ABC 33/40.
CONNECT: You can find me on all of the major social networks…
I had a great time today seeing the kids at Randolph Elementary in Bibb County… be looking for them on the Pepsi KIDCAM today at 5:00 on ABC 33/40 News! The next Weather Xtreme video will be posted here by 7:00 a.m. tomorrow…
A look back at the forecast for today, since it has brought out a number of Facebook trolls.
LAST FRIDAY: This is the forecast I produced Friday morning, 72 hours before this morning’s event…
While this was not correct, note we never forecast a snow event for Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Anniston, and Gadsden. Looked like it would be a freezing rain/sleet event at that point. Most of the trolls claim we “forecast a big snow for Birmingham” today, which is simply not true.
SATURDAY NIGHT: This was the forecast 36 hours before the event.
Models trend warmer, the wintry precipitation forecast was shifted north.
SUNDAY MORNING: And, 24 hours before the event…
This was pretty accurate, with ice reported this morning down into Blount and St. Clair County.
Number four says: We try to provide you with our best forecast of snow/sleet/ice amounts as far in advance as we can. The first forecast numbers won’t usually be as good as the ones closer to the event. That’s just the way it is.
As we roll along this week, please keep checking these discussions for up to date information…
Number six says: If you want the most accurate and up-to-date information, you will have to check the forecast several times a day. Otherwise, you’re working with old information.
A new discussion will be posted shortly…
ALABAMA POWER IS READY, ARE YOU? Our friends at Alabama Power are monitoring the forecast closely, ready to deploy people and assets to quickly address any outages that might occur. Read a special message from Ike Piggot about their commitment to their customers.
I always enjoy hearing from our viewers, listeners, and readers. Thanks to social media, broadcasting has become a two way conversation, and I do my best to give you easy access for weather questions, pictures you want to share, severe weather reports, and weather program requests.
Want to get in touch with me? Here ya go…
For weather program request for a school, or speaking request for a church or civic club, email is the best way.
EMAIL: I have a countless number of email addresses, but my “hub” is the GMail account…
Want to email the WeatherBrains crew (our weekly podcast about weather)? Use email@example.com
SOCIAL MEDIA: I dabble in this pretty heavily; here is what to expect if you “follow” me…
TWITTER: I am @spann. My twitter feed is special, not because of me, but because of the information my followers bring to the table. I have over 165,000 followers, and they share a rather eclectic array of information that I retweet. Following the @spann account is basically like subscribing to a newswire; if there is something big happening around here (Alabama), you will know about it first. Whether it is weather related, a big wreck shutting down a highway, a fire, explosion, “boom”, meteor, you will be in the loop.
It is also a place to find some remarkable photography. Sunrises and sunsets flow, along with a hodgepodge of sky scenes. And, of course, it is also about all things weather. Not just in Alabama, but nationally and globally. I am pretty quick to respond to questions, and since I don’t sleep much, the account is very active.
FACEBOOK: This platform is extremely frustrating since much of the content is filtered. Organic reach has dwindled to less than 10 percent, meaning of the 190,000 that follow me, only about 15,000 see most posts in their newsfeed. Find me here: http://www.facebook.com/jamesspann… and be sure and choose to receive notifications; that will increase your odds of seeing my content on a more regular basis. I respond to Facebook messages, and the page is open for you to post pictures or other content. You will find great weather information here, along with some really good pictures.
GOOGLE PLUS: Some call this platform “Facebook without the drama”… I find great engagement, and there is little filtering. The Google Plus feed here http://www.google.com/+JamesSpann is close to being a mirror of my Facebook feed, but occasionally I will post unique content.
INSTAGRAM: This is where I post the “best of the best” of the pictures sent to me via social media. It is a stunning collection of weather related photos… http://www.instagram.com/spannpix
With all of the time dedicated to social media and responding to email, I should mention you don’t need to call me; I have not answered my phone at work since 1998. I don’t know my number, don’t know how to get voice mail, and don’t even know where the phone is located. I have just “opted out”… I can’t talk on the phone at the station since I work in a studio, and when I have the time to call people back, it is close to midnight, and most folks just don’t appreciate calls that late!