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Category: Met 101/Weather History

Scary Clouds

| 6:24 pm May 27, 2015

They are just that. Scary clouds.

Several people around The Summit have been observing menacing looking funnel like clouds to the south over Double Oak Mountain. Here is an example from @jmdrennen.


These are harmless scud clouds developing as air is lifted by the cooler, moist outflow of nearby storms. Cloud fragments, known as scud, will form in mid-air or under the base that can protrude downward, appearing to be a funnel cloud.

These false funnels are distinguishable from true funnel clouds or tornadoes because they will not be rotating. They are also more ragged and often rising and descending intermittently.

James Remembers the Brent Tornado

| 6:32 am May 27, 2015

On Sunday night, May 27, 1973, I saw serious tornado damage for the first time in my life, and it changed my life. The sights and sounds are still fresh in my mind; almost like it happened yesterday.

I was wrapping up my junior year at Tuscaloosa High School, and on that Sunday night we received a call for help from our friends in Bibb County. A tornado had gone right through the center of Brent, and amateur radio operators from Tuscaloosa were needed to establish communication with relief agencies in Birmingham and other places. Remember, there were no cell phones in 1973, and this was an urgent need. I arrived with a group from Tuscaloosa within one hour of the tornado, and we were all stunned at what we saw. Eerie darkness, an odd odor (many people that have experienced call it the “smell of death”), roads blocked by trees, and debris everywhere. I wound up coming back the next morning, and stayed in Centreville (adjacent to Brent) handling communication from a church.

Down in Brent, a total of 5 people died in the storm, including Andrew Mitchell, who was attending evening worship services at the Brent Baptist Church, which was destroyed. Many more were injured, and town was just about wiped out by the EF-4 twister. That was actually just a segment of the damage; the tornado first touched down just northeast of Demopolis, and went through Greensboro, where one person was killed and 72 injured. It continued northeast, and took out the old National Weather Service radar site on Alabama Highway 25 before striking downtown Brent. The crew at the radar site had to take cover in the ditch across the street.




From Brent, the path continued near Montevallo and Childersburg, before it finally lifted on the western slope of Mount Cheaha in East Alabama. A total of 216 buildings were destroyed, 570 buildings were damaged, 97 mobile homes were destroyed, and 45 businesses were damaged or destroyed. More than 12,000 acres of timber was destroyed. It was a storm I will never forget, even though it happened 42 years ago.

We should note an EF-3 tornado that same day impacted a Tarrant-Center Point-Springville-St Clair Springs-Ashville-Gadsden path. Heavy damage occurred in Center Point where 32 homes and 48 mobile homes were destroyed. Over 300 homes were damaged. One person was killed by that storm.

This came at the tail end of the spring tornado season; a reminder we can have a strong/violent tornado in late May in Alabama.

This great site from John Brasher has more details about the situation in Brent.

The Andover Tornado of 1991

| 4:10 pm April 26, 2015

On this day 24 years ago, an F5 tornado devastated the community of Andover, Kansas, in a violent tornado outbreak over the plains of Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. On April 26, 1991, a total of 55 tornadoes developed, 30 of which were rated an F2 or greater. At one point during the storm, three separate F4 or F5 tornadoes – Andover, Red Rock, and Arkansas City – were simultaneously on the ground. 21 people died as a direct result of the April 26, 1991 severe weather – 17 from one storm alone.

While the April 26, 1991 storm is most known for the destruction of the Andover community, this same twister also hit parts of Wichita, McConnell Air Force Base and other parts of South Central Kansas. The following devastating tornadoes occurred primarily during the afternoon and evening hours across northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

4-26-2015 3-46-59 PM

The Andover tornado initially exhibited multiple vortices, producing F3 damage. As it veered north, it bore down on Haysville, Kansas, just south of Wichita. It passed through the southeastern part of Wichita, passing just a mile south of the South Wichita interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. McConnell Air Force Base was next on the tornado’s agenda. The twister crossed the Base’s runways and missed a billion dollar line of B-1B bombers by less than one thousand feet. The southern part of the Base received F2-F3 damage. The Officer’s Club, Base Hospital and base housing were heavily damaged. But the tornado was growing in size and intensity.


A subdivision near the Sedgwick County/Butler County line was nearly completely leveled as the tornado grew to its highest intensity. As the tornado turned into an F5 monster, it set its sights on the Golden Spur Mobile Home Park in Andover about 6:45 p.m. Warnings mentioning Andover specifically were issued seven minutes before the tornado arrived; however, the sirens in Andover were not working. A police cruiser drove through the park sounding its sirens as a warning. Many of the residents had heard about the approaching tornado from local television coverage and headed to the park’s storm shelter. Others said they would not take shelter until the funnel was visible. Fortunately, the tornado was slow moving and highly visible, and many made it to shelter in time. Over 200 people were huddled in the shelter when the twister struck, annihilating 233 of the 241 homes. The tornado obliterated the mobile home community, killing thirteen people. Twisted frames were the only remains of many of the mobile homes.

The tornado thankfully moved into more rural territory northeast of Andover, crossing the Kansas Turnpike. Near El Dorado, the tornado literally bounced a huge oil tank over a half mile. When the tornado finally lifted about five miles north of El Dorado, it had been on the ground for forty five miles. A total of seventeen people in the Andover community lost their lives. Right after the Andover tornado lifted, the same storm produced another tornado that was captured on news video as it passed near on overpass on the Kansas Turnpike, which enforced the false belief that overpasses could provide safe shelter during tornadoes.

The First TDS Warning

| 9:00 am April 25, 2015

Photo from @UAHSWIRLL

In 2002, a WSR-74C radar was donated to the University of Alabama – Huntsville. The radar is called ARMOR: the Advanced Radar for Meteorological and Operational Research.

In 2004, it was upgraded to dual-polarization capability. Radars typically send out and receive their electronic signals in the horizontal plane only. Dual-pol adds the vertical plane. This gives meteorologists quite a bit more data about the targets that the radar is “seeing” in the atmosphere, including size and shape. This can be very helpful in determining precipitation type and amounts.

One thing that researchers have found is that the data can sometimes differentiate the signature of debris being lofted into the air by a tornado that is on the ground. This can help confirm that a tornado is occurring when ground truth reports aren’t available, a great thing at night and in remote locations, or where terrain and trees limit visibility. The signature is called a Tornadic Debris Signature (TDS). We use them all the time today. There was clear evidence of one last night in Central Mississippi for example.

Researchers at UAH documented the first TDS in February 2008 in a pre-dawn F4 tornado during the Super Tuesday Outbreak in North Alabama.

On this date, meteorologists at UAH provided their first real time reports of a tornadic debris signature to the NWS to help issue a tornado warning for Marshall County in North Alabama as a tornado was doing damage in Albertville.

Boston Breaks Snowfall Record for Season!

| 8:41 pm March 15, 2015

It is official! Just under three inches of snow fell late this afternoon and evening at Boston’s Logan Airport, surpassing the old seasonal snowfall total.

This graphic does not yet reflect the updated total, but shows 125 years of snowfall records in Beantown.


If the GFS is right, they may increase their snowfall total even further next weekend! The model has been predicting some light snows next weekend.

719 PM EDT SUN MAR 15 2015







The Ash Wednesday Storm

| 9:00 am March 7, 2015


Ash Wednesday is the High Holy Day signifying the beginning of the Lenten period. Ash Wednesday in 1962 was on March 7th. On that day, an unusual series of factors were coming together to create an especially bad situation along the U.S. East Coast.

First, there was a new moon, which meant spring tides along the coast that “sprung” higher than they normally would. In addition, twice every 29.5 days, the Earth is aligned with the sun and the moon and the gravitational pull on the tides is greater, making the tidal range higher. This is called syzygy. At syzygy, high tides are higher than they normally would be.

The third factor was that the moon was at perigee. The moon’s orbit around the Earth is not perfectly circular. It is shaped more like an oval. The Earth is located closer to one end than the other, meaning that once during each orbit, the moon is much closer to Earth than at other times. Nearly 225,000 miles closer in fact. When the Earth and moon are at the closest point, it is called perigee.

Again, the proximity of the moon results in higher tides than normal. The two events occur within 36 hours of each other a few times each year. On this date in 1962, they were within 30 minutes of one another. By themselves, these two events would not cause very much trouble, but they occurred simultaneously with a huge late season nor’easter, known as the Great Atlantic Storm to meteorologists.

Locals christened it the Ash Wednesday Storm. Its forward progress blocked by high pressure to the north, for three days beginning on Ash Wednesday, the huge extratropical storm unleashed its fury without warning from North Carolina to New England. With each succeeding high tide, water levels rose higher and higher, inundating beachfront communities. Massive waves pounded 500 miles of beach, eroding the dunes.

When it was over, 1,800 structures were destroyed. Damages totaled $500 million. Forty people died.