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Category: Met 101/Weather History

May 30, 1948: The Vanport City Flood

| 10:31 pm May 29, 2015


Portland, OR was a major shipbuilding during World War II. As many as 100,000 people were employed in the shipyards. Thousands of people flocked to Portland, many of them African-Americans who had moved to the Northwest from the South. The huge influx of people created a huge housing shortage.

Vanport City was a federal housng project built on 650 acres along the banks of the Columbia River north of Portland. As many of 40,000 workers lived in the city of Vanport during the war. After the war, layoffs thinned the population, but 19,000 workers still lived in Vanport City in 1948.

Despite the fact that Vanport City was on the largest river in the western United States, there was little concern. The winter of 1947-48 produced heavy snowfall amounts in the upper Columbia River basin. Warm temperatures in the spring caused rapid melting of the snowpack, and rivers and streams quickly jumped their banks. Despite the rising water, there still was little concern.

On Sunday, May 30th, a dike which supported a rail track on the west side of the housing development suddenly collapsed. The crevasse widened from 6 feet to 60 feet and then to 500 feet wide. It only took two hours to flood the entire city. The following day, the dike on the eastern side of town collapsed also, sealing the town’s fate.

There was almost no warning for the town’s 19,000 residents. Twenty five people drowned. The residents of the town lost all of their personal belongings, most escaping with just the clothes on their backs. Ten thousand homes were destroyed. Damage totaled $21 million. Vanport would never be rebuilt. The area is now a flood mitigation zone with parks and golf courses.

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.

Snow Will Begin in Birmingham Soon

| 2:17 pm February 25, 2015


The snow line is working its way south and east at this hour and is into western and northern Jefferson County.

You will notice a change to a slushy rain/snow mix then to all snow. It will not take long for the changeover to occur, probably over the next hour.

It is now time to be home in the Greater Birmingham area.

Travel is now reportedly very hazardous in the snow areas, including Cherokee, Etowah, Blount, northern St. Clair, northern Jefferson, Walker and Fayette Counties. Do not travel unless it is an emergency.

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 Pigott about their commitment to their customers.

Stay tuned for more updates…

Ten Things To Know About Winter Weather Forecasts

| 10:15 am February 14, 2015

This is a great piece from Rick Smith, one of our WeatherBrains hosts, who is also the Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM) for the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma. He wrote this for those that live in Oklahoma, but it is also applicable for people in Alabama. Thought it would be very appropriate to post this today…..

1. Not everyone in a winter storm warning will get a lot of snow and ice. Some will get nothing at all.

2. It’s very unlikely that any snow amount forecast – especially days in advance – will be exactly right. Consider it to be a range of possibilities. Also, those lines on maps dividing snow from sleet from rain look very precise, but they actually have very fuzzy edges.

3. In many cases, we’re better at forecasting the general location of where the heaviest snow will happen rather than the exact forecast amounts. Don’t focus so much on the exact numbers.

4. 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.

5. Often there will be a very small area, maybe a county wide, of heavy snow embedded within the main snow band. It is very difficult to pinpoint exactly where this will set up in advance. That’s what we mean when we say “isolated higher amounts.”

6. 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.

7. People tend to focus on and remember the highest number, even if it’s from a forecast they heard days ago. This is especially true if they want it to happen. If you want it to snow, you’ll probably focus on the 6 inch amount if the forecast says “3 to 6 inches”.

8. Forecasts from the media, NWS, armchair social media forecasters, and the guy who cuts your hair who knows someone who took a meteorology course in college often get lumped together, and attributed to the generic “they”. If the haircut guy says he heard it could snow 8 inches, and everyone else says 2 to 4, many people will remember only that “they say we’re going to get 8 inches of snow.” And if there’s not 8 inches of snow, all the forecasters get the blame.

9. The volume of social media posts about snow is not necessarily directly proportional to the amount of snow we’re actually going to get. It seems like the more people are talking about it, the worse it’s going to be, but that’s not always the case.

10. Having too much snow forecast information can be confusing. Anyone can post an image of the computer model’s snow forecast. That doesn’t make it accurate or reliable. Social media has made it too to easy to share this kind of information. Choose your information sources wisely and don’t blindly share forecasts with big numbers.

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.

Birmingham’s Coldest Period

| 9:30 am January 26, 2015


On the morning of January 26, 1940, Alabama and the Deep South were in the deep freeze. And had been for over a week. Headlines on the Birmingham Age-Herald were dominated by the cold and additional snow that had fallen the day before.

But there were also disturbing news from Europe, where the Nazis were threatening to attack Romania for their oil. And the British were planning defense against Nazi air raids. Closer to home, a serious coal shortage was leading to negotiations between the governor and miners for increased production through suspension of work rules.

The forecast for the 26th was for partly cloudy and not as cold conditions. But Friday the 26th would be just as cold as the day before, when the high was 20F. And lows by Saturday morning the 27th would again be 1F.

At 7 a.m., Birmingham Weather Bureau Chief E.C. Horton measured the temperature on the thermometer his observation shelter at 1.2F. There was still 7 inches of snow on the ground. The airport reading, the official location now, was –5F, but the max/min thermometer showed a minimum reading of -6F.

Across North Alabama, temperatures were below zero, including -6F in Florence and -2F in Huntsville.

Horton saw no relief in sight, and called for lows to drop to below zero over northern sections the coming night, with overnight lows foro the coming night between 6F and 22F.

The cold had been unprecedented in its duration. It had arrived on the night of January 18th as temperatures plummeted from 34F that afternoon to 2F the following morning. The ercury would not go above freezing until the afternoon of the 21st, and then only to a high of 37F.

The next day would see a high of 42F, but snow would fall much of the night of the 22nd and day of the 23rd, until .5 inches had fallen and a total of 10 inches was on the ground. The thermometer would not recover for the next week. Between the 23rd and 28th, the warmest it would get in Birmingham was 34F.

By the 26th, Skaters were actually able to skate on the frozen surface of the Black Warrior River west of Birmingham, where ice was siz inches thick near the banks. Nineteen inches of snow was on the ground at Berry in Fayette County, a record that still stands. An unheard of event!

1950’s January Thaw

| 1:00 pm January 25, 2015

The January thaw is a weather singularity. A singularity is an event that occurs more often than one would expect with chance.

The January thaw is a period of above normal warmth that frequently occurs in mid-Winter in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada. It is similar to Indian summer, another singularity which occurs in autumn. The January thaw usually occurs around the third week in January.

It was more like a January tropical heat wave than a thaw during this week in 1950. Much of the eastern United States was experiencing temperatures 25-30 degrees above normal by my birthday, January 25th. Of course, I hadn’t been born then. Cotton was blooming in South Carolina, some five months ahead of schedule. People worried that Mother Nature was out of control.

In actuality, a strong high pressure system off the Atlantic Coast was responsible for the 1950 January thaw. A very high amplitude pattern featured a big upper level ridge over the East and a very deep trough over the western U.S. The strong surface high was producing a strong southerly flow that bathed much of the eastern United States in warmth. High temperatures on the 25th included 87F in Del Rio, Texas; 83F in Little Rock; 78F in Nashville; 74F in Columbus, Ohio; 78F in Washington, D.C. and 80F in Augusta, Georgia. It was 78F in Birmingham and 80F in Montgomery. Birmingham recorded record highs on the 24th (78F), 25th (78F), and the 26th (76F).

Several January high temperature records were set, including Michigan’s with 72F at Ann Arbor and Chicago with 67F.

Meanwhile, bitter cold and snow was occurring over the Northern Plains. Morning lows on t he 25th included -34F at Williston, North Dakota and -32F in Glasgow, Montana.

The November 1950 Cold Wave

| 9:00 am November 23, 2014


Alabamians paid little attention to the weather forecast on Thanksgiving morning, November 23, 1950. The Birmingham News carried a lead article about the many blessings of the day, including bountiful food, talking about the day’s candied yams, crisp white celery, plump olives and a golden brown roasted turkey. Headlines told of a Thanksgiving Eve crash between two Long Island Railroad trains in New York City that killed 76 people. There were hopes that the Korean War might be ending, bolstered by hints that China might be willing to sit down for peace talks. Over 36,000 people made their way to Legion Field for the annual Crippled Children’s Classic at Legion Field. The game featured the Phillips Red Raiders and Woodlawn Colonels. It would raise $95,000 for the new Crippled Children’s Hospital. As the game kicked off at 2 p.m., the temperature at the Birmingham Airport was a balmy 70 degrees.

The fine holiday weather belied the fact that a major cold wave was overspreading the U.S. east of the Rockies. Birmingham’s official weatherman, Charles Bradley, warned that the mild afternoon and nice weather was going to be followed by a quick turn to winter. The afternoon highs near 70 would be replaced with overnight lows in the 30s. Highs the following day would remain steady or fall. Fans in shirt sleeves at Legion Field got a rude awakening when the temperature fell into the 50s by the fourth quarter of a 20-0 Phillips victory. By late evening, readings were in the lower 40s with a north wind averaging over 20 mph. To the north, it was getting interesting. It was 18F in Nashville with heavy snow. It was 25F in Memphis with moderate snow and a north wind averaging over 30 mph. The snow was reaching Northwest Alabama.

By 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning, it was down to 32F at Birmingham with snow. Four inches of snow was on the ground at Tuscumbia. An inch was on the ground in the Magic City. Roads were hazardous all over North Alabama. Dozens of accidents were being reported. By late morning, US-31 was impassable as far south as Clanton. By 10:30 a.m., the mercury had plummeted further, to 21F at the Birmingham Airport.

The Alabama Crimson Tide football team boarded a charter plane at the Birmingham Airport, bound for Jacksonville and a Saturday tilt with Florida. With two losses, Alabama needed a victory to seal a major bowl bid. Tennessee was already paired with Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Kentucky coach Paul Bryant was preparing his Wildcats for a Sugar Bowl date with Oklahoma in New Orleans. The Birmingham News carried rumors that the Bear might be nosing around for a job in Texas, while mentioning that Alabama was his alma mater.

In his afternoon forecast, the weatherman was calling for an overnight low between 12-15F. Good thing for Mr. Bradley that the three degree guarantee had not been invented, because with screaming cold air advection, the temperature would already be at 15 by midnight, on the way to a low of 5F. It is the coldest November reading ever in Birmingham. The second coldest November reading ever is 13F, underscoring the significance of the record. Fresh snow would fall across the northern half of the state on Saturday as the Great Appalachian Storm spun up over Ohio.

JB would call it a cold wave. I call it just another story from the pages of this week in weather history.