Archive for April 8th, 2013

Fifteen Years Ago, Part 1

| April 8, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

In April of 1998, I was a young lad coming into my own as a freshman at Oak Grove High School. April 8th started as a day like any other, but by the time it was over, thousands of lives were impacted when a violent F5 tornado ripped through western portions of Jefferson County forever changing lives, the landscape, and severe weather coverage as we knew it.

I can remember watching the weather report that morning and the threat that had been outlined. It was one of those events that had been talked about for several days. The words “classic severe weather outbreaks” kept being said. To look outside that morning, my thoughts were to the contrary. It was overcast, but it was warm. I always thought the sun would need to be out destabilizing the atmosphere for this classic severe weather outbreak to occur. However, I have learned a lot in my studies about how upper air features and other severe weather indices can make up for the lack of other severe weather ingredients.

Arriving at school, I can remember a few people asking me about the weather that day, but one person I can remember above all others was one of those teachers that knew how much of a weather fanatic I was then, and still am. He made sure he sought me out that day and said, “I bet you thought there would be a bit more action today”…I responded, “The day ain’t over with yet.” He smiled and went about his business. For some reason I knew the severe weather would happen later in the day.

The 3 PM bell rang and I can remember having a distinct feeling that something big was going to happen that evening. I arrived home and the skies just looked different from anything I had ever seen. It was overcast, but I remember a distinct red tint to the clouds. Not green which is often associated with hail. Not pink that so many times produces snow…Simply it was a distinct reddish tint. My internal barometer was dropping and I just knew it was going to be bad.

I remember taking precautions at home. Growing up, we would always unplug the electronics in the house so that lightning would not “get them.” Luckily, we had learned enough to know that we didn’t need to open the windows to balance out the pressure. James had come to my school several years earlier for one of his talks and said that any debris inside the tornado would take care of the windows before the air pressure got that extreme. I fed our dogs. We had a yard dog that was afraid of thunderstorms. Anytime there was a clap of thunder, he did the craziest thing; he would climb into the dog pen with the other dogs. No joke, he would climb a six foot gate and jump into the pen. I always thought this was crazy so I went ahead and put him in with the other dogs to save him the trouble.

When I finally went back into the house, things were beginning to develop to our west. It was all of a sudden too. The atmospheric cap had broken and severe thunderstorms were exploding across the Alabama landscape. From our home we always watched what was to our southwest and knew that if a tornado was is in the Tuscaloosa area, odds were, and are that it is coming into west Jefferson County.

The storm made its way into northeastern portions of Tuscaloosa County, the part of the state that is extremely rural; most areas are reclaimed lands from the years of strip mining across the area. Living on the county line, we would be the first people affected in Jefferson County. We were watching the severe weather coverage, and I can remember at the time, how impressive the storm looked-classic supercell structure with a hook echo and the v notch. At that point in my life, it was the most impressive one I had seen in Alabama. As the storm approached the western edge of the county, the damage reports from western Tuscaloosa County began to pour in. Since it was a Wednesday night, many people across the state were at church. The first damage report mentioned that people were trapped in a church in the Elrod community. As the storm continued to approach, we began to head to the basement. We were pretty sure it would stay ever so slightly to our west, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. I can also remember that was the first time that Bull City, the community where I lived, was mentioned in the path of the storm. This storm had all those internal weather juices of mine flowing.

As my parents headed to the basement, I continued to stand in front of the TV as long as I could and then the power went out. It was not sudden either; it was a slow fade out; one of the strangest occurrences I can remember from that night. I was being yelled at by my parents to get in the basement, and since the TV was out, I thought it was probably a good time to head that way. After a few minutes nothing had occurred. We turned on our battery powered radio and knew the storm had passed our location and was not going to impact our home. We proceeded to head back upstairs and stood out on the front porch. From the front porch or view is north/northwest. There appeared to be a constant flickering of lightning on the horizon, towards Oak Grove. You would swear someone had a strobe light on that night. The back side of the storm was quite visible as it stretched towards the top of the atmosphere and I could see the impressive storm structure. We stood on the porch about 30 minutes just astounded at the amount of lightning, but there was no thunder that we could hear. As we continued to listen to the radio, the damage reports started to come in. One of the first was that there was damage to Oak Grove High School. To which we thought a tree or two was down, maybe some roof damage, but seriously how much damage could be done to a brick and mortar building?

At the time, not everyone had cell phones and most everyone still used beepers. My brother was working that night in Hueytown and was trying to get home. He got as far as 15th Street Road and Warrior River Road in Rock Creek, to only find out that a house was in the road. Luckily, he had an alternate route home and about the time he got home, another cell was moving out of Tuscaloosa County and we headed back into the basement. It was an intense thunderstorm, with frequent lightning, torrential rain and I even remember some hail. However, another strange thing I remember was that the moon was out as the storm wound down and the skies were mostly clear.

For the rest of the night, as I clutched to our battery powered radio, I was trying to piece together the damage reports and path of the storm. As you can imagine it was a chaotic time, but thankfully our property had just been missed by the worst of the weather. We went to bed not knowing the true extent of the damage. Only the morning sun would reveal what happened the night before.

Come back tomorrow and find out what the sun revealed.

Strong/Severe Storms Possible Thursday

| April 8, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

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.

THIS AFTERNOON: We have a mix of sun and clouds across the great state of Alabama this afternoon with temperatures generally in the 70s. Warmest spot is Montgomery… they have soared to 82 degrees at mid-afternoon. Nothing on the radar.

WARMEST SO FAR: We are projecting a high in the low 80s tomorrow, and mid 80s Wednesday… these will be our warmest days so far in 2013. Expect a mix of sun and clouds both days, and south winds will begin to increase, especially on Wednesday. The air becomes unstable Wednesday afternoon with those mid 80s, but a capping inversion should keep most of the state storm-free; just a very small risk of a shower or storm Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night.

The weather looks good for the Birmingham Barons home opener Wednesday night at the new Regions Park in downtown Birmingham… warm and breezy with temperatures in the 70s. Only a small risk of a brief shower or storm.

SEVERE WEATHER POTENTIAL THURSDAY: After a review of the 12Z model set, not many changes in our forecast thinking.

*The main window for severe weather will come from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Thursday. The GFS remains somewhat of an outlier and is faster, our solution matches the NAM and the ECMWF.

*The primary risk will come from strong, potentially damaging straight line winds within the squall line (or QLCS) that will pass through Alabama Thursday. However, bulk shear values suggest we can’t rule out an isolated tornado or two, especially if the storms blow through during the afternoon hours Thursday when instability values will be a little higher.

*While the severe weather parameters certainly support strong to severe storms, the values are not overwhelming for April. Surface based CAPE values remain generally under 1,000 j/kg, and the EHI values remain under 1. Of course, at this stage of the game we can’t identify mesoscale features that could really have a big impact on the event.

*Rain amounts of 1 to 2 inches are likely Thursday, but we don’t expect major flash flooding problems since the ground can handle a good bit of rain.

Storms will move out of Alabama Thursday night.

FRIDAY AND THE WEEKEND: Look for returning sunshine on Friday with a high in the upper 60s; then we rise into the low 70s Saturday, and upper 70s Sunday. A few scattered clouds will show up Sunday, becoming thicker Sunday night.

The 12Z GFS shows a batch of showers moving into the state Monday with another impulse in the southern branch of the jet stream; see the afternoon Weather Xtreme video for the maps, graphics, and 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. We will produce this week’s show tonight at 8:30 p.m. CDT… you can watch it live right here.

CONNECT: You can find me on all of the major social networks…

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It was great seeing the 6th graders at Cornerstone School in Woodlawn, and the 2nd graders at Deer Valley Elementary in Hoover today… be watching for them on the Pepsi KIDCAM today at 5:00 and 6:00 on ABC 33/40 News! The next Weather Xtreme video will be posted here by 7:00 a.m. tomorrow….

On This Date, Fifteen Years Ago

| April 8, 2013 @ 6:26 am

An EF-5 tornado tore through the western suburbs of Birmingham, killing 32 people, and injuring over 250 others in places like Oak Grove, Rock Creek, Sylvan Springs, McDonald Chapel, and Pratt City. More than 1000 homes were destroyed and more than 900 homes with significant damage.

The tornado track was 30.6 miles long and at it’s widest point was half a mile wide. After first touching down on the east side of the Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County, the tornado crossed into Jefferson County at 7:52 pm moving just south of the town of Scrap, just inside Jefferson County. It traveled east-northeast impacting Oak Grove, Concord, Pleasant Grove, Edgewater, McDonald’s Chapel areas before ending in Pratt City. The storm reached it’s strongest intensity producing F5 damage in the Concord area and the McDonalds Chapel/Edgewater area.

Interestingly, the tornado was on a trajectory that if it had stayed on the ground for an additional two or three miles the high rises in downtown Birmingham would have been affected; four more miles and the Birmingham Airport would have seen the destruction as well.

The same parent storm dropped another tornado in St. Clair County, killing two near Wattsville north of Pell City.



Mid 80s By Wednesday; Strong Storms Thursday

| April 8, 2013 @ 6:08 am

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.

WARMING UP: Low clouds have formed over a pretty good part of Alabama early this morning as low level moisture levels begin to rise. We expect intervals of sunshine today, with a high in the upper 70s for most communities, and the weather will remain dry.

We are projecting highs in the low 80s tomorrow, and mid 80s Wednesday, our warmest weather so far in 2013. Dry tomorrow with a mix of sun and clouds. South winds will begin to increase Wednesday, and with mid 80s the air will be pretty unstable Wednesday afternoon, but a capping inversion should keep most of Alabama dry.

For the Birmingham Barons home opener Wednesday night, a very reasonable chance the weather will be dry and warm (but windy) for the game, but we can’t rule out a few widely scattered showers or storms.

TO THE WEST: A significant severe weather threat is shaping up for areas west of Alabama tomorrow and Wednesday as a major upper trough lifts out of the Southwest U.S. All modes of severe weather will be possible in the broad area from Texas to Iowa, and back in the cold air winter storm watches and warnings are up for many states in the western U.S.

Denver will see a high around 70 today, but tomorrow they will be in the teens much of the day with 3-6 inches of snow. No doubt they will wonder what happened to spring.

SEVERE WEATHER ON THURSDAY? No doubt there will be some risk of strong to severe thunderstorms in Alabama on Thursday, but for now SPC does not have a risk defined in their day four outlook due to model uncertainty.

The GFS remains the faster model, while the NAM and the ECMWF are slower. I believe the primary risk of severe weather in Alabama Thursday will come from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m… and the main risk will come from strong, perhaps damaging straight line winds along a long line of storms (QLCS, or quasi-linear convective system) moving through the state.

For now the severe weather parameters (instability, shear, lapse rates, etc) are not really overwhelming for an April severe weather event… surface based CAPE values remain around 1,200 j/kg or lower, with bulk shear values (surface to 850 mb) of 30 knots or lower. But, that is certainly supportive of some severe weather. And, it is very early in the game since the main system is just now getting into the U.S. upper air network way out west.

We can’t rule out an isolated tornado during the day Thursday, especially if a secondary surface low forms closer to us, and if the storms come through during the afternoon hours when the air will be more unstable.

Rain amounts of 1 to 2 inches are likely before the storms exit the state Thursday night.

Of course, we will watch model trends and actual upper air and surface observations very closely in coming days and make adjustments to the forecast as needed. Take a look at the Weather Xtreme video for more on the Thursday situation.

FRIDAY AND THE WEEKEND: Delightful weather, with sunny mild days and clear cool nights. The high Friday will drop into the mid 60s… we will be close to 70 Saturday, with mid 70s Sunday. The coolest morning will come early Saturday when most places will drop to near 40 degrees… keep in mind the normally colder pockets over North Alabama could see mid 30s with a touch of light frost, but for a majority of Alabama the frost danger for the season ended.

THE LAND OF VOODOO: Out in the forecast period beyond 7 days… we really don’t see another significant severe weather setup all the way through April 23 for now; see the Weather Xtreme video for the maps, graphics, and 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. We will record this week’s show tonight at 8:30 p.m. CT… you can watch it live here.

CONNECT: You can find me on all of the major social networks…

Google Plus

Another busy today… I have weather programs today at Cornerstone School in Woodlawn, and Deer Valley Elementary in Hoover. Look for the next Weather Xtreme video here by 4:00 this afternoon… enjoy the day!