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Archive for January 29th, 2014

Hard Freeze Tonight

| 3:24 pm January 29, 2014

**No afternoon Weather Xtreme video today… tied up working social media. Hopefully back to the two day schedule tomorrow**

SUB-FREEZING DAY: Despite the return of sunshine, many North Alabama communities have failed to get out of the 20s. And, once the sun goes down, temperatures will drop steadily tonight, and we project a low between 10 and 15 degrees early tomorrow. Colder pockets will see a low in the single digits, especially where there is snow on the ground.

Travel conditions have improved somewhat this afternoon in the snow zone across North/Central Alabama, but those conditions will deteriorate once the sun goes down and we see refreezing. Travel is discouraged tonight, and many schools remain closed tomorrow.

WARMER DAYS: We finally begin to dig out of the deep freeze tomorrow with a good supply of sunshine and a high in the low 40s. Then, on Friday, low to mid 50s are likely with a partly sunny sky.

THE ALABAMA WEEKEND: The GFS is printing a high of 62 degrees for Birmingham both Saturday and Sunday; that will sure feel toasty. Moisture levels will rise; we will mention a slight risk of a shower late Saturday, but the better chance will come Sunday, into Monday of next week. Rain amounts of around 1/2 to 1 inch are likely, and no severe weather is expected.

A strong disturbance will impact Alabama by the middle of next week, and we will forecast a good chance of showers and thunderstorms by Tuesday night and Wednesday. A few strong storms are possible, but for now it doesn’t look like a severe weather setup.

In the longer range, another good rain events shows up around February 9. There will be cold snaps, but it sure looks like February won’t be as cold as January in Alabama. We will make it to the spring soon enough.

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.

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Look for the next Weather Xtreme video here by 7:00 a.m. tomorrow….

Please Don’t Drive

| 2:41 pm January 29, 2014

Roads have improved in many areas this afternoon with a good bit of drying, but secondary roads are still a mess and traffic has become heavy on some of the major arteries.

New accidents are occurring, causing additional traffic snarls.

We don’t want people getting stranded again tonight.

The biggest headaches are east of Birmingham on I-20, on I-65 southbound from Homewood south, and on highway 280 eastbound.

Highway 150 is passable but down to one lane due to abandoned vehicles. Morgan Road and Parkwood in Bessemer: Accident with car teetering on cliff.

AVOID AT ALL COSTS:
…I-65 south of downtown. Creeping up to Alford Ave.
…US-31 in both directions near going over Shades Mountain. (SB traffic is using the NB lanes as well! Only one lane is coming north now.)
…US-280 in both directions from Mountain Brook to Chelsea. One hour from Colonnade to Whole Foods! Road still snowpacked due to shade.
…I-20 eastbound from Irondale to Leeds and westbound between Leeds and I-459
…I-459 northbound between I-65 and Liberty Park. Ice is reported on Interstate.

Use extreme caution on all other roads in the Birmingham area if you MUST drive.

TO TUSCALOOSA
…Lots of questions about I-59 to Tuscaloosa: it looks good now from downtown Birmingham all the way to Tuscaloosa

If you can, continue to stay where you are and don’t drive. Allow road crews and transportation workers to get the roads cleared. Many roads have been sanded in the Birmingham Metro area.

Officials are taking folks from shelters in Homewood to their cars at I-65 in an effort to remove the backlog of abandoned automobiles while ice is melting.

Temperatures are still below freezing (28F at BHM) and water that is standing on area roads will quickly refreeze as the sun sets. Overnight lows are expected to drop to 9-13F tonight. This will result in deadly black ice that is hard to spot as you drive. Once you hit it, you can go into an out of control slide or spin with bad consequences.

We should go above freezing around noon tomorrow and with total sunshine, roads should begin to improve rapidly. Highs tomorrow will range between 40-43F.

How does 62F on Saturday sound? We’ll take it!

(Big thanks to Skywatchers and Social Media for the reports!)

Morning Weather Update

| 10:10 am January 29, 2014

It remains a terribly cold morning across much of Alabama as most locations remain in the upper teens and lower 20s. The temperatures will continue to creep up today, but will not likely make it to or above the freezing mark.

The sun and the very dry air will help with the ice, but we are not expecting any significant improvements today. The roads remain iced over which will continue to cause problems. There remain numerous abandoned cars on the roadways, so please continue to use extreme caution if you have to be out and about today. If you do not have to get out, please do not.

1-29-2014 10-04-10 AM

In Central Alabama we are seeing mostly sunny skies, but we are bit concerned with some higher level cirrus clouds that are trying to move back in along the Interstate 20/59 corridor. We still expect the sun to shine through, but it will be filtered some and that could slow down to the warming process today. Not that we expect much of a thaw today, but any extra help we can get today will be beneficial.

What melts today, will likely re-freeze tonight as overnight lows will be way back down into the teens. Finally tomorrow, all of Central Alabama will warm into the 40s and that should allow all the ice and snow to melt and allow us to thaw. By the weekend, the weather will be much improved as 60s are expected.

A Botched Forecast/Dose Of Humility

| 7:22 am January 29, 2014

In terms of human impact, yesterday’s forecast “bust” was the most significant for me since Janaury 1982, when we had a timing error of about six hours on the arrival of freezing rain and snow. Instead of starting at 5:00 p.m… it started around 11:00 a.m. People were caught off guard, schools and businesses closed, and the result was traffic gridlock, abandoned cars, separated families, and human suffering. Very much like yesterday, so I have been down this road before. The main difference is that I was a young man of 26 years old in 1982. With the experience and maturity that should come with a long tenure in my position, you would think that kind of error would not happen again, But, it did.

PLACEMENT PROBLEM: As is sometimes the case, the forecast was actually good on the synoptic scale, but the mesoscale placement was bad. By about 100-125 miles. The band of heavier snow that was to have set up over South Alabama (they did get good snow later in the day) initiated over the I-20/59 corridor. Birmingham’s official snow total was 2.0 inches; Anniston’s official total was 1.5″, and Tuscaloosa had 0.3″ (at the Airport… some there had more).

Temperatures were also colder than forecast. Instead of reaching the low 30s, with the falling snow the high was only around 20 degrees, which pretty much turned roads into a skating rink within minutes.

We had forecast a “dusting” for these places, and the 0.3 to 2.0 inch snow accumulation was a clear “bust”. For most parts of the northern U.S… this kind of forecast error isn’t even noticeable. And, with a dry, powdery snow, even as it came down I sure didn’t expect the kind of issues we were going to have until I started the fish tail thing in my vehicle as I was driving back from Tuscaloosa County (where I was going to do a school program on meteorology).

I am convinced the fact that this was the third in a series of brutally cold air masses to move down into Alabama was a big role in the travel issues (making for a cold infrastructure), despite only 1-2 inches of “dry” snow. And, the 20 degree temperature was a huge factor as well. I will say I have never seen this kind of impact on roads with 1 to 2 inches of snow in Alabama in my 35 years as a professional meteorologist. But, now we know it can happen. It usually takes freezing rain (rain that falls with temperatures below 32 degrees) for this kind of mess.

CIVIL EMERGENCY: The Alabama EMA issued a CEM (Civil Emergency Message) late in the morning when it was clear the forecast for the bigger cities was wrong, and this was a true emergency. Families separated, motorists stranded, and a state of chaos. But, by the time the CEM was issued, and by the time the NWS issued a winter storm warning, it was too late and the damage was done.

There was clear human suffering as a result of my bad forecast.

IMG_6499

I took that picture while sitting in gridlock on Riverchase Parkway trying to get to ABC 33/40. Wound up ditching my car, like so many, and walking to work.

TWITTER ERA: Yep, over the last 12 hours lots of social media vitriol has been directed at me, and it is deserved. People who are tired, hungry, in strange places trying to sleep away from their families and children, need to vent. Do NOT vent at school officials or your boss. They make decisions on weather forecasts, and what they got was bad information. I am the one to blame. I guess I know how Cade Foster feels (the University of Alabama place kicker who took heat after the Auburn game).

This is an example of what I am seeing in the “email inbox” this morning…

“Looks like you got it wrong yesterday with your prediction of a light
dusting and no accumulation. How can you guys be so badly off as 100′s
still sit in their schools and 100′s remain in their cars on highways
and mo telling how many have had to leave their cars stranded and
knock on strangers doors for shelter while others have paid the
ultimate price trying to drive? How can you be so wrong? Has
everything with your career over the past years gone to your head? You
are still expected to be vigilant and not complacent. What a shame as
I think of the people still out there and the ones who are dead…”

I won’t share the person’s name that wrote this, but it was signed. The criticism is valid, and one I will take to heart. I appreciate her taking the time to write, and I mean that.

I also believe there was loss of life on April 27, 2011 as a direct result of communication failure on my waych. Despite our knowledge of all 62 tornadoes that day well in advance (lead time was 20-30 minutes generally), 252 people in my state died, which is totally unacceptable.

LIKE A FOOTBALL COACH: Days like yesterday, unfortunately, are part of my job. There have been bad forecasts in the past, and there will be bad ones in the future. Football coaches don’t win every game, and we don’t get every forecast right. But, when you lose, you do deep study into what went wrong, and work to be sure it doesn’t happen again.

Conventional forecast methods failed; NWP (numerical weather prediction… or computer model output), using the few analogs we have, and experience. I assure you I will do long hours of review on this one.

CARRY ON: My many years in this chair have given me a pretty thick skin, so the social media hate doesn’t bother me; the human suffering is what bothers me. I take my job seriously, and I will carry on. If i just decide to quit, then the next person who comes in behind me will have the same problems. The occasional missed forecast that leads to a sentinel event.

I have said this to both professional meteorology societies in speeches over the last two years. Humility is missing in our science. There are many things we don’t know, and many things we can’t do. Just about the time you think you are infallible, you will be brought to your knees. For the ones in meteorology and climate that say “I could be wrong”, I will listen and respect their opinion. But, for those that claim no error, we all know their time is coming.

So, an apology from me for a botched forecast. Won’t be the last bad forecast I write, but I will keep working to get better and stronger daily. And, no, for this kind of thing doesn’t “get me down”, it energizes me. Thanks for your support and for those that did write an encouraging note over the last 12 hours. Let’s warm up, get back with our families, and enjoy some low 60s this weekend. Scroll down for the morning forecast discussion.

Brighter, But Still Cold

| 6:25 am January 29, 2014

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.

ON ICE: I will write as essay later today here on the blog about yesterday’s botched forecast and the human suffering that resulted. Remarkable similarities of an event in January 1982 (not the Blizzard of 93)… bad forecast, immediate ice/snow on roads, dismissal from school/work too late, and the nightmare that followed with thousands of stranded motorists.

THIS MORNING: As cold as 5 degrees this morning in Alabama… we are seeing that observation at 5:00 a.m. at Decatur and Haleyville. Cullman and Huntsville reporting 8… temperatures in the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa/Anniston/Gadsden areas generally in the 10-15 degree range, where wind is still blowing. The wind chill index at Birmingham is 3 degrees at 5:00 a.m.

ROADS: All I can is that if you had a significant amount of snow yesterday, don’t drive right now. Keep in mind there was little snow over the northern quarter of Alabama, and if you only had a few flakes yesterday, roads are just dry there. But, for most of North-Central Alabama, stay put. Here is a peek at I-65 at Lakeshore before daybreak.

BfI0LTyCcAA7DMB.jpg-large

Thousands were stranded in vehicles last night across Alabama; in some places like Hoover school busses were brought in to bring motorists to a warm place. It has been a true “civil emergency”, and the CEM (Civil Emergency Message) issued yesterday by Alabama EMA was very appropriate. Few have memories of the great ice storm of 1982 when this last happened. (Not the Blizzard of 93… that was a monster of a different nature).

THE DAYS AHEAD: We are projecting a high only in the low 30s today, but with a sunny sky and very low dewpoints (dry air), the sublimation process will help to bring a slow improvement in road conditions. Tonight will be very cold; by daybreak tomorrow we will drop into the 10-15 degree range with a clear sky and light wind; colder spots across North Alabama go back down into the single digits.

A warming trend finally begins Thursday afternoon with a sunny sky and a high in the low 40s. We reach the mid 50s Friday with a mix of sun and clouds.

THE ALABAMA WEEKEND: Low 60s are likely Saturday and Sunday, but moisture levels will rise and we will forecast a good chance of showers, mostly during the day Sunday. The latest GFS hints that Saturday will be generally dry, followed by 1/2 to 1 inch of rain Sunday. No severe weather.

NEXT WEEK: The high Monday will drop back into the 50s, the sky will remain mostly cloudy, and a shower is possible. But the next organized rain event comes at mid-week, when showers and thunderstorms are likely on Wednesday. This will be a dynamic weather system, so we will watch for strong storms, but at the moment the severe weather risk looks relatively low.

See 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…

Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
Instagram

Look for the next Weather Xtreme video here by 4:00 or so this afternoon… enjoy the day and stay warm.

What to Expect in the Morning

| 12:26 am January 29, 2014

The mess on the roadways will not be any better in the morning.

Extreme cold has made all roads like ice rinks, near impassable and very dangerous.

There are numerous abandoned vehicles along various roadways. These are not going anywhere and will only hamper travel in the morning.

It will be best to wait things out in the morning and I think waiting to at least 10 or 11 AM to see what is going on and what conditions the roads will be in would be wise. Many schools and businesses are already closed Wednesday and there is no need for anyone to be out on the road unless they have to be.

The sun will be out in the morning and will help begin to melt some of the snow and ice. Also, the very dry air moving in tonight will also help with the snow and ice by the process of sublimation. These processes will help improve road conditions tomorrow, but it will be a very slow process. Afternoon highs tomorrow will struggle to reach the freezing mark.

Use extreme caution if you will be traveling. Take your time and slow down.