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 guage 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.
J.B. retired from the NWS in 1989. A few years later, he came out of retirement to team up with James Spann in publishing a daily WeatherFax. He and James had met years earlier at the NWS Office at 11 West Oxmoor Road and became instant friends–especially since both were extremely interested in severe weather. James was Chief Meteorologist at Channel 13 at the time.
Today, J.B. is part of The Weather Factory that does forecasting and writing for the ABC 33/40 web site and E-forecast and the very popular weather blog. The Weather Factory was born on October 22, 2012 after the former names and marks of The Weather Company were purchased by another large weather corporation.
During times of severe weather, you can also hear J.B. on Cox Radio stations in Birmingham, WBHK, WBHJ and WAGG. This includes continuous “wall-to-wall” coverage when there is a tornado warning.
JB and his wife Judy have been married over 50 years. They live in Trussville with their little dog, Little Miss Molly. Judy grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. Ironically, she and J.B. met when she and her “boy friend” who wanted to become a pilot, visited the airport one night and wandered into the weather office. They have two grown children, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Son, Steve is a Birmingham and Center point fireman and lives in Trussville, Daughter Debbie Broome, husband Robert Broome and family live in Irondale.
J.B. and Judy are active members of Huffman Baptist Church in Northeast Birmingham where J.B. teaches a men’s Sunday School class.