Summer Weather In Alabama!

| June 2, 2021 @ 8:44 am

Just about every year around the first of June I post a version of this essay as a reminder for long time Alabamians, and for those that might be new to our state. Time to discuss how summer weather works around here. The weather app on your phone and the little icons that come with the forecast won’t help you.

This is what you need to know abut summer weather in Alabama.

*THE WEATHER DOESN’T CHANGE MUCH FROM NOW THROUGH AUGUST: If you say “hot and humid with scattered afternoon storms”, then you will be correct 90 percent of the time.

*IT RAINS JUST ABOUT EVERY DAY IN SUMMER: The combination of a moist airmass and the intense daytime heating process usually leads to “scattered, afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms”. These are rather random in nature, don’t move very quickly, and are very much hit and miss. Mostly miss. About the only way we get a really widespread rain event around here in the summer is the result of a tropical system moving into the Central Gulf Coast.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows where the storms will fire until we actually see them on radar by early afternoon. We might have a general idea where the best chance of thunderstorm initiation will be, but it is one of the great challenges of summer weather forecasting in Alabama. Most of these storms form between 2:00 and 10:00 p.m. But, occasionally you can have a late-night or morning shower.

So many times people ask on summer mornings if it will rain in their community later in the day, and the correct answer is that WE DON’T KNOW. Even when you see the storms forming on radar in the afternoon, they are usually widely spaced, and move erratically. One part of your town might see one inch of rain, but the other side of town is bone dry. Such is life with “scattered afternoon thunderstorms”.

*THE DREADED POP: “Probability of precipitation” is pretty much worthless in summer around here. Also, that means the automated weather app that comes with your phone is of little use this time of the year.

Most days, the chance of any one spot getting wet is 20 to 30 percent. Of course, if you happen to be underneath one of the storms that form, you immediately think anyone that says the chance of rain is 20–30 percent is an idiot since you have no way of knowing the rain is only over you. Just to blow your mind, the chance of a storm forming on any summer afternoon in Alabama is actually around 80 percent, but due to the very scattered nature of the storms, the chance of your neighborhood getting one is only 20 percent or so. Confusing? You bet, and we do our best to stay away from “chance of rain” on summer days. It just doesn’t work.

*INVISIBLE FORCE FIELD? Every summer I hear from people that believe that summer storms always “go around them”, or “split”, leaving them high and dry. Some kind of invisible force field. Usually when someone gets to the point of frustration, firmly believing they won’t see a summer storm, the next day they get one that sits over their place for hours and brings a flash flood.

It mostly boils down to luck and the placement of small scale boundaries. But, in some cases, there can be orographic effect where terrain can play a role in summer thunderstorm placement. Especially across Northeast Alabama. But, generally speaking, your time will come if you think you are in an Alabama desert. You can’t escape summer storms over a period of days/weeks.

*AFTERNOON STORMS CAN PRODUCE PROBLEMS: The greatest threat from a summer afternoon thunderstorm in Alabama is lightning; one storm can produce hundreds of very dangerous groundstrokes. If lightning is within 8 miles of an outdoor event, everything needs to stop and people need to get in something… a car, truck, house, school, church, etc. If you don’t have a reliable lightning detection app, it boils down to this: when you hear thunder, get inside.

Summer storms can produce localized areas of damaging winds called “wet microbursts”. These often last for only a few minutes and sometimes happen toward the end of a storm’s life cycle as the cell begins to collapse. Severe thunderstorm warnings are issued when this is a high probability. But, generally speaking, it is impossible to warn for a wet microburst since it lasts for only a few minutes, and by the time a warning is issued the event is over.

Wet microbursts can cause tree and power line damage, and winds can exceed 60 mph. And, damage caused can be similar to a small tornado.

*TORNADOES ARE VERY RARE IN SUMMER: Wind fields are light and variable from the surface to the tropopause on most summer days, and it is almost impossible for a tornado to form. The only time we see them is in spiral bands associated with landfalling tropical storms or hurricanes. And, when that happens, the tornadoes are usually very small and short-lived. You might have trees down in your neighborhood, but that is most likely due to a wet microburst, not a tornado. And yes, microbursts can produce twisting type damage.

*AFTERNOONS ARE HOT: This isn’t breaking news or anything unusual. Hot weather is the norm here from June through August, and often through much of September. Highs usually are in the 90s, but when an intense upper high forms over the state, we can hit triple digits. It has been as hot as 112 degrees in Alabama… recorded on September 5, 1925 in Bibb County. Note the month was September, and the year was 1925. Intense heat is nothing new here. And, it can come early, and late in the summer season.

*SOIL MOISTURE IS IMPORTANT: This is one factor many people don’t consider, but it is very important when it comes to the amount of heat we experience. When soil moisture is high, some of the sun’s energy is used to evaporate that moisture, which takes away from the amount of solar energy used to heat the ground, which in turn heats the air. You rarely ever see 100 degree days when the soil is moist. On the other hand, with dry soil and brown grass, temperatures can easily reach the triple digits.

*MOST BACKYARD THERMOMETERS DO NOT WORK WELL HERE ON HOT SUMMER AFTERNOONS: Almost every hot day, we hear from someone reporting a high of anywhere from 105 to 115 degrees. To properly measure air temperature, you need a thermometer in an instrument shelter, about six feet off the ground over grass. The shelter should have easy and free air movement, and it needs to be painted white. Needless to say, most backyard thermometers are not set up this way, and they wind up measuring the temperature of the instrument casing instead of the air. You really need an aspirating fan if you don’t have a shelter. Few “backyard” reports are accurate this time of the year.

Hot weather in Alabama during the summer isn’t some kind of emergency or breaking news. It is just a way of life. Use your common sense and stay cool as best you can. We won’t insult your intelligence with idiotic “heat tips” like “go into an air-conditioned room”, or “get out of the sun”.

*HURRICANES BREAK THE ROUTINE: The core of the hurricane season comes in August, September, and early October, but the season itself runs from June through November. This keeps us on our toes.

So there you go. The weather in Alabama on a summer day will be hot, humid, hazy, and it will rain somewhere in the afternoon. We will do our best here on the blog discussions to let you know about the variations in the overall pattern that happen on a daily basis, and on potential tropical mischief. Next time we get a good cool breeze with low dew points will probably come in late September or October… when footballs will be flying on Saturdays…


Category: Alabama's Weather, ALL POSTS

About the Author ()

James Spann is one of the most recognized and trusted television meteorologists in the industry. He holds the AMS CCM designation and television seals from the AMS and NWA. He is a past winner of the Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from both professional organizations.

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