A Severe Weather Voice Goes Silent

| December 12, 2012 @ 11:52 am

No one knows for sure how many tornado or severe thunderstorm watches and warnings he monitored, or how many hours he stayed at his post, but—in the 30-something years of being available around the clock to deal with Alabama weather—one thing is for sure.

Birmingham resident Carl Grover was a machine, relentless in his dedication to helping make sure that area residents received advance warning of approaching severe weather.

Grover, who was an amateur radio operator, spent decades volunteering as the primary liaison between central Alabama ham radio operators and the National Weather Service’s Birmingham Forecast Office.

When hams observed tornadoes, flooding, hail or other severe weather, they would tune in the Birmingham Amateur Radio Club’s 146.880 MHz repeater (a wide area coverage two-way radio system), looking for Carl. And, day or night, 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., nights, weekdays, weekends or holidays, they would find KA4JIR (Carl’s amateur radio call sign) monitoring the radio channel, waiting to take their information.

Carl would immediately call the Forecast Office and advise meteorologists, keeping them current on what storm spotters were seeing in the field.

In an era before Doppler weather radar, cell phones, camera-equipped smart phones, texting or instant messaging, the information Carl helped relay was frequently a consideration in whether the NWS issued a warning.

Sometimes, the forecasters would call Carl, asking him to find out what radio amateurs in a particular area were seeing, as part of the effort to obtain “ground truth” by verifying what radar might be indicating.

Is there actually a tornado on the ground? There were times that this was the only way forecasters could know for sure.

There is no way to know how many severe weather warnings may have been issued to protect the public, as a result of the cooperative effort Carl so frequently helped lead. Today, the work continues, but with a new generation at the controls.

Considered by many to be the father of amateur radio Skywarn communications in Birmingham, Carl passed away Sunday, December 9th. He was 86.

When severe storms threatened, it was always Carl’s voice on local amateur radio frequencies, providing operators with updates on current watches and warnings.

When it came to maintaining on-air decorum, it was Carl who gave unsuspecting radio amateurs the necessary corrections, reminding them that only important weather-related communications were appropriate. Those who deviated typically only did so once.

Carl was also a regular reporter of rain totals from his home near Eastwood Mall.

During the 1980s, as technology advanced and the Skywarn program’s value became more recognized for its life-saving potential, amateur radio operators and clubs began creating more formalized protocols on how to provide severe weather communications support more effectively.

It was also during this time that Carl and his late wife, Patsy, who also had an amateur radio license, organized Skywarn spotter classes in conjunction with the NWS. The classes took place at WVTM-TV atop Red Mountain (when James Spann was chief meteorologist and I anchored weather on the weekends) and drew radio amateurs from throughout central Alabama.

This was a valuable opportunity for training, with meteorologist Jay Shelley explaining what the Weather Service’s WSR-57 radar, based in Brent, could, and could not, see.

When the Weather Service went through a modernization in the late 1980s and 1990s, the changes affected how amateur radio operators throughout the Birmingham area would assist forecasters. To better serve the agency, Birmingham area hams formed ALERT, an organization dedicated to providing emergency communications support to the NWS upon its relocation from Birmingham to Calera as part of the modernization program.

With the shift to ALERT’s more formal operating system for handling severe weather communications, the stage could have been set for a clash between Grover’s long-held operating style and the new organization stepping in with its own rules and procedures.

Instead, Grover acted as a team player.

Operating a business out of his home helped give Carl the ability to get on the air and relay information quickly when severe weather threatened. His voice was often the first to be heard on local amateur radio frequencies when tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood and other watches were issued for the Birmingham area.

Once responding hams were able to get on site at the NWS to provide requested communications support, Carl would step aside and let ALERT’s operators take over. The result was a smooth and professionally run network that benefitted not just radio amateurs, but the Weather Service, other agencies and the public.

Carl is survived by three daughters and seven grand children.

“He was very dedicated,” said Ron Arant, a Shelby Co. amateur radio operator who remembers Carl providing severe weather communications during the mid 1980s. “He was somebody who had the public interest at heart.”

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Category: Alabama's Weather

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