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An Important Anniversary in Hurricane Forecasting

| 3:30 pm July 27, 2014

In July 1943, tracking hurricanes was a difficult business. Fewer ships were at sea because of the threat of German U-boats. Those that were at sea maintained radio silence. Britain suffered mightily from the lack of weather reports from over the Atlantic. The Brits were forced to use precious aircraft to fly weather observation missions. The U.S. feared that the West Indies would become a major theater of war if the Germans decided to attack through Central and South America.

In Bryan, Texas, Col. James P. Duckworh was in charge of the Instrument Flying Instruction School. Before the 1930s, there wasn’t any such thing as instrument flying. Everything was visual. Duckworth had been a pilot for Eastern Air Transport, the precursor to Eastern Airlines. He had resigned to go to active duty with the Army Air Corps Reserve. Duckworth said that he knew that the war wasn’t going to stop because of weather.

Weather map from the morning of July 27, 1943.

Weather map from the morning of July 27, 1943.

On the morning of Sunday, July 27th, Col. Duckworth made his way to the base to have breakfast. As he ate, he learned that there was a hurricane making landfall near Galveston. Hard to believe, since it was a beautiful morning at Bryan, about 100 miles from Galveston. The storm was expected to pass near Houston during the afternoon. Duckworth saw it as the perfect opportunity to do what no one had done intentionally up to that time: fly into a hurricane.

Joe suggested to one of his breakfast companions, Lt. Ralph O’Hair that they take an single engine AT-6 trainer and fly into the storm for fun. There were four new B-25‘s at the base, but it would be hard to justify using one of them for this unsanctioned mission. As 100 mph winds were raking the coast. Duckworth and O’Hair took off for Galveston. Enroute, they called the tower at Houston and said they were flying Galveston. The incredulous operator asked them if they knew there was a hurricane. When they said yes, the controller asked for updates so he would be able to direct crews to the wreckage.

As they flew toward the hurricane, they were in the weaker western semicircle of the storm. As they neared the eyewall, they experienced violent up and down turbulence that made them feel like a “bone in a dog’s mouth”. Suddenly, they broke into the clear air of the eye. They flew around for a few minutes and headed back to the base where they were met by the staff meteorological officer. The weatherman wanted to know why they had not included him in their historic flight. They responded by telling him to hop in, they would take him to the center. The meteorologist kept a very detailed diary of observations.

Duckworth did not immediately realize the significance of his feat. Later that year, one of his superiors summoned him to tell the pilot that he had been recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross. The unassuming Colonel did receive the Air Medal for flying into a hurricane for the first time, twice in the same day.

Realizing the benefit of more specific information on hurricanes, regular reconnaissance flights were started the next year. Weather Bureau meteorologists used the information about 1944’s Great Atlantic Hurricane to issue better warnings.

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Tropics Quiet…For Now…

| 2:00 pm July 27, 2014
Tropical Storm Bertha next Saturday evening?

Tropical Storm Bertha next Saturday evening?

We are tracking a tropical wave in the far eastern Atlantic on this last Sunday of July.

Right now it doesn’t look like much, but several of the global models, including the American GFS and the UKMET are now on board with the idea that it will become tropical depression number 3 in the week ahead as it steams across the Atlantic. There is a chance it could even go on to become Tropical Storm Bertha.

It is expected to move near the northern Lesser Antilles or Virgin Islands Friday night and could affect Puerto Rico as well. After that, the GFS currently projects it curving around the Bermuda High and flirting with the U.S. East Coast, but not making landfall.

Another system will come off the African coast late in the week, but indications are that it will head toward weakness over the western Atlantic as the subtropical high shifts a little east temporarily.

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Warmest Day of the Year?

| 11:53 am July 27, 2014

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An impressive cumulus field was blossoming across Central Alabama on this last Sunday in July. The healthy fair weather clouds have multiplied in the deeper moisture that is over the state today. Morning dewpoint levels are in the lower and middle 70s, some 6-7 degrees higher than those of the same time yesterday.

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The fair skies are the result of sprawling upper level high pressure over the southern tier of states, stretching from Utah to Alabama. This high should again put the kibosh on showers this afternoon.

It will also allow the mercury to warm well into the middle and upper 90s across the area. It was already 91F at Tuscaloosa at 11 a.m. and 88F at Birmingham. The Birmingham reading is some three degrees ahead of the temperature at the same time yesterday.

LATE NOTE: It had reached 91F at the Birmingham Airport at noon as temperatures continue to soar.

This may allow today to be the warmest day of the year in the Magic City. The 95F yesterday is currently tie with two other July days for the warmest day of 2014.

HEAT ADVISORY: With the combination of highs in the middle and upper 90s and high humidity, the National Weather Service has issued a Heat Advisory for West Central and South Central Alabama. Places like Vernon, Tuscaloosa, Demopolis, Selma, Montgomery and Troy are in the Heat Advisory for heat index values pushing 105F degrees today. Elsewhere, in places like Birmingham, Hamilton, Cullman, Gadsden, Anniston, Alex City and Auburn, heat indices today will top out above 100F, but remain just below Advisory criteria.

A line of showers and storms storms is expected to develop by mid-afternoon near the Ohio River and push southeastward this afternoon and evening. It will arrive at the Northwest Corner of Alabama around 9 p.m. and die out as it progresses. It should be completely gone by the time it gets to Birmingham and I-20.

This activity is ahead of a cold front that has passed St. Louis this afternoon. It will arrive in Northwest Alabama afternoon midnight and clear the Birmingham area during the late morning.

Much of North Central Alabama may miss out completely on the rain and storm, with the best chances tomorrow coming south of Clanton. We note that the SPC does have much of southern Alabama in a slight risk severe weather outlook, their standard forecast.

Cooler and drier air will follow on the heels of the front, much like last week. Look for several 50s by Wednesday morning, which is record country for July 30th in Alabama

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Second Driest July on Record?

| 10:18 am July 27, 2014

As we start to close this books on July this week, I thought it would be fun to take a peek back at the month that was in the climate department, especially since there have been several nice stretches of cool weather.

So, at first glance, you would think that July 2014 was going to go down in the record books as one of the coolest in Birmingham history. But not so fast my friend.

We have broken a few record lows, and more records are on the way, but as far as the month goes, there will have been 29 Julys in Magic City climate history that have been cooler.  

The average high for the month should finish around 89.2F, which is 1.6 degrees below the 30 year average high of 90.8F. The average low for the month will finish at 68.7F, which is well below the 30 year average of 71.4F. That has really helped the month to feel a bit more comfortable. Warm lows in the middle and upper 70s really make it feel stifling.

The overall mean temperature for the month will finish at 79.0F, which is two degrees cooler than the long term average of 81.1.

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We have only measured 0.92 inches of rain at the Birmingham Airport, and the prospects for more out of the approaching front or from the rest of the week are not good. In fact, it looks like we will be lucky to get to one inch of rain for the month.

If we total less than 1.11 inches of rain for the month, it will be the second driest July on record, drier than the horrible drought year of 1952.

We are now nearly four inches down to average for the year in the rainfall department at Birmingham.

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Hot Again Today But a Change Coming

| 6:52 am July 27, 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.

The upper ridge to our west forced itself eastward yesterday bringing Central Alabama one of the warmest days of the year. Today heat values will be up while we stay dry across the northern two-thirds of the state of Alabama. Highs will be in the 93 to 98 range today with heat indices climbing into the 100 to 105 range in the area generally south of Birmingham. The National Weather Service has posted a heat advisory for the southern portion of Central Alabama including places like Montgomery, Selma, Tuscaloosa, Clanton, Troy, and Demopolis to name a few. But another major change is coming with yet another summer cold front promising to bring thunderstorms on Monday with much cooler and drier air to the Southeast US on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The upper ridge gets pushed back later today with the digging of a strong trough across the Great Lakes region and into the eastern US. This will force a cold front – the fourth one in July this year – into the Southeast US and bring a round of thunderstorms to the area Monday. With the front coming in just a tad faster than I thought yesterday, SPC has defined a specific slight risk area for the development of isolated severe storms capable of damaging wind and perhaps large hail with the front on Monday afternoon mainly in South Alabama and stretching eastward into South Georgia and the coastal area of the Carolinas.

The trough sweeps in pushing the front well down into the Gulf of Mexico Monday evening setting us up for cooler and drier air once again. Wednesday morning we could see record lows set in Central Alabama. The current record for July 30th is 61 set in 1994 for Birmingham.

The pattern remains unchanged with a trough over the eastern half of the country for the latter half of the week, so we’ll see a gradual warming trend as moisture levels slowly come back up. But with the trough pattern over the East I expect us to stay below seasonal averages with highs mainly in the 80s for the latter part of the week and only small chances for showers by the end of the week.

Not quite as hot and dry at the coast for beach goers. There will be a good supply of sunshine for the coast today with only widely scattered storms. Highs will be in the upper 80s along the immediate coast, and Gulf water temperatures are generally in the low to mid 80s. Monday will be stormy at the beach especially for the afternoon hours, but the weather improves for the rest of the week.

The tropical Atlantic basin remains generally quiet. NHC is keeping an eye on a tropical wave south of the Cape Verde Islands. Tropical storm formation is not expected through the weekend but this could change into next week as the wave moves into an area where conditions are expected to be more conducive for development.

The first half of voodoo country as we head into August looks like a continuation of the eastern US trough pattern. The GFS does indicate a change to a more ridge like pattern with increased warmth as we get into the middle of August.

And you can follow news and weather updates from ABC 33/40 on Twitter here. Stay in the know by following the whole gang – here’s the list…

James Spann Charles Daniel Bill Murray
Brian Peters E-Warn (AL wx watches/warnings)

I expect James Spann to have the next Weather Xtreme Video posted Monday morning as we watch yet another summertime front come into Alabama. Stay cool today and Godspeed.

-Brian-

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“Warnings” – A Review

| 6:16 pm July 26, 2014

Most of you know I work a pretty long day… up before 5 a.m… not home until around midnight. My passion for weather keeps me going and energized. Unfortunately the long hours prevents me from reading many books, but I was able to finish “Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather” by my friend Mike Smith this month.

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For those that love weather, this is one of those books that is hard to put down. Not only is it a history of the severe weather warning system in the United States, it also weaves in the personal story of Mike’s long career.

Most of us in applied meteorology had some event in our childhood that triggered a deep interest in weather. For Mike, it was the Ruskin Heights tornado on May 20, 1957, just south of Kansas City, that was rated EF-5, and would kill 44 people that Monday evening. There were no tornado warnings in 1957; the U.S. Weather Bureau had a fear that that would set off a panic if they even mentioned the immediate threat of a tornado. Mike describes watching news cut-ins during “I Love Lucy” on WDAF as reports came into their newsroom.

The book goes on to tell the story of the first operational tornado forecast had been issued by Air Force Officers E. J. Fawbush and R. C. Miller at Tinker Air Force Base in 1948. These men laid the foundation for the current watch and warning system in use today.

There are many case studies in Mike’s book; one of great interest to me is the mircoburst of August 2, 1985 that downed Delta Flight 191, a regularly scheduled service from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Florida to Los Angeles International Airport, California, by way of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The crash came on the ground of DFW Airport in Texas; I happened to be the chief meteorologist for the CBS station in Dallas at the time, KDFW-TV, Channel 4. The plane went down during the first few minutes of our 6:00 news that evening, and soon it become pretty clear the big thunderstorm near DFW was responsible for the crash, which would kill 137 people.

Guess I can admit it now, but watching the live news coverage of the crash that night on our competing station, WFAA-TV, had a big impact on me, and inspired me to do long form coverage during tornadoes later in my career when it was allowed by management. Channel 8 did such a good job that night.

Mike also look at the warning process for Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina in deep detail… what went right, and what went wrong. It is especially interesting to read the chapter “Murder by Bureaucracy” concerning Katrina.

I do believe you need to know where you have been to have a better understanding of where you are going. This history of severe weather warnings in this nation is a very important story for all of us, and Mike did a masterful job of telling it. I encourage all in the weather enterprise, and those interested in weather, to get a copy. It is a very good read.

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Sunny and Hot Saturday

| 12:53 pm July 26, 2014

It is certainly feeling like July this weekend across the state. The entire state is basking under a sunny sky as a ridge has built in across the region. There are a few fair weather clouds out there, but no showers or storms are showing up anywhere across the state. It is a terrific Saturday, it is just hot and humid, but that is what we expect during the middle of summer.

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Under the sunny sky, our temps are hot this afternoon, as most locations are into the upper 80s and lower 90s. Over the next few hours, those temps will continue to increase, and most spots will see high ranging from 91-95 this afternoon. That is right at or just above seasonal averages for this time of year. For your Sunday, we can expect a near repeat of today, but temps could be a degree or two warmer. Don’t worry though, big changes are ahead, as a cold front will be arriving Monday.

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Hot and Dry for the Weekend

| 6:52 am July 26, 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.

The dreaded upper ridge to our west will force itself eastward today and Sunday bringing heat values up while we stay mostly dry across the northern two-thirds of the state of Alabama. Highs will be in the 91 to 95 range today and Sunday with heat indices climbing on Sunday into the 100 to 105 range. But hold on for the weekend, because another major change is coming with yet another summer cold front promising to bring thunderstorms on Monday with much cooler and drier air to the Southeast US on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The upper ridge gets pushed back toward the west late Sunday and into Monday with the digging of a strong trough across the Great Lakes region. This will force a cold front – the fourth one in July this year – into the Southeast US and bring a round of thunderstorms to the area Monday. While no specific slight risk area is defined by SPC, we’ll need to watch for the development of isolated severe storms capable of damaging wind and perhaps large hail with the front on Monday.

The trough sweeps in pushing the front well down into the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday setting us up for cooler and drier air once again. Wednesday morning we could see near record lows for Central Alabama. The current record for July 30th is 61 set in 1994 for Birmingham.

The pattern remains stuck with a trough over the eastern half of the country for the latter half of the week, so we’ll see a gradual warming trend as moisture levels slowly come back up. But with the trough pattern over the East I expect us to stay below seasonal averages with highs mainly in the 80s for the latter part of the week.

Not quite as hot and dry at the coast for beach goers. There will be a good supply of sunshine for the coast from Panama City over to Mobile through the weekend with only widely scattered storms. Highs will be in the upper 80s along the immediate coast, and Gulf water temperatures are generally in the low to mid 80s.

The tropical Atlantic basin remains generally quiet. NHC is keeping an eye on a tropical wave south of the Cape Verde Islands, but tropical storm formation is not expected through the weekend and into early next week.

The big news for voodoo country watchers is the continuation of the overall troughiness in the upper air pattern for the eastern half of the country. This will keep us out of any extreme heat and ever watchful for more of these anomalous summer-time cold fronts which seem to have become the new standard.

And you can follow news and weather updates from ABC 33/40 on Twitter here. Stay in the know by following the whole gang – here’s the list…

James Spann Charles Daniel Bill Murray
Brian Peters E-Warn (AL wx watches/warnings)

I expect to have the next Weather Xtreme Video posted Sunday morning. Stay cool and Godspeed.

-Brian-

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