National Weather Association

Kentucky Well Represented at 36th NWA Conference

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National Weather Service article on Kentucky’s presence at the NWA Conference in Birmingham

A huge congratulations to John Gordon, the Meteorologist in Charge at the Louisville National Weather Service office for being awarded the “Public Education Award” at the National Weather Association Conference in Birmingham last week for his “Beat The Heat, Check The Backseat” campaign. In addition, students from Western Kentucky University presented a poster of “A Synoptic Hydroclimatology within the Green River Watershed in Kentucky”.

You can click the link above and see picture and video highlights of these presentations. It’s great to do weather in a state where all facets of meteorology are well represented on a national level!

Lessons Learned from the National Weather Association Conference

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A room filled with big screens, iPads, tablets, laptops and smartphones during one of the weather sessions in Birmingham

My head hurts.

It could be from the abrupt change in the temperature from Birmingham to Bowling Green but it’s probably more from the depth of information my brain soaked in this week at the 36th Annual National Weather Association Conference.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts from this week, this has been a week of learning from Mother Nature.  We all agree that no matter how much we think we know, there is still much to learn.  Mysteries remain from the incredible tornado outbreaks of April and May.  However, the data that was gathered will go a long way in helping those of us in broadcast meteorology better prepare you for the next outbreak.

Twisted metal beams remain buried in debris in parts of Tuscaloosa

The compelling videos, the detailed PowerPoint slides and the chilling recount from those that lived through those killer tornadoes all got to me.  And I can attest that TV doesn’t do it justice.  Even six months later, there are parts of Alabama…not just Tuscaloosa and Birmingham…that remain in ruin from the EF4 and EF5 tornadoes.

Part of a Cullman, AL neighborhood - from this past Thursday

Many of us who do TV weather took time from the comfort of the hotel meeting rooms to venture out to places such as Tuscaloosa, Bessemer, Fultondale and Cullman.  When you stand amidst the rubble and easily visualize the path of the tornadoes, you get a cold chill.  In some places, only slabs of homes and businesses remain while others either stand condemned or just a shell of what they once were.

A shell of a structure in Cullman in the midst of rebuilding

Granted, the majority of the affected towns are untouched and life goes on as usual.  But the lines of destruction are clearly marked…as if crossing into another dimension…the look of everything changes.  You begin to see signs of promise like “We’re Coming Back!” and “You Can’t Keep Us Down”.  Driving through some of the neighborhoods in Tuscaloosa you peer through the windows where families are repainting and repairing all they can.  I tried putting myself in their position and I can’t even begin to imagine all they’ve been through.  Six months later, the storm is still very real.

A strip of University Blvd. in Tuscaloosa - untouched ruin from April 27th next to a recently installed street light

Being there – where the tornadoes struck – taught me more than any class ever could.  Still, there are so many things I still don’t know…we still don’t know.  This gathering was more than a bunch of weather geeks getting together and talking shop.  It was a learning experience.

Where’s Chris? Day 5 of Weather Geekness

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Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel sat at our table during the NWA Awards Luncheon

It was another jam-packed day at the 36th Annual National Weather Association Conference in Birmingham, Alabama.  Today, I learned a lot about “Dual-Polarization Radar” that will soon be installed at the Nashville NWS office in January and later in Louisville and other NWS offices across the country.  It’s called “Dual-Pol” for short and introduces the next-generation of radar imaging being implemented by the National Weather Service and then passed on to TV stations (like WBKO).

Some examples of NEXRAD radar compared to Dual-Pol radar

Dual-Pol radar will allow us to see severe storms like never before.  It will do a much better job at determining hail size and hail cores…often a precursor to tornado formation.  Not only this, but WBKO is in line to do a full weather graphics system overhaul which will not only allow us to ingest LIVE Dual-Pol radar but will move our weather into full HD mode in the coming months!  During my time here in Birmingham, the folks from WeatherCentral, the company that developed the weather graphics you see on all of our TV and web content have been here training me on some exciting new software and providing me with better weather tools than ever before.

The highlight of the day was the Annual NWA Awards Luncheon where the leadership of the organization hand out awards to those who have served the NWA in many capacities over the past year.  The NWA was responsible for me achieving my Broadcast Seal of Approval in 1999 and I attend the Conference every three years to be re-certified.

Today, we had the pleasure of Storm Tracker Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel sit with us at our table.  In fact, many familiar faces from The Weather Channel have been in attendance at the NWA Conference all this week such as Nick Walker, Vivian Brown, Mike Bettes and Dr. Greg Forbes.

Tomorrow is the final day of the NWA Conference.  I will have another half-day of sessions to go through then Shelia and I will be taking a few days off just to relax.

My brain is on overload but I will be coming back to Southern Kentucky with lots of new knowledge and a better perspective (and appreciation) for severe weather and just what it can do to a community.

(Miss me yet?)

I miss y’all.  G’night!

NWA Conference: Day 4

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The 2011 Town Hall Meeting with those affected by the April 27th tornadoes.

Probably the most compelling day of the National Weather Association Conference was the public Town Hall meeting which put those affected by the April 27th tornadoes in the same room with first responders, National Weather Service meteorologists and TV broadcasters.

A cross-section of those living in the path of the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado which killed 238 Alabamians (52 of those in Tuscaloosa) were invited to take part in this special Town Hall to answer questions and offer insight about how they responded to the high risk of weather dangers that unfolded that day.

Respondents in the Town Hall saw their answers immediately on big screen TV's.

Using a unique direct-response electronic device, the respondents were asked several questions including “how seriously did you take the tornado warnings that were issued” to “what was your number one source of getting word of the warnings”.  The responses showed within seconds on large screens at the Wynfrey Hotel meeting room for all of us to see.

For instance, the respondents said that NOAA weather radio and local TV was their number one source for learning of the severe weather threat and to monitor for warnings.

A few others went on to comment that they trust “the sound of the voice of their local TV weather person” in severe weather situations.  Further, the “tone of urgency” in their voice compels people to take further action.

While 60% at tonight’s Town Hall say they “sometimes expect” an actual tornado touchdown when a Tornado Warning is issued an alarming 21% say they “do not expect” a tornado to actually occur when a warning is issued.  This is where we sometimes find complacency among respondents or an “it’ll happen somewhere else” attitude.
In fact, there was one woman on the panel who said “I’ve lived here all my life and tornadoes usually happen west of I-65.”  There were a handful of the respondents that admitted they made some assumption that other parts of the area would be more affected than where they lived.

Another question posed to the panel “can there be too much time between the issuance of a warning and the actual storm?” 56% said “No”.

As a member and sealholder of the National Weather Association, I will receive a copy of the entire questionnaire and results of tonight’s Town Hall in the coming weeks.  In fact, I think it might be good to hold a version of this meeting in Southern Kentucky.  It would be interesting to see if responses to the questions would be answered differently in our area.

I’ll grant you this, tonight’s Town Hall was both enlightening and educational.  It was also humbling to hear from some of the actual victims of the tornadoes describe how they watched TV, heard the warnings, lost power and then sought shelter as best they could.

It certainly gives me a whole new perspective on how we cover the weather and I look forward to bringing some of what I’ve learned back home to you.

I’ve got another full day tomorrow including a presentation that I will give to my fellow meteorologists who use WeatherCentral products as we do at WBKO.  I will be showing other stations how to use live webcam images with Mesonet data.  Apparently, WBKO is one of the few stations in the country that does this on a regular basis!

Night y’all!

NWA Conference: Day 3

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A bathroom is all that's left of a house destroyed by a tornado in Tuscaloosa.

Day 3 of the National Weather Association Conference in Birmingham was filled with reviews of the April and May tornado outbreaks.  Many of the talks centered on the atmospheric setup for each event and how the National Weather Service handled the issuance of warnings on those days.

There was much discussion about the warning polygons themselves.  Those are the boxes you see on top of the radar images that show where the potential tornado is located and the direction the storm is moving.  One of the NWS mets from the Birmingham office suggested the possibility of extending the length of the polygon from the usual 30 minute warning time to 60 minutes.  His thinking is by the time a 30-minute warning is issued, it’s already time to issue another warning after a 10 minute period in order to adequately warn the folks down the line.  Therein lies the confusion to those watching TV or trying to keep up with “who” is under the current warning.

In the future, there is some discussion of issuing warnings by zip code.  Who doesn’t know their zip code?  Many have stated…even to me…that they just don’t understand things like “Northwestern Barren County” or “Eastern Hart County”.  Just where are those places and is it going to affect me?  Maybe if we started saying “the tornado will hit 42210, 42104 and 42221 in the next 20 minutes that would better grab the attention of those in danger?  I don’t know.

All that's left of H&W Drugs in Tuscaloosa

The most compelling part of this day was my trip over to Tuscaloosa.  My friend Brandon Robinson who does the weather at our sister-station WYMT in Hazard decided to take the 45-minute drive Monday afternoon and asked me to go with him.   We were curious to see how much progress in recovery had taken place since the killer tornado struck there on April 27th.

A pretty Tuscaloosa sunset with stripped trees and vacant houses in the foreground.

It was eerie to still see the path the EF4 tornado took through one of the main business and residential districts of Tuscaloosa…just missing the hospital and the University.  And while I saw damaged homes being rebuilt and a spirit of pride and strength of the people there, there were many homes still in ruin, businesses that will not return and 238 lives that cannot be replaced.

It was chilling to see up close even six months later.

Scenes like these not only motivate me to do my job better but leads me to pray we never have devastation like this in Southern Kentucky…or anywhere for that matter.

Well, I’ve got another full day of training ahead of me.

God bless y’all!

NWA Conference: Day 2

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Welcome Session for the 36th Annual NWA Conference

There are a record number of attendees for this year’s National Weather Association Conference in Birmingham.

No doubt this correlates with the record number of tornadoes in 2011.

Nick Walker from The Weather Channel

Today was dedicated to the Broadcasters Workshop.  The room was filled with TV weathercasters…from local affiliates to those who work for the major networks including The Weather Channel.  In fact, Nick Walker, on-air meteorologist from The Weather Channel welcomed the broadcasters to today’s session.

James Spann of ABC 33/40 in Birmingham

James Spann, Chief Meteorologist of Birmingham’s ABC 33/40 addressed the broadcasters next talking about the April 27th killer tornadoes that raked through his coverage area.  While James was thrown into the national spotlight for his incredible live TV and internet coverage, he reluctantly refrained from getting into specifics stating “the incredible loss of life leaves me speechless”.

Storm Tracker Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel

Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel then spoke about the year of incredible weather and introduced Dr. Greg Forbes, his colleague on TV during times of severe weather and tornado outbreaks.

Dr. Greg Forbes of The Weather Channel

Dr. Forbes spoke of the severe weather parameters that led to the incredible tornado outbreak that started Easter weekend and progressed through April 27th.  Dr. Forbes was a student of Dr. Ted Fujita during the Super Outbreak of 1974 and made some interesting comparisons to that outbreak and the one from this year.

Davis Nolan of WKRN, Nashville talking about the May 2010 Flood

Not long after Dr. Forbes’ talk, my good friend Davis Nolan of WKRN Channel 2 in Nashville had a great presentation of the incredible flood of May 2010.  He showed video of I-24 with cars and buildings floating down the interstate.  He also spoke of miscommunication that happened between the National Weather Service and the Corps of Engineers on the release of water from Old Hickory Dam and how this led to much higher water levels in downtown Nashville than was forecast.

One of the more interesting presentations of the day came from Michael Brown of Mississippi State University.  His staff surveyed the people of Smithville, MS that was struck by an EF5 tornado of April 27th.  There was so much severe weather there that day, their outdoor warning sirens sounded an incredible 4 times…with the last sounding being the killer tornado.  Even though the town had 45 minutes of lead time, many thought the tornado warning and the sounding of the outdoor sirens was another false alarm.  24% of those surveyed said when they heard the siren, they took no action.  Not only that, many said they wanted to see “proof” the tornado was coming before they would seek shelter.

Not long after this presentation, Jason Senkbeil of the University of Alabama talked about how many people actually sought out shelter from the EF4 tornado that struck Tuscaloosa.  When surveyed, an incredible 51% said they did not have a shelter plan!

One of the most moving presentations today was from Brian Davis, meteorologist from KOAM-TV in Joplin, Missouri.  He spoke of the May 22nd twister that devastated a huge part of the city and became overwhelmed with emotion as he spoke of the destruction he witnessed.  He credited early warning and the use of social media to saving many lives that day.

All in all, it was a great day of presentations, fellowship and learning.  I feel very privileged to be in the same room with other TV broadcasters and meteorologists from across the country.  I look up to them and regard them as the best in the business.

Tomorrow, more learning and some training on new software that will enhance the weather you see on WBKO!

Night y’all!

NWA Conference: Day 1

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Standing next to TIV2 (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) as seen on "Storm Chasers"

It was a great first day in Birmingham for the initial kickoff of the 36th Annual National Weather Association Conference.

When Shelia and I arrived in Birmingham around midday, the sky was blue and the sun was bright.  Driving through downtown we found the McWane Science Center where “WeatherFest” was being held.  “WeatherFest” was a free, open-to-the-public event geared toward everything weather.

"WeatherFest" at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham

“WeatherFest” had everything from young to old.  The big draw was the Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV2) from the popular Discovery Channel series “Storm Chasers”.  The builder of the TIV Sean Casey was there to not only display the TIV but to show his IMAX movie “Tornado Alley” which I saw a couple of weeks ago in Chattanooga.

Talking with TIV driver Marcus Gutierrez

And while I didn’t get to see Sean Casey, I did get to meet his driver Marcus Gutierrez.  If you’ve watched “Storm Chasers” then you’ve seen Marcus.  In fact, he and I discussed the episode of “Chasers” that aired last Sunday that showed Marcus getting the TIV stuck in some thick Texas mud.

“Yeah, that was pretty nasty” Marcus told me.  “There is a lot of video tape you guys didn’t see…mostly bleeping and cursing”.

Shelia and Me in Birmingham

Shelia is with me on this trip as she has been at most of these conferences.  While I’m taking in a head full of knowledge at the seminars and sessions, she’ll be in the hotel room working on her knitting and crocheting.  Christmas gifts for family and friends you understand.  And of course, I can’t imagine going anywhere without her!

One of the best things about attending a conference such as this one is that it puts me together with other TV weather people across the country who do the same thing I do each day.  Since the advent of social media, we get to “chat” with one another pretty much every day.  Now, we get to sit face-to-face, pick each others brains and learn something new about the weather.  Yeah, I’m pretty much in weather geek heaven!

Before I turn in tonight and get some rest before our first day of multiple sessions I want to thank the management of WBKO for allowing me this opportunity every three years.  I always come back with new ideas, more knowledge and a fresh kick-in-the-pants to motivate me to make WBKO’s weather operation even better than before.

I will update you here, on my facebook pages and in my twitter feed as often as I can.  Sometimes it will be a picture or two…or, if I have time, a quick video.

Tomorrow, we have our Broadcasters Workshop all day.  We will hear from the TV weathercasters who were in the midst of the killer tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri this year.

Night y’all!