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ALERT Newsletter

Hi Everyone,

I hope this finds you doing well.

As April arrives, I would urge each of you to check and recheck your storm preparations. This cannot be over emphasized. For, while we hope that we will have a quiet spring and be spared repeats of the disasters of the past, this cannot be counted on, and as surely as the sun rises in the morning, some April will bring tragedy upon us once again.

Human beings are reactive creatures. Once a disaster has occurred we are very diligent about preparing – for a while, anyway. Then as weeks turn into months, and months into years our memories fade, our attention moves on to other things and activities and our preparations along with our batteries literally corrode away in to dust. Then when we need them, our resources, once so carefully gathered, are not there for us.

So again, I urge you to revisit your preparations and supplies.

As they say “it is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

Just a brief reminder, that at our upcoming April 11 meeting the Nominating Committee will issue its recommendations for the upcoming ALERT elections in May. Nominations from the floor will be allowed the night of the elections in May.

I hope to see you there!



Just for fun, the following is taken from “The Tornado” written by H. A. Hazen, published by the United States Weather Bureau in 1890.

(Bear in mind several of these observation methods are outdated today. Some, like #9 in particular, are dangerous…)

“IF any one thing has been emphasized in these pages, it has been the extreme need of more light on this whole question. The earlier investigators of the phenomenon were untrammelled, to a large extent, by preconceived opinions, and it must strike every one that few substantial facts unknown to them have been brought out since their time. It is to be hoped that the number of those willing to aid in establishing the facts and ferreting out the mysteries will be largely increased, and it is for such these instructions are given.

1. It is very essential that one divests himself of every preconceived notion about the whirling, sucking, or any other action of a tornado. There is the utmost danger of seeing the tornado do what we think it ought to do. It would be far safer, if one has an inclination to such views, to deny that such a view is correct, and only to accept it after most incontestable proof.

2. Note the time of day carefully, and specify whether the time used is Eastern, Central, Mountain, or some city time.

3. The side of the track on which the observer stood should be given,

4. Note the appearance of the clouds in the distance,— whether they roll upward, come together from the north and south,— or any other phenomenon connected with them.

5. Special note should be made of a cloud of dust and its general appearance.

6. See whether the funnel-cloud is visible at a distance, or suddenly breaks into view on the approach of the tornado. If possible, locate the first appearance of the funnel by a tree, house, or object close by, and, after the tornado has passed, measure the distance from the observer’s position to that of the tornado when first seen.

7. If the observer is a thousand feet or more away from the funnel, or cannot see distinctly trees or objects in it or near it, he should not try to make detailed observations of the whirl, or any thing else at the tornado. Fix the attention on the motion of detached clouds. Make every effort, by comparison with trees and houses between the tornado and the observer, to get its height, width, and speed: these can be much better found out at a little distance than close to the cloud.

8. Make careful observations of all electric displays, the appearance of balls of fire, the sound of thunder, the roar of the tornado, etc.

9. If the observer is within a hundred feet of the tornado on the north side, he need have no fear, and may carefully examine all objects flying just above the ground. He should note carefully the foot, the middle, and the top of the funnel, to see whether any tree or object is carried to his right as he faces the funnel.

10. Note also whether any object is carried up straight in the funnel, or whether it is borne along in the swift wind. If there is an uprush in the tornado, it ought to be easily told; and the appearance will be very different from that if the object or house is borne along by the wind, and afterward inclined upward. If there is a sort of explosive effect, the upward motion will be more or less jerky, and not steady as in a stream. On the whole, the evidence seems to show something like an uprush, though it seems conclusive that this is not due to a vacuum in the tornado, as many think. It is very plain that nothing can be sucked into the tornado, because of a partial vacuum there; but if it rushes in or up, it must be borne or propelled by a stream of electricity, so to speak, or by a rush of air. One of the best illustrations of this has just come to hand from the storm at Bradshaw, Neb. This tornado passed over a tank ten feet long, three feet wide, and twenty inches deep, full of water. This tank was air-tight, and had an opening in the top one foot square. The observer reports that the tornado sucked all the water out of this tank. A moment’s reflection will show that this could have been done only by the insertion of the funnel into the opening one foot square. Of course this is absurd, and we must resort to some other explanation of the phenomenon.

11. After the tornado has passed, note the appearance of the houses for explosive effects.

12. Pay particular attention to the direction of the trees, making a separate observation on the south side, in the centre, and on the north side. See if any debris or objects have been carried in any case toward the west or south-west on the north side of the track, and measure the distance.

13. A note should be made of the width of the greatest destruction, not including houses unroofed on the borders; also the length of the path where it was most destructive, and the distance from the point at which it first struck the earth to the point at which it left the earth during the time of the greatest destruction.

14. Give the names of persons killed, if any.

15. Give an estimate of the loss to buildings, also specifying the number of buildings destroyed and their characters as to strength, etc.

16. A note should be made of the rainfall,— whether it was most abundant before, during, or after the tornado; also, if possible, the amount of rain at the centre of the track and at some point two thousand or three thousand feet on either side.

17. Careful note should be made of hail, size of stones, width of track, situation with respect to the main track, etc.

18. After the tornado the direction of the path should be most carefully determined.

19. All evidences of corks flying from bottles should be carefully looked for.

20. If one has a barograph, its record will be of the utmost value. If one has a barometer, an observation should be made by some one every minute till the tornado has passed. If the barometer is an aneroid, the face should be gently tapped before each observation. A steady watch of the needle may show any sudden fluctuation too rapid to be caught by reading the barometer. This instrument may be read in a dug-out or a cellar as well as in a house. Of course, every one will keep eyes and ears open for any and all phenomena to be noted in this remarkable outburst.”

Mark’s Almanac

The Romans called April “Aprilis”, probably from the word “aperire”, which means, “to open”. This time of year being when buds open. It was originally the second month of the Roman calendar, before Roman King Numa Pompilius added January & February in 700 BC.

Freezing weather comes to an end as Birmingham’s average last freeze is April 1, while Tuscaloosa’s is March 26. The record for the latest freeze date is April 21, 1953 for Tuscaloosa and April 23, 1986 for Birmingham.

April is less wet than March & rain becomes more localized and less widespread in nature. The sun heats the lower atmosphere near the ground and since the upper atmosphere is still cold, the warm air rises, reaches the dew point line, forms clouds & then it may rain. April is the first time in the spring season that favors local convective activity, which is why you have “April Showers”.

April is peak tornado month, with wide scale outbreaks possible. There are 2 ½ times the number of tornadoes as in March. 25% of the year’s tornadoes will have occurred by April 28.

From April 1950 to 2014, 8304 tornadoes were reported causing, as of 2013, 1770 deaths and 29,090 injuries.

As of 2011, Alabama is second only to Oklahoma in killer violent tornados, Oklahoma having had 40 and Alabama 39.

As of 2015, Alabama ranks fourth in the number of April tornadoes, following Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. They along with Illinois belong to the “over 400 club” having had over 400 tornadoes since 1950.

As of 2015 Alabama leads the nation in F5 & EF5 tornadoes, having had 8, followed by Oklahoma with 7, and there is a three way tie for third between Iowa, Kansas and Texas with 6.

As of 2015 Alabama leads the nation in tornado deaths with 620, followed by Texas with 530 and Mississippi with 450.

The counties most likely to be struck by violent EF5 tornadoes are Lawrence, Limestone, Morgan, Madison and Marion, all of which have been struck three times.

Tuscaloosa has been stuck by four F4 & EF4 tornadoes including 1932, 1975, 2000 & 2011.

The suburbs of Birmingham, including Oak Grove, Pleasant Grove, McDonald Chapel and Smithfield have been struck by two F4 & EF4 tornadoes in 1956 & 2011 and by two F5 tornadoes in 1977 & 1998.

My Grandfather, who passed away in 1958, once said “someday a big tornado is going to go right up Jones Valley and tear everything up”.

Indeed there is no logical or climatological reason why and an EF4 or 5 tornado hasn’t struck or won’t strike the densely populated areas of Birmingham, including the high rises of downtown.

Whether it is due to “Divine Providence” or “random chance” otherwise known as “luck”, Birmingham has been spared.

When will that luck run out?

Some notable Alabama tornados in past Aprils include:

April 18, 1953 F3 Lee & Russell County 6 dead 195 injured
April 18, 1953 F3 Shelby County 8 dead 495 injured
April 15, 1956 F4 Jefferson County 25 dead 200 injured “McDonald Chapel Tornado”
April 18, 1969 F4 Montgomery, Bullock, Butler & Crenshaw Counties 2 dead 15 injured

April 3 & 4, 1974 “Super Outbreak” or produced at least eight tornadoes in Alabama, including four extremely intense and long-lived storms that swept the state killing eighty-six persons and injuring 949. The Huntsville area had an F3, F4 & an F5 tornado. The F4 tornado struck a half mile from where they were still digging out from an F3 tornado that had struck earlier in that day. Guin was literally wiped off the map, as was Xenia Ohio. The entire Eastern US and Southern Canada was affected during “The Day Of 100 Tornadoes”.

April 3, 1974 F5 Lamar, Marion, Winston, Lawrence & Morgan Counties 30 dead 230 injured
April 3, 1974 F4 Pickens, Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Walker & Cullman Counties 3 dead 178 injured
April 3, 1974 F5 Limestone-Madison 28 dead 260 injured
April 4, 1977 F5 Jefferson County 22 dead 130 injured “Smithfield Tornado”
April 1, 1998 F3 Russell County 2 dead 23 injured
April 8, 1998 F5 Tuscaloosa & Jefferson County 32 dead 259 Injured “Oak Grove Tornado”

April 25 – 28, 2011 Super outbreak was the largest and deadliest tornado outbreak on record,
with 358 tornadoes in 21 states and southern Canada. April 27 alone had 211 tornadoes. Of 348
people killed, 324 were tornado related, the other 24 being non-tornado storm related deaths, such as straight line winds.

Alabama was hit by two distinct waves of tornadoes, the first hitting during the early morning hours resulting in 52 injuries and the second in the afternoon and evening resulting in 238 deaths and 1946 injuries in a total of 62 tornadoes.

April 27, 2011 F5 Marion County 18 dead 100 injured
April 27, 2011 F4 Pickens, Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Walker & Blount Counties 13 dead 54 injured
April 27, 2011 F3 Marion County 7 dead 100 injured
April 27, 2011 F4 Greene, Tuscaloosa & Jefferson counties 65 dead 1500 injured
April 27, 2011 F3 Greene, Hale & Bibb counties 7 dead 50 injured
April 27, 2011 F4 Jefferson, St. Clair, Calhoun, Etowah and Cherokee counties 22 dead 81 injured
April 27, 2011 F4 Elmore, Tallapoosa & Chambers counties 7 dead 30 injured
April 3, 2012 F2 Tallapoosa & Chambers counties 1 dead 2 injured
April 28, 2014 F3 Limestone County 1 dead 30 injured

Beware of the storms of April.

Looking towards the sky, Mercury, sparkling at about magnitude –0.7 and fading in the evening twilight will reach his highest point in the sky, or “Greatest Eastern Elongation” on April 1. At that time the planet will be 19 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury. Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.

Brilliant Venus, magnitude -4.2 passed between the Sun and Earth or “Inferior Conjunction” March 25th, but it did so at its maximum possible separation of 8° north of the Sun.

What does this mean?

Our solar system is shaped like a huge disk with the planets orbiting on a plane aligned with the Sun’s equator. However due to the planets colliding with large objects and perhaps due to the gravitational fields of other objects, such as large rogue planets, or “free floating planets” which are planets not gravitationally bound to a star, but, drifting through space, or other stars passing near the solar system eons ago, some of our planets orbital paths are distorted horizontally and not perfectly round, and vertically misaligned, orbiting slightly above or below the plane of the other planets.

Because of this, Venus will be passing slightly north of the Sun. This creates a rare occurrence where the planet is visible both before sunset and before sunrise. Can you find Venus at both dusk and dawn on the same day, or across the same night? Your chance is ending!

Mars, magnitude +1.5 has moved into Aries and is orange “star” moderately low due west in late twilight. The orange stars Alpha Arietis and Alpha Ceti in the same general area are fainter.

Jupiter, shining creamy white at magnitude -2.4 in Virgo, is low in the East after nightfall and higher in the Southeast by midnight. The star Spica dangles 6° lower below it.

On April 7 Jupiter will make his closest approach to Earth, or “Opposition” and his face being fully illuminated by the Sun, will be brighter than any other time of the year and visible all night long.

A medium-sized telescope should be able to show you some of the details of Jupiter’s cloud bands, while a good pair of binoculars should allow you to see Jupiter’s four largest moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto as bright dots on either side of the planet.

Each night their positions will have changed as they continue the waltz they have danced with Jupiter for millennia uncounted.

Saturn, magnitude +0.4 in Sagittarius rises in the early morning hours and glows in the south by early dawn.

Uranus is hidden the glow of dusk.

Neptune is hidden the glow of dawn.

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak (“T-G-K”) is becoming nicely visible in amateur telescopes high in the northern evening sky. It’s currently about magnitude 7 and may reach 6th magnitude through April. It’s large (passing relatively close to Earth) but rather diffuse.

Unfortunately it is just beyond naked eye visibility, but, if you have a telescope or even better yet, since they have more light gathering power, and let you use both eyes, grab the binoculars and give it a try! It is located roughly between the bowls of the Big & Little Dipper.

April’s Full Moon was known as “Full Pink Moon” in Native American folklore as it marked the reappearance of pink wild ground phlox. This will occur April 11 06:08 UTC or 1:08 AM CDT. This moon was also called by various tribes, the “Sprouting Grass Moon”, “Growing Moon”, “Egg Moon” and “Fish Moon”, as this is when shad swam upstream to spawn.

The Lyrid Meteor Shower which, runs annually from April16 – 25, peaks on the evening of April 22 and morning of April 23. This is a minor shower, with only 12 to 24 meteors per hour. These meteors sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds.

This shower is produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861.These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds.

The crescent moon should not be too much of a problem this year. Skies should still be dark enough for a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Lyra, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

April’s New Moon will occur April 26 at 12:17 UTC or 7:17 AM CDT. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters, as there will be no moonlight to wash out the evening sky.

Evenings in early April offer an excellent opportunity to view the zodiacal light. Zodiacal light is a faint, roughly triangular whitish glow seen in the night sky which appears to extend up from the vicinity of the sun along the ecliptical plane. It is caused by sunlight scattered by space dust in the orbital plane of the Earth.

From the Northern Hemisphere, early spring is the best time of year to observe this elusive glow after sunset. It appears slightly fainter than the Milky Way, so you’ll need a clear moonless sky and an observing site located far from the city. Look for the cone-shaped glow, which points nearly straight up from the western horizon, after the last vestiges of twilight have faded away.

This is the time of year when the dim Little Dipper – Ursa Minor – juts to the right from the North Star, Polaris, which is the end of the Little Dipper’s handle, during late evening. The much brighter Big Dipper curls over high above it, “dumping water” into it. They do the reverse in the fall.

Now that it’s spring, the signature fall-and-winter constellation Cassiopeia is retreating down after dark. But for mid-northern latitudes Cassiopeia is circumpolar, never going away completely. Look for it fairly low in the north-northwest these evenings. It’s standing nearly on end.

Cassiopeia, lying directly opposite of the Big Dipper, is a valuable navigation tool, in that if the Big Dipper is not available to locate the North Star, being obscured by clouds or terrain, you can use Cassiopeia, which is shaped like a rough “W”. Draw an imaginary line from the center of the “W” and the first bright star you run in to is Polaris.

Orion is also valuable as a rough navigation aid as the two left stars forming the elongated square forming Orion always lie on a general north / south line, and the bottom two stars of the square lie on a rough east / west line.

Also there is the “LURD Method”. An acronym for “Left, Up, Right and Down”.

If you pick a bright star fairly high in the sky, note its position and then look at it again some minutes later, if it has moved left, you are facing North. If up, you are facing East. If right, you are facing South. If down, you are facing the West.

The moon can give you clues too, as it will move West and with a crescent moon, the horns will align roughly North & South.

3461 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of March 16, per NASA’s Exoplanet Archive


This month’s meeting will be on April 11 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.

If for some reason you cannot attend the meeting in person, you can still participate via telephone. The teleconference number is 1-877-951-0997 & and the participant code is 741083.

Hope to see you there!

Mark / WD4NYL
ALERT Newsletter

Mark’s Weatherlynx
Weather Resource Database

Hi Everyone,

The Birmingham Hamfest is at the end of this week, March 3 & 4 at the Zamora Shrine Temple.

This will be a Friday & Saturday affair, Friday 4 – 7 PM and Saturday 8:30 AM to 4 PM.

ALERT will have a table Saturday and an ALERT forum 12 – 1 PM Saturday in the Knights Of Mecca Room.

In accordance with the ALERT Bylaws, this month’s ALERT meeting on March 14th will feature the selection of the two person Nominating Committee for the upcoming elections in May.

Please plan on attending this meeting & don’t be shy about volunteering to serve on the Committee or to make yourself available for a leadership role. We need some of our newer members to step up and become active members of ALERT’s leadership. All it takes is a willing heart and once elected a commitment to faithfully fulfill your duties of office to the best of your abilities.

We need you to be actively involved in ALERT’s leadership and to help us build a strong ALERT organization for the future.

Your time has arrived.

Your ALERT needs you.


Water Purification Changes With New Version Clorox
Water contamination or shortages can occur for many reasons, and is not as uncommon as you may think. The causes for these shortages can range from natural & man-made disasters, industrial accidents to the more mundane occurrence of a guy having a bad day with a backhoe.
Many guides recommend using chlorine bleach for water purification, which is indeed one of the best methods available. However many of these guides were written before Clorox began offering the new Concentrated version of Clorox, and this new version requires a different mixture or amount needed for water purification.
The following, courtesy of Clorox®, details how to use both Clorox Regular-Bleach and New Concentrated Clorox Regular-Bleach for emergency disinfection of drinking water.
Prior to addition of the bleach, it’s important to remove all suspended material from collected water by letting it settle to the bottom or by filtration. This means that after you collect some water that hasn’t been treated, you need to let it sit long enough to let any debris settle to the bottom of the container.
Next, decant the clarified contaminated water into a clean container, then add the bleach. Use the table below to determine how much bleach to add—it depends on how much water you are treating.
Allow the treated water to stand for 30 minutes. Properly treated water should have a slight chlorine odor.
If there’s no chlorine odor, then you need to repeat the treatment. Just add the same amount of bleach, and wait for another 15 minutes. Check again for the chlorine odor before drinking the water.
Amount of Clear Water Amount of Clorox® Regular-Bleach Amount of New Concentrated Clorox® Regular-Bleach
1 quart 2 drops 2 drops
1 gallon 8 drops 6 drops
2 gallons 16 drops 12 drops, or 1/8 teaspoon
5 gallons 40 drops 30 drops
Here are some other important things to remember.
ONLY use Clorox® Regular-Bleach or new Concentrated® Clorox Regular-Bleach. DO NOT use the Scented bleaches, High Efficiency bleach Splash-Less bleach, Ultimate Care bleach, or the Bleach Pen.
Use bleach that was purchased in the last 4 months.
If the water you want to treat is cloudy and you can’t decant or filter it, add twice the amount of bleach recommended above.
Check with your water service provider to confirm that your tap water is safe to drink.
If you stocked up on bottled water, save the empty bottles!! You can use some of them to collect untreated water, and others to store the water you treat.
More information on water purification during emergencies may be seen on my article “The 5 Main Ways To Push Up Daisies In A Disaster Part 3” which was featured in the April 2013 Newsletter.

This was part of a multipart series, basically a mini survival guide which I ran from March to June 2013, of which, I’ve toyed with the idea of updating and rerunning. IF there is interest

Mark’s Almanac

Originally called Martius, March is the third month & first month of the Roman calendar. March is named for Mars, the god of war, and was the start of the military campaign season.

The beginning of “Meteorological Spring”, which is based on changes in temperature and precipitation, not the solar angle, is March 1

March is a wet month. Most floods occur in March and rainfall averages around 6 inches.
Tornadic activity sharply increases in March with there being an increase of 2.2 times the number of tornadoes over the February amount. The focal point for this tornadic activity is the Gulf States.

March is the hail maximum for the Deep South. This is due both to the number of thunderstorms & due to the freezing level still being near the surface. This allows hail to form at lower altitudes and reach the ground intact, as opposed to summer months, when the freezing level is higher and near surface level temperatures are higher melting the hail into liquid before impact.

Killing frosts are gone and the last average frost is on March 16.

March is a snow month for Alabama & there is a 45% chance of snow up to one inch, and an 8% chance of one inch or more.

The good news is that there is hope on the horizon as Spring will arrive at Vernal Equinox on March 20 at 10:29 UTC or 5:29 A.M. CDT.

The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of fall, or Autumnal Equinox, in the Southern Hemisphere.

Remember to get the eggs out, as it is said that you can stand eggs on their ends at the hour of equinox.

Daylight Savings Time begins at 2 AM on March 12. So remember to “spring forward” one hour. This, of course means I will lose one hour of “beauty sleep”, which is something I desperately need.

Saint Patrick’s Day is March 17, and you better participate by wearing a Touch O’ The Green or you will be plagued by leprechauns and gnomes. Not a pleasant experience, I can assure you.

Looking towards the sky, Mercury, is hidden deep in the glare of sunrise. He will move behind the Sun and then reemerge into the western sky and by the end of the month he will reach his highest point in the sky, or “Greatest Eastern Elongation” on April 1. At that time the planet will be 19 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury. Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.

Brilliant Venus, magnitude -4.8 in Capricorn, is near peak brightness, the southwest during and long after twilight.

In a telescope Venus is a crescent, thinning in shape, but, growing larger in the telescope week by week. It’s now about 25% sunlit. For the rest of the winter, as Venus swings toward us, it will continue to expand as its phase wanes down to a super-thin crescent.

Venus in a telescope is least glary when viewed in bright twilight. So get your scope on it as soon as you can see it naked-eye, even before sunset.

Mars, magnitude +1.2 in Aquarius, glowing in the south-southwest at dusk, is the faint reddish “star” upper left of brilliant Venus, but, only 0.4% as bright.

Jupiter, magnitude -2.3 in Virgo, rises around 9 or 10 PM and glares highest in the south in the hours before dawn. The star Spica dangles not quite 4° lower right of it after they rise, more directly below it in the early-morning hours, and lower left of it in early dawn as shown above.

Jupiter is creamy white, while, Spica is an icier shade of white with a trace of blue, once it’s fairly high in the sky.

Spica will be twinkling, while Jupiter will not.

Saturn, magnitude +0.5 on the Ophiucus-Sagittarius border rises in the early morning hours and glows in the southeast before and during dawn.

Uranus, shining at a borderline naked eye brightness of +5.9 in Pisces, is still in view in the southwest right after dark, in the background of Mars. The two planets will pass 0.6° from each other on the evening of February 26th.

Neptune is lost in the glow of sunset.

Full Moon will occur on March 12 at 14:54 UTC or 8:54 AM CST. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes “Worm Moon”. So called because the rains disturb the earthworms & they are seen wiggling around after the rains.

They are edible by the way, but I think I’ll let you have my share. Incidentally slugs are edible also. Just think of them as snails without the shell

New Moon will occur March 28 at 2:58 UTC or 8:58 March 27 PM CDT. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

Celestial carnivores are emerging from hibernation. After dinnertime at this time of year, five carnivore constellations are rising upright in a ragged row from the northeast to south. They’re all seen in profile with their noses pointed up and their feet (if any) to the right. These are The Great Bear, Ursa Major in the northeast, with the Big Dipper as its brightest part, Leo the Lion in the east, Hydra the Sea Serpent in the southeast, The Lesser Dog, Canis Minor higher in the south-southeast, and The Greater Dog, bright Canis Major in the south.

Sirius, shining at magnitude −1.46, the brightest night time star, blazes high in the south on the meridian, in Canis Major by about 8 or 9 p.m. Using binoculars, you will find a fuzzy spot 4° south of Sirius, directly below it when directly South. Four degrees is somewhat less than the width of a typical binocular’s field of view.

That dim little patch of gray haze is open star cluster Messier 41, a small gravitationally bound group of 100 stars about 2,200 light-years away, and moving away from us at 869 miles per second. Sirius, by comparison, is only 8.6 light-years away.

Canopus, the second-brightest star after Sirius, lies 36° almost due south of Sirius. That’s far enough south that it never appears above the horizon if you are above latitude 37° N, such as southern Virginia, southern Missouri and central California. Luckily we lie south of that latitude, with our horizon lying, in the case of Central Alabama, around latitude 33°. So give Canopus, which crosses low above the horizon, due south just 21 minutes before Sirius does, a peak.

3449 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of February 9, per NASA’s Exoplanet Archive


The Birmingham Hamfest is here! March 3 & 4.
As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, this it will be a Friday & Saturday affair; instead of the Saturday & Sunday dates of years past.

This month’s meeting will be on March 14 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.

If for some reason you cannot attend the meeting in person, you can still participate via telephone. The teleconference number is 1-877-951-0997 & and the participant code is 741083.

Hope to see you there!

Mark / WD4NYL
ALERT Newsletter

Hi Everyone,

There is a good chance that our resident groundhog Birmingham Bill will see his shadow this Groundhog Day. If true, and if the folklore were true, then we would have a late spring.

Whether late or timely, are you ready for the storms of spring and for the callouts that will come?

This is a good time to review your personal emergency preparedness plans and to brush up on your skills. Don’t wait until the sirens sound. For by then it may be too late.

In preparing, you should ask yourselves these questions:

Is my family shelter (and everyone should have one) ready?
Is my emergency equipment & radios working?
Are my emergency supplies still adequate?
Are the batteries still good and the rechargeable batteries charged?
Are my communications channels still functional? Including RF, Internet & telephone resources.
Can I reliably receive weather watches and warnings, in multiple ways?

Are you prepared both at home and at work?

Remember, keeping yourself and your family alive and intact during and after the storms is your number one priority.

Stay safe.

This month’s normal meeting date falls on Valentine’s Day, and as such we will be moving the date back one week to February 21 at 7PM, to help the aim of Cupid and his arrows.

I hope to see you there!


Tales Of Bread & Milk

As I was beginning this article, a message popped up on Facebook from a friend named “Ivy” saying “I realize that the entire population of Oklahoma needs bread and milk tonight…..Please watch, when you come out of Walmart pushing your cart and racing to your car like Mario Andretti, for other cars in the lot. It’s only by the grace of God that you weren’t hit.”

Now, before I get into the gist of this article, I will go ahead and apologize. If I am “tinkering” with sensitive sacred subjects, I don’t mean to step on toes. And, though I actually do know it all, I really don’t intend to sound like one, as I probably will.

Good old Bread and Milk, you know the drill. Let the slightest whisper of the word “snow” be mentioned and the bakeries have to shift into high gear, the wheat fields have to accelerate their growth and Elsie and her sisters have to put in overtime to meet the sudden demand as crowds of humanity descend upon the stores and the milk and bread shelves rapidly empty out.

Why does this occur? Or as CNN put it “Is there something about snowstorms that makes us want to eat French toast and sit on the toilet?”

In researching this article I did an online survey on a nationwide emergency preparedness group and sought ought comments from the regular public as well. I found the results interesting.

First of all, in spite what you constantly hear from Northern and Western “transplants”, this phenomenon is not “a southern thing” at all. I already knew this; for I saw the shelves clear out in Oklahoma City, when I was snowed in by an actual blizzard in 2010. Also, I knew they did this in Boston, based on photographs and news reports during a nor’easter last year.

Oklahoma City and Boston are not alone. “People always clear the shelves of milk, eggs and bread,” said Paul Shipman, of the American Red Cross’s Connecticut chapter in Hartford. Who added “Well, the milk doesn’t do well without refrigeration, eggs are useless if you can’t cook them and the bread is not going to provide much nutrition on its own. You need non-perishable food, water and other necessities to be safe.”

“David” in New York said “They do the same thing here in NY! It’s crazy that whenever there’s a threat of snow in excess of a couple of inches, people panic and run out to the stores and empty the shelves of milk, bread, and water.”

He added “I truly believe that most people really like the controversy. I see these people’s faces and I see not panic, but a sense of excitement. I know it’s weird but I really do believe that some people like whatever rush of excitement involved with the whole process.”

“Tina” commented “My husband and I always chuckle about this….and it’s true. People in NJ have always done this…they buy milk, bread and eggs.”

Some of the most entertaining comments came from overseas. “In America when it snows people stock up on milk, bread and toilet paper. In Britain its whiskey and cat litter” on Brit said.

“Ted” from Birmingham England says “Tea. I’m British and I would stock up on Tea. I wouldn’t want to face an oncoming storm/war/zombie holocaust without plenty of cups of Tea.”

“Les” from Melbourne said “In Australia, it’s Tim-Tams (chocolate cookies), Foster’s Lager and Chiko Rolls (an Australian offshoot of Chinese spring rolls).”

“Brad” in Liverpool explained British weather, which is not that very different from our own. “In the UK, our snowfalls don’t last long enough to bother stocking up. We get a day or two of widespread travel disruption, because we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with snow properly (understandable since we get maybe one moderate snowfall every 10 years), then it all melts. After we’ve scraped a few car wrecks off the roads and taken all the pensioners who died of hypothermia to the morgue, life gets back to normal quite quickly.

The likelihood of getting snowed in for long enough that you would run out of your normal stocks of food is practically zero here in the UK.”

“Cedric” from London chimed in “I think there are two comedy bits about this… something about stocking up on the most perishable items for when the power goes out, and something about a lot of people making French toast during disasters.”

As to the cat litter, in addition to using it on driveways, “Eric” from Worchester mentioned “after the water lines freeze, it also works well to fill a 5 gallon bucket with it halfway as a makeshift urinal. Which is important, especially if you’re riding out the storm in the pub.”

“Paul” in Manchester said “Meh, most suburban supermarkets in the UK will have an army of pensioners in the daytime clearing out the stocks of bread and milk. Their Blitz spirit tends to kick in at the slightest flurry of snow, as ‘rationing will undoubtedly occur’ if the snow goes above ankle height.”

So, we are far from alone in this tradition. But, how did it start?

No one really knows when the bread and milk craze began. It is a modern phenomenon, as it takes a media rumor of the slightest possibility of a lonely snowflake to set the cascade in motion.

Some say that Pittsburgh is credited with starting the bread & milk frenzy during the onset of a blizzard on November 24, 1950. An article in a local newspaper referenced milk as “the one shortage that has hit all sections” and bread as being “doled out in some stores” because of a storm that ultimately brought almost 3 feet of snow.

Others give the credit to New Englanders. Per Accuweather: “It appears that New Englanders can take credit for the purchasing of milk and bread prior to the storm,” the site reported. “It was the monumental blizzard in 1978 that trapped many in homes for weeks that get at least some credit for the current tradition.”

But why does it occur at all?

Psychologist Judy Rosenberg of Los Angeles theorizes “Buying perishables is like saying, ‘the storm will be over soon and I won’t be stuck in this situation for long.’” Whereas buying nonperishable items is admitting that you are probably doomed.

Psychotherapist Lisa Batemen from New York believes “The thought to get milk before a storm is followed by the action or compulsion to go out and stockpile it. In one way or another, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to feel in control, and buying things you might throw out still gives the person a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation.”

Both theories may be true, or it may be giving people too much credit for being cerebral.

Among my initial theories were:

1. Lack of training or knowledge in emergency preparedness.

As to this theory, some folk look at me like I’m crazy and roll their eyes as I harp “you can go to Sam’s and get a butane stove for $22 and 12 fuel cylinders from Amazon for $25. That’s warm food for an investment around $50 that you can use time & time again, for camping, cookouts, power outages, etc.” Just add some cans of stew, chili or dumplings or really anything you may want to cook you can cook. You’re ready to rock and roll.”

Some do see it my way, as “Len” from Ohio said “I learned from my grandmother to just put on a big pot of soup, or something that normally takes three days to eat anyway, when they say somethings coming. If we lose power, I’ll just fire up the grill.”

I enjoy camping out; as a result I have several options for cooking. I can use the grill, the butane stove mentioned, which requires no ventilation, propane or Coleman stoves which would require a slightly opened window for ventilation.

“Yeah, but, who wants an open a window in a snowstorm?” “Dave” asked. “An Eskimo” I thought, since they always included a vent hole in the design of their igloos.

A “discussion” broke out with one lady, “Missy”, when some mentioned getting nutritious food, such as soup instead of the traditional B & M, and she said in a somewhat snarly exchange “but, what if I want French toast?”

“Do you usually eat French toast?” A guy named “Bill” asked.

“Uh, um, well no” she replied. When “Bill” asked when the last time was that she had had French toast period, she couldn’t answer except to say “but what if I did want some, hmmm?”

Reading this gave me my second reason, which is:

2. Fear of not having access to a resource, whether it is a resource normally used or not.

For example “Marie” stated “I normally throw out half a gallon of milk a week, and here I go buying two gallons of milk for a two day storm, just because ‘there may be none’, when I know good and well that the stores will be open and restocked in three days anyway. And, I don’t even like French toast.”

My other theories are:

3. People tend to act like sheep. When they see a few people doing something, they follow suit, whether it’s driving in the wrong direction, following some senseless fad, or in this case “They are pillaging Publix, so we better go pillaging too, while there’s something left to pillage” and so the feeding frenzy grows.

4. Habit or tradition. “Granny always got bread and milk, so I do it to”.

“It’s tradition. You need to make French toast when it snows! Don’t forget to buy eggs too!” said “Marion” in Washington DC.”

“Everyone has a “French toast party” whenever it snows. It really shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. DUH.” said “Shonda” – Bronx NY

Roughly half of those commenting were of the French Toast Army.

Other possible reasons revealed by my survey were as follow:

”Tom” said, “I was told by a friend she likes to bake on snow days and milk is important to baking/eating said baked goods”.

“Ralph” said “If the wife says ‘go get a truckload of bread’, Dear Lord go and get it, otherwise you will hear about it until the day you die.”

Several said that if they stuck bowl after bowl of cereal in front of their kids they would have blessed peace and quiet.

“Phil” said “I’ve seen children that have full on meltdowns if they don’t have milk, so for that reason I can see stocking up. If I had to spend days snowed in a house with a child screaming their head off cause they didn’t have milk, I think I’d rather the storm take me.”

“Kay” theorized “Maybe it’s just a matter of compressed time. Let’s say Monday is the last possible shopping day because it’s going to snow Tuesday. So everyone who normally would shop on Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday or Friday come in on Monday since they know they can’t go later in the week. So what looks like hoarding is actually the normal week’s grocery shopping, just bought during the Bread & Milk Riot.”

The other half of those responding was the French Toast Nonbelievers or Emergency Prepared.

“Tim” said “Never understood this myself, don’t these people have bread and milk in their homes already? Do they not have children? My kids would live off milk and P&B sandwiches if I let them.”

“Joe” commented “Seriously though, who only keeps a few days food in their house? I don’t ‘stock up’ on food and I could probably go a good month or two being well fed on what’s in my cabinets”.

“Doug” said “A lot of people really just do not plan on Monday past Thursday. My childhood taught me to think more about what ifs. We lived on a small farm, and had a good summer’s crop of mason jars filled in the root cellar, we were better off than a lot of people.

“Mark”, aka WD4NYL said “I remember Mom & Dad always had a well-stocked pantry. Homemade preserves, canned home grown tomatoes, frozen vegetables and such. I guess that has influenced my thinking. “Never let the pantry go bare” I remember Mom saying & I try to follow this.”

“Bart” added “People seem to have an unreasonable fear of starving, forgetting the times when they were so sick that even the thought of food made them want to hurl. If they, in a ‘sickly’ condition could go a few days without food and it didn’t kill them, why the thought that a couple of days without food, and them healthy, will kill them is beyond me. Now if kids or special needs persons are involved that would change the theory. I guess that’s where the ‘pre’ in ‘preparedness’ comes in.’”

Of course the rush is not limited to bread or milk. Toilet paper and booze rank high among targets.

Toilet paper I can understand. If there is even the slightest chance you will run out of the Morning Paper, you would be wise to grab some. If fact if your survival plan centers on eating milk and Captain Crunch for five days straight, it would behoove you to have gracious plenty. You wouldn’t want to get caught with your pants down.

As to booze, I may step on a few toes here. Last year after a round of winter weather the coworkers were discussing their adventures. One lady came to me asking for pain meds as she was still very hung over. “I spent the whole time drunk” she said. Then she suddenly got very defensive and huffy “well there was nothing else to do.” She snarled. As if I had said even a single word.

Once there was a discussion on an emergency preparedness group & the question arose “who packs liquor in their emergency supplies. Some said they did, most citing medicinal or “bartering” reasons, and a few for “recreational reasons, to take the edge off”. Many said they packed none.

My response was “Not to beat anyone over the head with a tambourine, but, if there was ever a time I would want to be ‘about my wits’ and sharp minded it would be during an emergency situation, where you may have to react and react very fast. For me to do something that will compromise that ability seems a foolish move.”

Many make a “booze snow haul” with the express purpose of getting completely wasted and passing out, which I have never understood. For it leaves you totally vulnerable, totally defenseless and absolutely helpless. Anything could happen to you. A fire breaks out, and you are dead. Anyone can do whatever their cold hearts wants to do to you and you are completely helpless. But, to each his own I guess.

As I close, I found that there is clear dividing line between the two camps. The subject of which
can trigger strong emotions, with one side feeling it is a ridiculous spectacle carried on by ill-informed, ill-prepared masses, who just help perpetuate stereotypes of ignorance, and the other side feeling that the naysayers are a dimwitted judgmental lot, making a big deal over nothing, and rather stupid for not understanding the “common sense of it all, that without power bread, milk , and sandwiches are the only things we can eat” “It’s not that it’s not that hard to figure out, it’s not rocket science, after all.”

So there you go, both sides drawing a line in the sand, waiting, waiting and waiting for enough snowflakes to arrive so they make a snowball to chunk at each other.

In the end the reasons for and against the Bread & Milk Rush are as varied as the population itself.

I remember the “Planters Theorem” – which states that “whether you are a walnut, a chestnut or a Brazil nut, it doesn’t matter. In the end were all just a bunch of mixed nuts anyway.”

Perhaps the most important question of all was that of “Ed” in Milwaukee – “Why is it that Walmart will have 25 checkout lines and only 5 open, with 500 people crowding trying to escape before the glaciers start moving in?” Why indeed.


“Just In Case”


4 large eggs
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
dash salt
1 cup milk
8 to 10 slices white bread*
maple syrup or other syrup


Break eggs into a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate; beat lightly with a fork or whisk. Stir in sugar, salt, and milk.

Over medium-low heat, heat griddle or skillet coated with a thin layer of butter or margarine.

Place the bread slices, one at a time, into the bowl or plate, letting slices soak up egg mixture for a few seconds, then carefully turn to coat the other side. Soak/coat only as many slices as you will be cooking at one time.

Transfer bread slices to a griddle or skillet. Heat slowly until bottom is golden brown. Turn and brown the other side. Serve French toast hot with butter and syrup.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Yield: Makes 4 Servings
The French Toast Alert System
“The French Toast Alert System has been developed in consultation with local and federal emergency officials to help you determine when to panic and rush to the store to buy milk, eggs and bread.”
The following details the French Toast Alert System, totally fictitious of course, and biased for the Northeastern States, using Harvey Leonard, the chief meteorologist on WCVB-TV Channel 5 in Boston, Massachusetts as an example.
Low: No storm predicted. Harvey Leonard sighs and looks dour on the evening news. Go about your daily business but consider buying second refrigerator for basement, diesel generator. Good time to replenish stocks of maple syrup, cinnamon.
Guarded: Light snow predicted. Subtle grin appears on Harvey Leonard’s face. Check car fuel gauge, memorize quickest route to emergency supermarket should conditions change.
Elevated: Moderate, plowable snow predicted. Harvey Leonard openly smiles during report. Empty your trunk to make room for milk, eggs and bread. Clear space in refrigerator and head to store for an extra gallon of milk, a spare dozen eggs and a new loaf of bread.
High: Heavy snow predicted. Harvey Leonard breaks into huge grin, can’t keep his hands off the weather map. Proceed at speed limit before snow starts to nearest supermarket to pick up two gallons of milk, a couple dozen eggs and two loaves of bread – per person in household.
Severe: Nor’easter predicted. This is it, people, THE BIG ONE. Harvey Leonard makes repeated references to the Blizzard of ’78. RUSH to emergency supermarket NOW for multiple gallons of milk, cartons of eggs and loaves of bread. IGNORE cries of little old lady you’ve just trampled in mad rush to get last gallon of milk. Place pets in basement for use as emergency food supply if needed.
For your current local French Toast Alert Status go to

Mark’s Almanac

February, or Februarius, as the Romans called it is named after the Latin term februum, which means “purification”. Ancient Rome celebrated the Februa purification ritual on February 15, which was Full Moon on the old lunar based Latin calendar.

February was not originally included in the Roman calendar, which began in March, but was added, along with January by Numa Pompilius around 713 BC, and until 450 BC was considered the last month of the year.

February was originally 29 days long, but one day was taken and added to August, so the that Emperor Augustus’s month would be equal to Julius Caesar’s month of July. Now only Leap Year has 29 days, the next of which will occur in 2020.

In the Southern Hemisphere February is the equivalent of August. But, for us, February is a cold month with more snow falling in February than in any other month.

Statistically speaking, there is a 70% chance of snow flurries, and a 57% chance of snow up to one inch. There is a 13% chance of over one inch, and a 3% chance of 4 inches or more.

There is hope on the horizon though, as the worst of winter weather is usually over by February 15.

Ground Hog Day is on February 2 & believers will watch Punxsutawney Phil and Birmingham Bill, to see if they saw their shadows.

Looking towards the sky, Mercury, shining at magnitude -0.2, is sinking low in the glow of dawn. Look for him using binoculars 30 to 40 minutes before sunrise, just above the east-southeast horizon.

Brilliant Venus, magnitude -4.8 in Capricorn, is nearing her peak brightness, and looks like a UFO high in the southwest during and long after twilight.

In a telescope Venus is slightly less than half sunlit and is growing larger as she approaches us. For the rest of the winter, Venus will continue to enlarge as its phase wanes down to a thin crescent.

Mars, magnitude +1.1 in Aquarius, glows in the south-southwest at dusk, is the faint reddish “star” upper left of Venus.

Jupiter, magnitude -2.2 in Virgo, rises around 11 PM is in the south in the hours before dawn.

Saturn, magnitude +0.5 in southern Ophiucus, is in the southeast in the hours before and during dawn.

Uranus, shining at a borderline naked eye brightness of +5.8 in Pisces, is high in the southwest right after dark.

Neptune, shining at magnitude +8.0 in Aquarius, sets shortly after the end of twilight.

3442 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of January 26, per NASA’s Exoplanet Archive

Full Moon will occur Friday, February 10, 6:33 PM CST or February 11 at 00:33 UTC
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse will be in progress as the moon rises at 5:23PM. A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth’s partial shadow, or penumbra. During this type of eclipse the Moon will darken slightly but not completely. The maximum eclipse will occur at 6:43 PM and the eclipse ends at 8:53 PM.

The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, Canada, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

February’s Full Moon is “Full Snow Moon” in Native American folklore, since the heaviest snows usually fell at this time of year. Since the harsh weather made hunting difficult, some tribes called it “Full Hunger Moon”.

New Moon will occur at 8:59 AM on Sunday, February 26, as the Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky.

An Annular Solar Eclipse will occur February 26 at 8:58 AM, but, will not be visible in the Northern Hemisphere, as the moon will pass below the sun as viewed from our latitude.

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is too far away from the Earth to completely cover the Sun. This results in a ring of light around the darkened Moon. The Sun’s corona is not visible during an annular eclipse.

The path of the eclipse will begin off the coast of Chile and pass through southern Chile and southern Argentina, across the southern Atlantic Ocean, and into Angola and Congo in Africa. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout parts of southern South America and southwestern Africa.

The February sky is alit with bright stars. Orion the Hunter is overhead, stalking Taurus The Bull, accompanied by his faithful hunting dogs, Canis Major & Canis Minor, the Large & Lesser Dogs. In Canis Major is the blue star Sirius, The Dog Star, which 8.6 light years away, is the brightest star in the night sky.

February and March are the best times of the year for seeing the Zodiacal Light. In the evening away from city lights and after twilight has faded you might see a faint, roughly triangular, whitish glow near the sunset point. This is Zodiacal Light, which is formed by the sunlight reflecting off millions of minute particles of cosmic dust aligned with the Earth’s orbital plane.


The Birmingham Hamfest is now only five weeks away, March 3 & 4.
As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, this it will be a Friday & Saturday affair; instead of the Saturday & Sunday dates of years past.

This month’s meeting will be on February 21 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.

If for some reason you cannot attend the meeting in person, you can still participate via telephone. The teleconference number is 1-877-951-0997 & and the participant code is 741083.

Hope to see you there!

Mark / WD4NYL
ALERT Newsletter

Hi Everyone & Happy New Year.

I hope that Santa treated you well and that Father Time will do likewise and that you have a
blessed and prosperous 2017.

As we unwind from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, remember that our next ALERT meeting on the 10th.

The Blount County Freezefest 2017 will be on my birthday, January 7,

The Birmingham Hamfest is only nine weeks away, March 3 & 4.
This year, as with last year, will be a Friday & Saturday affair.
This Birminghamfest is not to be confused with the Birmingham Fest, in Birmingham UK which will run July 14 through 30,
I think I’ll fire up the ALERT Lear Jet and head that way.

As we enter the New Year I think of New Year’s Resolutions and my sorry ability to keep them. Perhaps this year I should resolve to NOT eat heathy foods, NOT exercise and NOT do anything useful or noteworthy.

That way when I break all these resolutions I’ll be on top of my game.

Whatever resolutions you make, I hope 2017 is a good year for you.


73 To Jim Stefkovich

We wish to congratulate our friend Jim Stefkovich on his retirement as Meteorologist in Charge of the Birmingham Weather Forecast Office.

Jim joined the Birmingham office succeeding Ken Graham is MIC on May 1, 2005.

A native of Franklin New Jersey, Jim earned a Bachelor Of Science Degree from Penn State in 1983. He started his meteorological career in 1982 as a student trainee/computer programmer at the National Weather Service Techniques Development Laboratory in Silver Spring, Md.
He served as a meteorological observer at the Weather Service Meteorological Observation site in Waycross, GA in 1984 and became a Forecaster intern at the Weather Service Office in Lake Charles, LA, in 1985.
In 1988, he became a Forecaster at Peachtree City/Atlanta, Ga office.
In 1991, he joined Southern Region Headquarters as the Next Generation Weather Radar regional focal point, responsible for coordinating NEXRAD Radar implementation.
He served as the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the Weather Forecast Office in Fort Worth, Texas from 1993 to 2000 before being promoted to Meteorologist-In-Charge of the Weather Forecast Office in Jackson, MS.
He served as MIC in Jackson from July 200 to August 2002, MIC in Chicago IL from August 2002 to May 2005, and Birmingham from May 2005 to December 2016.
Jim is the recipient of numerous local and regional awards including:

Office Unit Citations for providing weather forecasts and support to the state of Alabama, including back up services for other local Weather Forecast Offices prior to, during and after landfall of Hurricane Katrina

The Department Of Commerce Bronze Medal for superior service during hurricane and tornado outbreaks.

The Alabama Emergency Public Service Award for contributions in advancing emergency management by providing timely, accurate and life-saving severe weather warnings to the citizens of Alabama.

The Department Of Commerce Silver Medal for exemplary customer service and extreme dedication to duty in the face of unprecedented challenges during the April 27, 2011 super outbreak.

He has also assisted in national leadership courses for multiple government agencies

We have been fortunate to have Jim as our Meteorologist In Charge. Jim being a ham operator, KD5HLE, and having dealt with many, many ham operators while at Jackson & Chicago, has been very understanding & patient in dealing with our ham community. Especially during those times when we have acted territorial and quirky, if not just plain nutty, as we are oftimes prone to do.

We wish Jim the best in his retirement and look forward to supporting John De Block and Kevin Laws as they fill in as acting MIC’s until a new MIC is formally named.


Mark’s Almanac

January is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of gates and doors, and so openings and beginnings.

January receives more sunlight than December, but the equilibrium between incoming solar heat and the heat radiated into space by the northern snowfields does not peak until late January and early February, six weeks after winter solstice. So the weather continues to cool, with January 8 – 20 being the coldest part of the year.

Typically in January there is a 53% chance of up to one inch of snow and a 25% chance of over one inch of snow.

With the exception of the southern tip of Nova Scotia, all of Canada and roughly one half of the Continental US, or “CONUS”, are now covered with snow. Canada’s Hudson’s Bay is frozen, as is the ocean water between Baffin Island and Greenland.
Barometric pressure is highest in January.
Looking towards the sky, at the beginning of the month Mercury has faded from view in the glow of sunset. By mid-month it will have risen to its highest point in the morning sky, or “greatest western elongation” of 24.1 degrees above the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.

Brilliant Venus, magnitude -4.4 in Capricorn, and sometimes confused for a UFO, is easy to spot as the bright white “evening Star” blazing in the southwest during and after twilight. She is climbing higher and higher in the sky and will reach peak altitude or “greatest eastern elongation” on January 12, when she reaches 47.1 degrees above the sun. In a telescope, it is a brilliant 60% illuminated gibbous disc. Both Mercury and Venus exhibit phases like the moon, since they are inner planets and we see varying degrees of their sunlit sides as they circle the sun.
Mars, magnitude +0.8 in Aquarius, glows in the south-southwest at dusk, 15 degrees upper left of Venus.

Jupiter, magnitude -1.9 in Virgo, rises around 1 AM and shines brightly high in the southeast by early dawn.

Saturn is lost deep in the glow of sunrise.

Uranus is shining at a borderline naked eye brightness of +5.8 in Pisces is high in the south after dark.

Faint Neptune shining at magnitude +7.9 in Aquarius is very near Mars in the south-southwest after dusk. They appear closest, only 0.2 degrees apart, on December 31st. Neptune will be above Mars that evening. Use a telescope at high power to try to discern its near 8th-magnitude disk, which will appear only slightly nonstellar.

This is a very rare chance to see the 8th planet, which usually is lost among the background stars.

3439 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of December 21, per NASA’s Exoplanet Archive

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower will occur overnight Sunday-Monday, January 3 & 4. This is an above average shower producing between 40 to 100 meteors per hour radiating from the constellation Bootes, in the area near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper and the head of Draco the Dragon.

This shower is a quirky shower in that it has a very narrow particle stream. Therefore, the peak time is only six hours long, and that peak varies each year. According the American Meteor Society, the 2017 peak will occur around 8 AM CST on January 4, which doesn’t help us much this year. Since the peak is six hours long, you should be able to bundle up and watch the first two or three hours in the predawn sky.

But, as with all things astronomical, one should look before the predicted time in case the timing should slip. That way even if the stream arrives earlier than the predicted time, you will see them as, they would still be zipping overhead and will appear longer in the cold sky. As Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society says “We haven’t got this one nailed down yet. It acts like it wants to.”

This shower favors the Northern Hemisphere because its radiant point, or the point where the meteors appear to originated in the sky, is so far north on the sky’s dome.

This shower is believed to be produced by dust grains from burnt out comet 2003 EH1, which may also be the remainder of comet c/1490 Y1, which was lost to history after a prominent meteor shower was observed in 1490, possibly due to the breakup of the comet.

The Quadrantid meteors take their name from an obsolete constellation, Quadrans Muralis, found in early 19th-century star atlases between Draco, Hercules, and Bootes.

The constellation Quadrans Muralis was removed, along with a few other constellations, from crowded sky maps in 1922 when the International Astronomical Union adopted the modern list of 88 officially-recognized constellations.

The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight leaving fairly dark skies for what could be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Bootes, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

Full Moon will occur Saturday January 12, 11:34 UTC 5:34 AM CST.

January’s Full Moon is “Wolf Moon” in Native American folklore. This was also called “Wulf-Monath” or “Wolf Month” by the Saxons, because at this full Moon packs of wolves howled in hunger outside of the villages.

It has also been called “Old Moon” and “Moon After Yule”.

New Moon will occur Saturday, January 28 at 00:07 UTC, or we being 6 hours behind UTC this time of year, at 6:07 PM CST on Friday, January 27, as the Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky.
This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
The biggest astronomical event of 2017 will be a total solar eclipse which will occur on August 21 and will see will see the sun 92.54% obscured in Birmingham & 100% obscured in a broad coast to coast arc, which will be closest to us in central Tennessee.

This eclipse cut through the Florida Panhandle, but, had no visible effects in Birmingham, since it was cloudier than smoke from a witches cauldron that day.


This month’s meeting will be on January 10 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.

If for some reason you cannot attend the meeting in person, you can still participate via telephone. The teleconference number is 1-877-951-0997 & and the participant code is 741083.

Hope to see you there!

Mark / WD4NYL
ALERT Newsletter

Mark’s Weatherlynx
Weather Resource Database

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