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ALERT Newsletter

Hi Everyone and welcome to the 120th ALERT Newsletter!

I hope all is going well & that you are finding a nice cool spot out of the pre-summer heat and showers.

The biggest ALERT news of the month concerns our recent elections. At the May 9th meeting the ALERT elections were held for the 2017 – 2018 term.

The Officers for 2017 – 2018 are:

President: Casey Benefield NZ20
Vice-President & Membership: Lloyd Palmer N4GHP
Secretary: Justin Glass N0ZO
Treasurer: Bill Rodgers K4FSO
NWS Liaison: Russell Thomas KV4S

Per the ALERT Bylaws our new Officers will assume their positions at the July 11 meeting.

Thanks to all of our new officers for their service to our organization, and to our outgoing officers for the dedication and leadership you have provided!

Another upcoming change concerns the ALERT Sunday Night Net, which meets 7PM Sundays on 146.88 MHz PL 88.5 hz.

In 2000 or 2001 (I’m not really sure) I became the third Net Manager of what was then known as the BARC Sunday Night Net, succeeding Marc Nichols K7NOA. The Net, originally formed by Glenn Glass KE4YZK was Later “donated” to ALERT by the BARC and it became the net as we know it today.

Over the years we have gone from 3 check ins to the regular 40 – 50 check ins we see today.

After a run of 16 or 17 continuous years I am pleased to announce that effective June 1 Ronnie King WX4RON will be taking the reigns as Net Manager.

I appreciate Ronnie giving me a breather and I hope you will support him as you have supported me.

I’ll still be around and remain an active part of the net. For, as with mold and fungus, I’m always popping up here and there.

One thing which will remain the same is our newsletter. I will continue on as the Editor-In-Chief, and hopefully will be able to provide interesting items for your enjoyment, or at least harmless spam.

Articles are welcome, needed in fact, so send something my way!


For Your Viewing Pleasure – Part 2
(Courtesy of The National Weather Service)

Last month we presented various links for ABC33/40’s storm spotter training seminars. This month we focus on the National Weather Service outreach.

For passing valid reports, and deciphering reports that on the surface may not seem to make any form of sense, I feel all Skywarn and ARES Net Control Stations should obtain storm spotter training. For storm spotters this is an obvious requirement, but, for an NCS on a Skywarn Net this is just as crucial.

It is the NCS’s job to filter reports and pass them on to NWS or to the NWS via ALERT making sure it is information which the NWS can actually use, such as tornadoes, funnel clouds, wall clouds, hail 1 inch in diameter or greater, wind gusts over 58 MPH, flooding and storm damage.

It’s also their job is to filter out reports the NWS cannot use, such as scanner reports, since they are unverified reports, and if verified, the EMA of that county has already passed them to the NWS. Media reports, since the Media, if a verified report, has also already passed the report to the NWS. And obviously useless reports, such as “it’s raining”, “the sky is getting dark”, “we have leaf debris!!!”, along with I what I call “multigenerational reports”, i.e. “my neighbors grandmother’s best friend’s uncle in Warrior says his cousin in Montgomery saw a tornado, a while ago.”

It can be a fine balance between filtering and “over filtering”.

Over the years I have occasionally heard reports get “over filtered” and have seen valid reports missed, and on occasion I have had my reports ignored also, when I knew exactly what I was seeing.

Storm reports can be over filtered for various reasons.

1. The NCS may dismiss an operators report simply because they don’t know the operator personally and don’t know whether he is a reliable source, or someone, well intentioned, but, over exuberant, just wanting to report something, ANYTHING, so they can join in and feel “a part of the action”, or in some instances I have dealt with operators wanting to “showboat” for friends, and disrupting net operations at the worst possible time.

2. In some counties unless you are “part of the group”, whatever that group is, whether it is an official EMA sponsored group or the “You Aint One Of Us” group, your report will be dismissed, and sometimes not too kindly.

In the case of the “You Aint One Of Us” groups, this is simply due to ham politics and territorial hissing and spitting between clubs and repeater groups. This is one of the darker shades of hamdom, and one you cannot easily change. Feuding groups can feud to their hearts content, but, they should come together or at least have a truce during an emergency. But sadly, this is often not the case.

The “Closed EMA group” may be “closed” because their group has been specially trained for that counties specific needs, and, you, not having that specific training would just be hindering the process. Learning how to join the group and becoming a valuable active member of the group is the best solution for this.

Sometimes though an EMA group can devolve into or at least on the surface appear to be a quasi “You Aint One Of Us” group, whether intended or not.

This can be best described by a true example which follows.

Before I proceed, I will say that we always need to appreciate that the EMA’s have a very serious, tremendously vital responsibility in maintaining control and accountability during emergencies while dealing with life and death situations. They have to quash unfounded rumors, disseminate needed information at the best and proper strategic time, in order to coordinate the response of multiple agencies and help minimize the utter chaos that occurs after a disaster, and help the media separate fact from fiction. Responding to communities and people who have lost everything dear to them is neither an easy nor a happy task.

Control has to be maintained and should be maintained. And, there is that fine balance between maintaining control, while still welcoming participation.

Occasionally, in MY opinion, and this is My opinion, not necessarily that of ALERT nor the NWS, this control can seem to become a little overzealous at times. If you do want participation you should emphasize that inclusion is welcome, and explain the entry process. Even if this isn’t the case, and you don’t want new members, tact and diplomacy while excluding folk will get you a lot farther than the lack thereof. The old “be nice, for the person you act snottily towards today may be the same one who will be one giving you your root canal six months from now and may remember you” rule applies. Again, this is my personal opinion, not that of ALERT or the NWS. Save the nasty calls to the NWS. They didn’t author this piece, I did, so fuss at me, not them. It’s kind of like chewing out some poor lady at the power company because your water has been turned off. As they say down under “it makes you look a little ‘pixelated’ when you ‘give the treatment’ to the wrong bloke”.

This said, many years ago when I first started this journey, I attended an NWS storm spotter training class given in a county and state which I will not disclose. Remember that the United States has 3,007 counties and 137 county equivalents, such as Parishes and Boroughs, and so theoretically 3144 EMA’s, so I’m not necessarily picking on any one specifically. If you are an EMA official and read this, and begin feeling picked on, remember that the chances of it being YOUR group are 1 in 3144.

As I once heard a minister say “If you start feeling guilty, and start getting ‘nervous in the service’ and think I’m talking about you, just look peaceful and smile gently and no one will ever have a clue that it was you.”

Continuing on, the class was interesting as it always was, and people appeared to be soaking in the information like a thirsty sponge. And at the end there was an excitement in the air.

That excitement lasted for about 1 minute. For in 1 minute the rather portly EMA director stood up, thanked the presenter and then declared in a very condescending tone “Now you might be considering yourselves ‘storm spotters’ now, but, from the Elvis County EMA’s point of view WE WILL NOT consider you one until you have ridden with an experienced spotter two or three times and get some experience under your belt.”, finishing with a rather self-satisfied nod and sitting down.

This is when I learned what the term “buzz kill” meant. The excitement was now total silence. About five people out of the dozens attending quickly rushed to sign up for the EMA. As for the rest, many appeared bewildered, looking at their booklets, notes and each other as if to say “why did I even bother coming here?” Another group looked at the EMA Director with a “who died and made you Pope?” stare. Yet another group was misbehaving, laughing as they whispered “Hey Bill, didn’t I tell you Old Tomboy thar thinks the Weather Bureau works for him? har, har, har”.

This left me with three impressions as I drove away:

A. I was glad I didn’t live in that county, wherever that county may actually be.
B. Wasn’t this contrary to the spirit and purpose of the presentation, namely to recruit and train
ordinary citizens from all walks of life, who have an interest in severe weather, to be the “eyes
and ears of the NWS”? Whether they be a student, a housewife, a trucker, or dentist – just
ordinary people who may never “deploy” with a group, but, just in the process of their normal
lives see something they know the NWS needs to know about. Whether they are interested in
being affiliated with a formal group or not. For if you limit participation to a select few, only
those 5% who are willing or able to deploy and basically say you are discounting the other
95%, what exactly are you accomplishing? Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?
C. If I did live there and I saw the Citgo being sucked up by a tornado, since it’s been clearly
stated that my report isn’t considered worthy of interest if I don’t have the time or the ability to
join the Elvis County EMA, to ride with that’s someone who is supposedly experienced and
maybe just maybe end up at the right place, at the right time to actually see something,
anything, and get that “qualifying experience”, who then would want my report? And, who
said I was going to do this for the EMA anyway? I thought it was doing it for the NWS.

Looking back, I think this was just a poorly expressed recruiting attempt, which perhaps would have been much better stated “We appreciate you attending this training. Having begun this journey I wish to invite you and in fact I urge you to join our EMA spotter program. We want you. We want to team you up with other experienced spotters so you may continue your training and learning experience and help us in our crucial mission of saving lives. The lives you save you may never know, but they are real. So I invite you to come join us in our lifesaving mission today”.

Put that way, instead of a room of downhearted people, the response would probably have been so enthusiastic and heavy that they would have run out of applications.

Shoot, I’m tempted to join, and I just made the sales pitch up…

Where’s an application?

3. In some cases if the NCS has no storm spotter training he may not have a clue as to what the other guy is trying to describe, though it may be a textbook accurate description. The NCS will filter the report being afraid of passing erroneous information.

Having some knowledge of weather and the needs of the National Weather Service will let you better filter out useless “leaf debris” reports from good reports and those reports that sound goofy but, are actually valid reports, the operator just having a hard time describing what they are seeing. Or the opposite, a very valid, very detailed report, that is “over the head” of the NCS and therefore not being understood, is dismissed as garbage.

Example One:

WD4NYL – “I see green flashes, like lightning moving across the horizon from west to east towards Fultondale”.

NCS – “Geeze, please keep the frequency clear. It will lightning and thunder during thunderstorms, that’s why they are called ‘thunderstorms’. I mean really, duh”.

Verdict: WD4NYL was seeing “power flashes” from transformers’ blowing up and power lines being snapped as the power grid was being shredded by some kind of wind circulation moving on the ground. A valid – but, dismissed report of a possible tornado on the ground.

Example Two:

WD4NYL – “I’m in Shelby County looking at the Jefferson County storm. There has been a sharp increase in lightning – almost continuous & the thunderstorm column appears to be becoming twisted or ‘barber polling’.”

NCS – “(frustrated) Sir we are looking for reports from Jefferson County – Jefferson County only, not Shelby County. Please keep the frequency clear.”

Verdict: WD4NYL was seeing evidence that the thunderstorm was rapidly intensifying and seeing visible evidence of possible rotation. A valid – but, again dismissed report of a possible severe storm, exhibiting rotation, which the NWS would want to know about.

This reminds me of one night where we were receiving a similar report at K4NWS, and a forecaster craned his head over and said “I know exactly what he is trying to say”. That report and a quick radar confirmation was the basis of the warning that was soon issued.

In any case, that’s why I have the NWS Severe Storm Reporting Hotline 1-800-856-0758 in my phone. I have used the line before and will again. I’ve used it when in other counties and I’ve used it locally when I’ve realized that I was going to lose crucial lead time trying to convince an NCS that “I really know what I’m looking at…I really do…really”.

And I figure they at the NWS are the best qualified to declare whether my report and I are as nutty as a pecan pie or not.

Just because we emphasize getting reports of tornadoes, funnel clouds, wall clouds, hail 1 inch in diameter or greater, wind gusts over 58 MPH, flooding and storm damage, doesn’t mean that the NWS is not interested when other phenomena taught in the Advanced & Graduate presentations are spotted, Otherwise they wouldn’t bother presenting them in the classes and webinars.

So, with that lengthy introduction, I present the following NWS storm spotter presentations.

These are in chronological order, and many examples are given. That way you have a choice as to location and length. Or you can “immerse” yourself in the training, looking at them all and letting it thoroughly soak into the nooks and crannies of your cranium.

Presentations will be slightly different for each location, because of variations in local climatology, presenter experience level, and if the same presenter, differing recollections coming to mind during different sessions
NWS South Burlington VT SKYWARN Training – May 26, 2011 – 1:35:34

NWS Lubbock SKYWARN Training Introduction – May 15, 2013 Introduction – 0:02:50 Part 1 – 0:04:36 Part 2 – 0:13:33 Part 3 – 0:13:32 Part 4 – 0:15:37 Part 5 – 0:09:06

NWS Birmingham, AL – Severe Weather – What You Need to Know – September 17, 2013 Part 1 – 00:08:42 Part 2 – 00:08:16 Part 3 – 00:12:33

NWS Indianapolis IN Weather 2015 NWS STORM SPOTTER TRAINING March 26, 2015 Full – 1:29:29
NWS Norman OK Advanced Storm Spotter Webinar – April 7, 2015 – Full – 1:35:48

NWS Lubbock Skywarn Advanced Spotter Training – May 5, 2015 – 1:14:49

NWS Northern Indiana – 2015 Skywarn Spotter Training – June 19, 2015 – Part 1 – 00:04:12 – Part 2 – 00:05:40 – Part 3 – 00:03:33 – Part 4 – 00:08:58 – Part 5 – 00:07:38 – Part 6 – 00:14:44

NWS Memphis Skywarn Spotter Training Class – October 29, 2015 – 2:01:34

NWS Amarillo, TX Skywarn – Spotter training Basic – March 3, 2016 – 1:22:33

NWS Amarillo, TX Skywarn – Spotter training Advance – March 3, 2016 – 1:01:34

NWS Indianapolis IN Weather 2016 NWS STORM SPOTTER TRAINING March 4, 2016 – 1:48:19

NWS Memphis Advanced Storm Spotter Class – March 29, 2016 – 02:12:40

NWS Binghamton, NY Basic Skywarn Training – May 11, 2016 – Part 1 – 00:12:39 – Part 2 – 00:07:47 – Part 3 – 00:09:42

NWS Des Moines Storm Spotter Training – June 23, 2016 – Part 1 – 00:35:37 -Part 2 – 00:49:01

So, go get some hot chocolate and “mushmellows”, get cozy, watch, learn and enjoy!


Goofy Reports I’ve Heard Through The Years

“Victims were taken to the hospital by air and some by helicopter” (thank goodness there was a blimp race that weekend)

“Reports of brides with ice and accidents with people sliding off roads” (bride with oversized diamonds, too much booze and zooming Ferrari’s never mix)
“Getting reports of deer seen flying through the air” (Rudolph, perhaps?)
“Nicole size hail near Vicksburg Mall” (Was it Nicole Kidman or Nicole Richie size? There is a difference, after all.)

“Viewer reporting golf balls in Waterproof, LA” (Is it hail or debris from the golf course? And, more importantly, was this before or after Waterproof proved to be leaky and started flooding?)

Marks Almanac

Originally the fourth Roman Month, June at one time had 29 days, until Julius Caesar in a glow of inspiration added the 30th day.

What June was named for is uncertain. Some say it was named for Juno, wife & sister of Jupiter. Juno was the goddess of marriage and a married couple’s household, so some consider it good luck to be married in this month, which is why June has become a month for so many marriages.

The beginning of meteorological Summer is June 1.

Storm activity retains many of the characteristics of spring, but more and more the pattern takes on the summer pattern of pop-up thunderstorms.

Hurricane season begins, June 1, however June hurricanes are usually small and of minor intensity, occurring roughly once every two years.

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook from the National Hurricane Center is calling for an “above normal” year with 11 – 17 named storms, 5 – 9 hurricanes and 2 – 4 major hurricanes.

The 2017 North Atlantic hurricane names are: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince &
Whitney. Arlene has already come and gone, as the first April Tropical Storm since 1851.

The centers for June Tropical Cyclone activity are the extreme Western Caribbean, with the storm tracks striking the Yucatan or veering toward Western Florida & the Southwestern Gulf of Mexico, with other storm tracks aiming toward the Mexican mainland.

The center of maximum tornadic activity shifts northward over Kansas and Iowa. Activity in Texas and Oklahoma dies down. There is a 5% decrease in tornadic activity over the May average & by June 4th 50% of the years tornadoes have occurred.

Looking skyward, Mercury (about magnitude +0.2) is deep in the glow of sunrise.

Venus (magnitude –4.6) reaches her highest point in the morning sky, or Greatest Eastern Elongation on June 3, when she will be 45.9 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Venus since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the bright planet in the eastern sky before sunrise.

Mars (magnitude +1.7, in Taurus) glimmers very low in evening twilight. Look for it just above the west-northwest horizon, 22° (two fists at arm’s length) lower left of the star Capella.

Jupiter (magnitude –2.3, in Virgo) glares high and bright in the southern sky during evening. No other point is nearly so bright. The star Spica, noticeably bluer, glitters 11° lower left of it. In a telescope, Jupiter is starting to shrink as Earth pulls ahead of it in our faster orbit around the Sun.

Saturn (magnitude +0.1, at the Ophiuchus-Sagittarius border) rises around the end of twilight and glows highest in the south in the early-morning hours. Redder star Antares (magnitude +1.0) twinkles 17° to Saturn’s right or lower right. Saturn will reach “Opposition” on the night of June 14th. When the ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons. A medium-sized or larger telescope will allow you to see Saturn’s rings and a few of its brightest moons.

Uranus (magnitude 5.9, in Pisces) is still hidden in the glow of dawn.

Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Aquarius) is low in the east-southeast before the first light of dawn.

June’s Full Moon is “Strawberry Moon” in Native American folklore. This will occur on June 9 at 8:10 AM CDT. It is called “Strawberry Moon” for it signals the time to start harvesting strawberries, as it is peak strawberry ripening time. Other names are “Rose Moon” & “Honey Moon”.

Summer Solstice will occur at 11:24 PM CDT on June 20. The North Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its northernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 23.44 degrees north latitude. This is the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

New Moon will occur June 23 at 9:31 PM CDT. 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.

Mark June 25 on your calendar and think about Christmas. Why? Because this is how Christmas, which is six months away, feels like in Australia and Brazil on December 25.

The June Bootids Meteor Shower will occur from June 26th until July 2nd. It peaks on June 27th. Normally the shower is very weak, with a Zenith Hourly Rate or ZHR of 1 or 2, but occasional outbursts produce a hundred or more meteors per hour. The source of the June Bootids is Comet 7P/Pons-Winnecke, which orbits the Sun once every 6.37 years.

3488 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of May 18, per NASA’s
Exoplanet Archive


This month’s meeting will be on June 13 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,

I hope this finds you doing well & that you have been enjoying these spring days.

Our May 9 ALERT meeting will feature our annual elections.

If you are a paid up Operational or Supporting Member, which is a member interested in Amateur Radio, Skywarn or Emergency Communications, but doesn’t have a ham license (yet), you may vote in the 2017 – 2018 ALERT leadership elections.

The officers will assume their positions at the July meeting.

July is also when ALERT dues are due. Remember, if you wish to respond to ALERT callouts or serve as an officer you MUST be current with your dues.

I hope to see you there!


For Your Viewing Pleasure – Part 1
(Courtesy Of ABC 33/40)

Recently ABC 33/40 presented its one day weather seminar – Storm Alert XTREME. These presentations are one of the best outreach tools for reaching the general public with severe weather information and training, since as everyone knows that “Spann’s The Man”, and that’s
a powerful incentive to attend.

In case you, as I did, happened to miss the event, we are in luck as ABC 33/40 has posted videos of the event on YouTube.

The following are the videos of both the 2016 & 2017 events. They are divided into segments and I included the runtime of each, so you know how manage your viewing time, as the presentations are around four hours long.

ABC 33/40 Storm Spotter Xtreme – April 9, 2016
Part 1 – 1:56:52
Part 2 – 0:30:01
Part 3 – 1:44:52

ABC 33/40 Storm Spotter Xtreme – April 8, 2017
Part 1 – 2:56:56
Part 2 – 0:56:57

Another set of videos I am including are ABC 33/40’s coverage of the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak, which hit in two major waves.

The first video is wall to wall coverage as the morning wave of storms moved through.

ABC 33/40 Coverage of the April 27, 2011 Outbreak (3:30am-9:00am)

The second wave of afternoon storms are covered first by four sets of videos, the first three running around 15 minutes each covering from roughly 2:00 PM to 2:45 PM.

ABC 33/40 Coverage of the April 27, 2011 Outbreak (2:00 to 2:15 pm)

ABC 33/40 Coverage of the April 27, 2011 Outbreak (2:15 to 2:30 pm)

ABC 33/40 Coverage of the April 27, 2011 Outbreak (2:30 to 2:45 pm)

*Note that there is an overlap between this source and the next video posted by ABC 33/40, which picks up continuous wall to wall coverage.

ABC 33/40 Coverage of the April 27, 2011 Outbreak (2:45 to 11:30 pm)

These videos are important both from a historical perspective and in the case of the Jefferson County coverage, as a reminder that portions of Jefferson County suffered extreme damage also.

Last year a major network carried a documentary covering the April 27th tornado outbreak. It covered Hackleberg, Phil Campbell and extensively covered the devastation and recovery in Tuscaloosa. I waited anxiously to see their coverage of the damage cause by the same tornado in Jefferson County, but, instead of mentioning anything at all, credits rolled and a sitcom came on instead.

This is not unusual. In most coverage of the April 27th outbreak, Jefferson County is usually only briefly mentioned, if it is mentioned at all.

While I don’t want to sound like I’m in any way downplaying Tuscaloosa’s tragedy, which I most assuredly am not, for they suffered horrific loses both in people and property, it must be remembered that 21 souls were taken in Jefferson County by the same tornado, now evolved from a strangely photogenic storm into a grotesquely unphotogenic 1.5 mile wide mass of destruction, as Concord, parts of Pleasant Grove, McDonald’s Chapel, Pratt City and Smithfield were flattened or swept away. These should not be forgotten.

The NWS in its final storm summary describes the scenario as follows:

“The tornado crossed CR 99 and moved into western Jefferson County, 4 miles north of Abernant.

In the Concord area, the tornado became violent once again with total destruction noted to a few small retail shops along County Road 46. Only piles of debris were left on the foundation. In addition, several cinder block homes were completely destroyed with debris swept away (EF-4). Numerous other homes in the area were destroyed with only a few interior walls left standing.

The tornado continued northeastward out of the Concord area and into the Pleasant Grove community. EF-4 damage was prevalent here, with slabs wiped clean, though the debris from each home had not been removed by the winds. The majority of it remained within a couple of yards of the home. It was here in Pleasant Grove where evidence of vehicles being moved by the winds become obvious, though most were only tossed 10 to 15 yards if they were picked up at all. Additionally, wind rowing of debris was evident throughout the Pleasant Grove community which is characteristic of a storm of this magnitude.

The tornado quickly moved out of the Pleasant Grove area and into the McDonald Chapel community. It was here in McDonald Chapel where evidence of a slight weakening of the tornado became clear. No vehicles were tossed, only pushed slightly from their original position. Many homes in this area were constructed by the method of pier and beam foundation, which led to some of the major destruction, as this construction will not withstand winds of this magnitude. A four-sided brick home in the same area only lost a roof and no exterior walls, which is indicative of EF-2 damage. At least one death occurred here.

After the tornado moved through the McDonald Chapel area, it moved into the area of Smithfield Estates, with significant home damage along Cherry Avenue between Daniel Payne Drive and Veterans Memorial Drive. Numerous homes sustained damage in this area, and a 2-story apartment complex had a large portion of its roof lifted and removed. The Bethel Baptist Church also sustained significant damage to its roof, though the main structure of the building was still intact. The damage sustained in this area is consistent with EF-2 wind damage. Although not a main damage indicator, there was also evidence of vehicles being moved, but only a couple of feet.

By the time the tornado reached Interstate 65, it was evident that the storm was losing its energy. The damage in the Fultondale area included folded highway light poles along the interstate, and roof damage to the Days Inn on U.S. Highway 31. To the east of US-31, the damage quickly diminished from EF-2 intensity to EF-1 and EF-0. The tornado lifted just to the west of Alabama Highway 79, about 2 miles north of the city of Tarrant, though the storm was not done. The storm did regenerate itself and eventually put down the EF-4 tornado in the Ohatchee area.”

Of the 64 people killed by this one massive storm, the 21 from Jefferson County, caused Jefferson County to be ranked fifth in the number people killed that stormy day. Tuscaloosa County was first having lost 43, then Dekalb County 35, Franklin County 26 and Marion County 25.

I watched this storm from Red Mountain knowing I was watching people die.

Let us never forget them.

I know I never will.


Mark’s Almanac

May is the fifth month & third month of the Roman calendar. May is named for the Greek goddess Maia, who was identified with, Bona Dea, the Goddess of Fertility, who was celebrated in May.

Since ancient times the first day of the month, “May Day” has been a time of celebration. In Rome it honored Flora, the goddess of flowers.

On May the fifth Mexican’s celebrate Cinco De Mayo, the celebration Mexico’s 1862 victory over Napoleon III’s forces at Puebla. This is not, as many assume, Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually on September 16.

Rainfall decreases in May as the Azores-Bermuda High strengthens, expands Westward over the Southeastern US & begins rerouting storm systems northward.

The door opens to the Gulf of Mexico & Gulf moisture spreads northward over the continent.

The center of maximum tornadic activity also shifts northward over the Nation’s Heartland. May is the peak tornado month, with a 42% increase over April’s amount.

Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins May 15, and although the North Atlantic hurricane season has not arrived, occasionally a tropical system will form in the Gulf of Mexico. In 110 years there have been 14 named storms.

Looking towards the sky, Mercury, at the beginning of the month is lost in the glare of the Sun, but, as the month progresses he reemerges in the morning sky and by May 17 will reach his highest point in the sky or “Greatest Western Elongation” of 25.8 degrees from 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 -4.7 shines low in the east as dawn brightens. In a telescope it’s a crescent, thickening a little every morning. She is climbing in altitude and will read her highest point in the morning sky or “Greatest Western Elongation” on June 3, when she will be 45.9 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Venus since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the bright planet in the eastern sky before sunrise.

Mars, magnitude +1.6 in Taurus glows in the west in late twilight.

Jupiter, shining very brightly at magnitude -2.4 in Virgo, is in the southeast at nightfall. It’s highest in the south by 11 or midnight daylight saving time. The star Spica, just a trace bluer, hangs 9° lower left of it, and 250 light years more distant.

Saturn, magnitude +0.3 in Sagittarius rises around 11 PM or midnight and glows highest in the south before dawn, upper right of the Sagittarius Teapot. 470 light years beyond, super red giant Antares (magnitude +1.0) twinkles 18° to Saturn’s right in the early-morning hours.

This region of the sky has always been one of my favorite places to explore with binoculars, as you are looking into Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way and toward the center of the galaxy. Give me a dark sky away from the city lights, a pair of binoculars, and I will easily become lost for hours draped on a car hood drifting among the star clouds and nebulae of Sagittarius. It’s almost like really being “up there”.

Uranus is hidden in the glare of the Sun.

Neptune is hidden the glow of dawn.

The Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower, an above average shower, peaks May 6 & 7. It is capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak, but, most of the activity is seen in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rate can reach about 30 meteors per hour, which is still a decent shower. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, due to return in a mere 44 years in the summer of 2061. The shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28. The waxing gibbous moon will block out many of the fainter meteors this year. But if you are patient, you should be able to catch quite a few of the brighter ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

Full Moon will occur May 10th at 7:42 AM CDT. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. May’s Moon is “Flower Moon” in Native American folklore, because of the abundance of spring flowers. It has also been called “Corn Planting Moon” & “Milk Moon”.

New Moon will occur May 25 at 2:45 PM CDT. The Moon will 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 deep sky objects such as galaxies and star clusters, as there will be no moonlight to wash out the evening sky.

3475 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of April 13, per NASA’s Exoplanet Archive

Last but, not least, World Naked Gardening Day will occur May 7.

Make sure to wear sunscreen, as some places are best not sunburned.


This month’s meeting will be on May 9 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,

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

For years, ALERT has had a newsletter, and for ALERT Operational Members a callout text message/email list. This month, and into April, we will be making calls to phone numbers on the callout list, to make sure that we have up-to-date information on our members who respond when called to the National Weather Service.

 In 2012, we lost some information in a server upgrade, and as recently as 2016, we realized that if a message ever bounced, the server was removing people from the list, without us knowing it. Today, Microsoft has donated us email server services, through Office365, which fixes those issues. 

If you were previously on our newsletter list, and found yourself removed, or you wish to subscribe, please send an email message to admin {aT} OR to our Facebook page (, and include the following information.

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