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!
INSTRUCTIONS FOR OBSERVING TORNADOES – from the late 1800’s
Just for fun, the following is taken from “The Tornado” written by H. A. Hazen, published by the United States Weather Bureau in 1890. http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/rarebooks_1600-1800/QC955H391890.pdf
(Bear in mind several of these observation methods are outdated today.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.”
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 http://exoplanetarchive.ipac.caltech.edu/
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
Weather Resource Database