Thursday, February 15, 2018

Alabama Heavy Snow - February 15, 1958

Credit: NOAA

One of the heaviest snows in Alabama history occurred on February 15,1958. Huntsville received 8.0" of snow, which was the highest February snow total on record until 8.1" was recorded on February 25, 2015.

This snow event was caused by a strong low in the Southeast combined with a strong upper level trough. This Southeastern low later evolved into a coastal low. This coastal low brought over 30" of snow to the Catskills and western New England.

February 1958 snowfall accumulation compared to average. Credit: Storm Data

Other snowfall totals reported in Alabama on February 15, 1958 included:

16.0" in Hayleyville in Winston (per Alabama State Climatologist Arthur Long in a 1964 report)

7.0" in Leesburg in Cherokee County (per NOAA National Center for Environmental Information)

5.0" Jacksonville in Calhoun County (NWS Birmingham)

2.0" in Columbia in Houston County (per NOAA National Center for Environmental Information)

According to Bill Murray with, "The northwest corner of Alabama was blanketed with 3-6 inches of snow. Six to eight inches fell in Decatur. As often is the case around these parts, snowfall amounts varied over a short distance. While there was two inches on the ground in Bessemer, there was none in Tuscaloosa. At the Birmingham Municipal Airport, A Delta Airlines DC-7 slid off the runway on Saturday morning and buried itself nose deep in slush and mud when the nosewheel broke. None of the 43 passengers were injured."

Mike Wilhelm


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

North Alabama Ice Storm February 1-2, 1985

View of Huntsville from Bankhead Parkway on Monte Sano

Huntsville Times February 2, 1985

The worst ice storm in decades in North Alabama, if not the worst in recorded history, began in Northwest Alabama during the early morning hours Friday February 1, 1985.  It began as a mix of freezing rain and sleet in Lauderdale County. By the time it finally ended early Saturday February 2, 11 inches of sleet had accumulated in Florence and the entire North Alabama region was covered in heavy ice.

Maysville Road in Northeast Huntsville
On February 1, 1985 the NWS Huntsville issued a Special Weather Statement saying, “A damaging ice storm is ahead for NW Alabama. The National Weather Service emphasizes that this will be an ice storm of damaging proportions. There will be potential major damage to trees and utility lines and numerous highways will become impassable. There will likely be numerous and extended power outages. Early this morning, power lines were already falling in Southern Lawrence County and on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville.” This prediction was spot on. The video below is an actual recording from the Huntsville NOAA Weather Radio From the NWS Huntsville.

Sleet and snow fell in northwestern parts of the state, accumulating to 11 inches. All roads were closed in Florence. In Huntsville, the precipitation was mostly freezing rain. It was by far the worst ice storm I’ve ever seen. In Northeast Huntsville, power was out for five days due to the heavy freezing rain and resulting damage to power lines.

Near East Huntsville Baptist Church on Maysville Road.
West and southwest of Huntsville, sleet piled up in amazing amounts. This ice storm came after one of the biggest cold snaps of all time when the temperature dropped to -11F in Huntsville on January 21, 1985. The streets were like ice skating rinks. When the sun came out, it melted the very top layer, making it impossible to even walk. I literally had to crawl part of the way to our neighbor’s house it was so slick. We were very fortunate to have a wood burning stove. The video below is my description of what I witnessed during the storm.

Cullman roads iced over by noon Friday and that evening, 600 motorists were stranded between Birmingham and Cullman on I-65, forcing travellers to spend the night in shelters.. Hundreds of traffic accidents were reported across North Alabama.Roofs collapsed on three businesses in the Florence area and numerous carports and awnings fell victim to the weight of the sleet and snow. For the first time in recorded history, roads were closed in the Florence area. Most Huntsville television stations were off the air. The video below contains local radio coverage of the historic ice storm. Stations include: WBHP 1230 AM, WAAY 1550 AM, WZYP 104.3 FM, and Q104 FM.

Additional photos I took during the ice storm in Huntsville, Alabama:

Bankhead Parkway, Monte Sano

Wooddale Drive, NE Huntsville

Near Chapman School, NE Huntsville

Oak Park, NE Huntsville

Oakwood Avenue, NE Huntsville
Here is the NOAA Storm Data publication write-up about the event from February 1985:


Monday, January 29, 2018

Coldest Temperature Recorded in Alabama - 1/30/1966

January 1966 was one of the coldest months in Alabama history and the last week of January 1966 was particularly brutal with temperatures 18-21 degrees below average. The NOAA Monthly Weather Review shows that on the map below.

January 1966 NOAA Monthly Weather Review
This cold air was attributed to a strong ridge in the Northwest United States, extending to Alaska. This, in conjunction with a trough in the eastern half of the U.S., forced a series of shots of polar air southward. Adding to the mix was an unusual amount of snow cover.  On the 29th, 6-11" of snow was on the ground across North Alabama.  This set the stage for some all time records to be in jeopardy, including the all-time coldest temperature recorded in Alabama.

NOAA Climatological Data, January 1966
Alabamians awakened to the following low temperatures on the morning of January 30th:

-27F in New Market (Madison County) ***
-24F in Russellville (Franklin County)
-19F in Belle Mina (Limestone County)
-19 in Haleyville (Winston County)
-19F in Hamilton (Marion County)
-17F in Athens (Limestone County)
-17F in Haleyville (Marion County)
-14F in Double Springs (Winston County)
-14F in Madison (Madison County)
-12F at Redstone Arsenal (Madison County)
-11F in Vernon (Lamar County)
-11F in Valley Head (DeKalb County)
-11F in Huntsville (Madison County)
-10F in Moulton (Lawrence County)
-9F at Sand Mountain Substation (DeKalb County)
-9F in Scottsboro (Jackson County)
-8F in Red Bay (Franklin County)
-8F in Florence (Lauderdale County)
-7F in Bridgeport (Jackson County)
-6F in Muscle Shoals (Colbert County)
-6F in Albertville (Marshall County)
-5F in Fayette (Fayette County)
-5F in Waterloo (Lauderdale County)
-5F in Pinson (Jefferson County)
-5F at Saint Bernard (Cullman County)
-4F in Falkville (Morgan County)
-4F in Guntersville (Marshall County)
-4F in Oneonta (Blount County)
-4F in Birmingham (Jefferson County)
-4F in Heflin (Cleburne County)
-3F in Calera (Shelby County)
-3F in Decatur (Morgan County)
-2F in Bessemer (Jefferson County)
-2F in Gadsden (Etowah County)
-2F in Lafayette (Chambers County)
-2F in Rockford (Coosa County)
-2F in Pell City in St. Clair County)
-2F at Bankhead Lock and Dam (Tuscaloosa County)
-1F in Talladega (Talladega County)
-1F in Alexander City (Tallapoosa County)
0F in Clanton (Chilton County)
0F in Anniston (Calhoun County)
0F in Auburn (Lee County)
1F in Sylacauga (Talladega County)
1F in Childersburg (Talladega County)
1F in Thorsby (Chilton County)
2F in Ashland (Clay County)
2F in Aliceville (Pickens County)
2F in Centreville (Bibb County)
2F in Prattville (Autauga County)
3F in Marion Junction (Dallas County)
3F in Eufaula (Barbour County)
4F in Tuskegee (Macon County)
4F in Union Springs (Bullock County)
5F in Montgomery (Montgomery County)
4F in Clayton (Barbour County)
4F in Highland Home (Crenshaw County)
4F in Ozark (Dale County)
4F in Troy (Pike County)
5F in Selma (Dallas County)
5F in Hayneville (Lowndes County)
5F in Greenville (Butler County)
6F in Whatley (Clarke County)
6F in Thomasville (Clarke County)
6F in Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa County)
6F in Demopolis (Marengo County)
6F in Livingston (Sumter County)
6F in Brantley (Crenshaw County)
6F in Camden (Wilcox County)
6F in Enterprise (Coffee County)
6F in Frisco city (Monroe County)
7F in Natchez (Monroe County)
7F in Headland (Henry County)
7F in Andalusia (Covington County)
7F in Chatom (Washington County)
8F in Atmore (Escambia County)
8F in Gilbertown (Choctaw County)
9F in Geneva (Geneva County)
9F in Evergreen (Conecuh County)
9F in Brewton (Escambia County)
9F in Fairhope (Baldwin County)
9F in Bay Minette (Baldwin County)
10F in Dothan (Houston County)
10F in Robertsdale (Baldwin)
11F in Coden (Mobile County)
13F in Mobile (Mobile County)
14F at Fort Morgan (Baldwin County)

At the time it was reported that the coldest temperature was -24F in Russellville, but that was in error. It was the only time I have ever heard that an Alabama community reported the coldest temperature in the United States.  Alabama State Climatologist Dr. John Christy interviewed the observer who reported the -27F reading in New Market in 1988.  She explained why the original report of -17F was changed to -27F.

*** "Ms. Lucille Hereford of New Market in Madison County was town postmistress and served as the volunteer weather observer. Every morning she faithfully checked the high and low temperature, and the precipitation. I interviewed Ms. Hereford by phone in 1988 to get her story. She remembered that the sun was out on the morning of Jan. 30, 1966, and the ground was covered with 8" of new snow (Huntsville measured 7.3"). It was terribly cold. She walked out to the instrument shelter and opened the door. She couldn’t believe what she saw so she called an acquaintance who happened to be trudging by and asked him to read the little indicator that rested at the coldest temperature since it was reset the day before. He said it looked like -28° Fahrenheit, but she thought it was closer to "only" 27 below. Since she was the official reader, the observation was reported as -27° F – Alabama’s coldest ever recorded temperature. The official story has a twist: For some reason the value was officially recorded as -17° that morning, not -27°. That was a bit warmer than the -24° F reported at Russellville that day."
According to NOAA Storm Data for January 1966, the snow and record cold of January 29-31, 1966 was responsible for 10 deaths, five injuries, and extensive damage to utility lines, water pumps, water lines, and automobiles. There was an extensive loss in poultry production. 

Special Weather Summary by State Climatologist C.C. Wooden

Alabama has had a handful of other extreme cold waves in 1899, 1940, and 1985, but the extreme temperatures in isolated pockets of North Alabama were the coldest ever recorded in this state.
NOAA Monthly Weather Review January 1966 
NOAA Storm Data 1966
Alabama Climate Report December 2010 Dr. John Christy
Climatological Data, January 1966, NOAA, Environmental Data Service


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Harpersville F4 Tornado - 1/24/64

Photo by Shelby County Reporter
Ten people were killed and six more were injured when a brief, relatively small, yet powerful tornado hit Harpersville in Shelby County, Alabama at 7 p.m. on Friday January 24, 1964.  The tornado was on the ground for only four miles and was never much wider than 100 yards. 

In a storm survey report by Charles F. Bradley, NWS Birmingham, MIC and J.B. Elliott, NWS Birmingham, Forecaster, they describe the worst damage:

"Two houses were completely carried away from their foundations.  One was picked up and carried some 500 feet, where it was slammed into another house.  Four died in that house (one of the injured died later), and 5 died in another house across Hwy 280 about 300 yards NE of the first house that was destroyed.  In the latter house, an electric freezer  weighing several hundred pounds was carried some 150 yards before being dropped."

The Shelby County Reporter described the storm as follows:

"It left ten dead and six injured. The path of this one was very narrow, ranging from only 50 yards to about 125 yards in width, but damage was heavy in the narrow path. This one struck entirely without warning. Birmingham radar was monitoring the area at the time. But the line of thunderstorms approaching Harpersville appeared only moderate -- proof that radar is by no means foolproof. Harpersville residents later reported that no unusual and brilliant display of lightning was seen, and most thought it was just an ordinary thundershower."

Most likely this was a typical winter time low topped storm produced in a high shear, low instability environment.  These short-lived tornadoes are difficult to detect and warn for even in the age of Doppler radar, so it is no surprise that in 1964 this one happened without warning. 

New York Times article from January 25, 1964.

Friday, December 15, 2017

December 16, 2000 Tuscaloosa F4 Tornado

Photo by Michael E. Palmer, Tuscaloosa News
Michael Harris carries an unconscious Whitney Crowder, 6, through the Bear Creek Trailer Park, 12/16/2000
Saturday morning December 16, 2000 was a pleasant and warmer than average mid-December morning in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But to those paying attention to the weather, there was legitimate concern that conditions would not stay so pleasant. At 10 a.m., a Tornado Watch was issued for the area. And at 12:40 p.m., the National Weather Service in Birmingham issued a tornado warning for Tuscaloosa County. Fourteen minutes later, at 12:54 p.m., a tornado touched down in southwestern Tuscaloosa County, west of the Black Warrior River. It was on the ground for 18 miles and was responsible for 11 fatalities and 144 injuries, according to the Tuscaloosa County EMA. 

Birmingham Nexrad, 12/16/17 at 12:57 p.m., 3 minutes after tornado touched down.

NWS Birmingham path map of 12/16/2000 Tuscaloosa tornado
The photo at the top of this post, by Michael Palmer of the Tuscaloosa News, circulated across the world via the Associated Press.  The girl in the picture, Whitney Crowder, survived the tornado but she lost her father and baby brother to the tornado.  Katherine Lee, of the Tuscaloosa News wrote about the Crowders' story in a touching article at this link.  Whitney told the News that her memories of that day begin when she woke up in Children's Hospital and saw friends and family at her bedside. “My first-grade teacher was there. I remember walking around the hospital and seeing my sister Abby.“ Otherwise, she relies on videos, photos and other people’s versions of events.  More on the Crowders' story can be seen in the 2014 WVUA report which is embedded below.

ABC 33/40 Chief Meteorologist James Spann and his team, which included meteorologists Mark Prater and John Oldshue, did an excellent job providing coverage of this storm, and were awarded an Emmy. ABC 33/40 captured the tornado on a tower camera as it moved through the southern part of Tuscaloosa. James wrote later, "Our StormChaser van was heavily damaged in the storm; John Oldshue and his photographer had to rush in to a Hampton Inn to protect themselves as the tornado passed right over their location. The manager of the motel had all of the guests lined up in a hallway on the lowest floor, and nobody was injured there." Below is video of ABC 33/40 coverage.

The screen capture below is from WVUA Tuscaloosa coverage of the tornado.

This was the strongest tornado in Tuscaloosa in at least 50 years (since 1950) and it was the strongest December tornado in Alabama since at least 1950. It was the deadliest tornado in Alabama in 2000 and tied with a tornado in Georgia as the deadliest in the nation that year.  According to the National Weather Service Birmingham, "The tornado was spawned by a supercell thunderstorm that originated in Mississippi. This thunderstorm was responsible for additional tornado damage in St. Clair and Etowah counties...Tuscaloosa EMA reported 11 fatalities with this tornado along with 144 injuries. Nine of the fatalities occurred in mobile homes, one in a vehicle, and one in a commercial building converted to residential use. Six of those killed were females and five were males. Ages ranged from 16 months to 83 years old. The tornado was on the ground for a total of 18 miles, all within Tuscaloosa county. The tornado path was estimated to be 750 yards wide at it's maximum intensity." Complete storm survey information from the NWS Birmingham, including photos, can be found at this link

Interestingly, researchers from Texas Tech University's Wind Science and Engineering Center believed that the damage was more consistent with actual wind speeds in the F2 range because the Fujita Scale did not take into account the building types nor quality of construction.  This helped lead to the "Enhanced Fujita Scale' or EF scale, which became operational in the United States in 2007. 

Three other tornadoes occurred in Alabama on December 16, 2000.  One of those was responsible for the death of a woman in Geneva County who was thrown 75 yards from her mobile home.  A total of 24 tornadoes occurred that day across the Southeastern United States.

Mike Wilhelm
@Bamawx on Twitter
Bamawx Facebook.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Veterans Day Tornado Outbreak - 11/10/2002


Eighty three tornadoes were confirmed by National Weather Service offices in 17 states, mostly east of the Mississippi River between November 9 and November 11, 2002.  Most of the tornadoes occurred on the 10th in the Southeast and Ohio Valley regions.  Twelve of the tornadoes were responsible for 36 deaths.  Thirteen deaths occurred in Tennessee and 12 in Alabama. The most intense tornado was the F4 in Van Wert, Ohio which was responsible for four fatalities.  This ranks as the third largest November tornado outbreak.

Alabama Tornadoes:

Map of 11/10/02 Tornadoes in Alabama via NWS Birmingham

8:40 p.m. Infrared Satellite Image 11/10/02 during Saragossa F3, NWS Bmx

The National Weather Service Birmingham has a page with storm surveys of 10 tornadoes in Alabama.  The most devastating tornadoes in Alabama were the Carbon Hill (F3) and Saragossa (F3) tornadoes.

Carbon Hill F3 Tornado
The Carbon Hill tornado was travelled 44.3 miles with a width of 1175 yards. According to the NWS Birmingham, "four deaths were reported with this tornado, three in the Rose Hill community area of Walker County and one near Arley in Winston County, with approximately 38 injuries associated with this tornado, 3 in Fayette County, 20 in Walker County, and 15 in Winston County."

The video below contains coverage from meteorologists in the Huntsville television market, even though the tornado was mostly south of the Huntsville market. All three stations, WHNT, WAAY, and WAFF were all following it closely.  As of this time the Weather Service Office in Huntsville was not issuing warnings. The NWS Birmingham still had warning responsibility for all of North Alabama.

The video below is coverage from an ABC 33/40 special on severe weather in 2005. In this video, the Carbon Hill tornado and Saragossa tornado from the "Veterans Day Outbreak" in Alabama are discussed. Reporters include James Spann, Pam Huff, Valorie Carter, Brian Peters, Ike Pigott, John Oldshue, Linda Mays, and Chris Tatum.

Saragossa F3 Tornado

According to the NWS Birmingham: "The Saragossa Tornado was the fourth tornado to occur in Alabama and the longest track of the severe weather episode. It began in Fayette County, just east of the Sipsey River about 6 miles north-northeast of the city of Fayette at 8:15 pm...The tornado crossed into Walker County at 8:34 pm...The tornado appeared to be at its most intense during the travel from US 78/SR 118 interchange across Saragossa and the areas near SR 5 and SR 195. Seven deaths occurred in this 10 mile stretch of the tornado track, along with an estimated 40 injuries."

This is coverage of the most deadly and longest track tornado in Alabama during the Veterans Day Outbreak, 11/10/2002. James Spann, Mark Prater, John Oldshue and J.B. Elliott covered this tornado which moved through Fayette, Walker, Winston and Cullman counties. This video included coverage from 8:30-9:09 p.m.

Finally, meteorologists Ben Smith and Dr. Tim Coleman of Channel 42 in Birmingham describe the F2 tornado that moved through Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties.

From the NWS Birmingham: "The Abernant Tornado touched down in a wooded area west of County Road 99 around 10:22 pm. The tornado traveled east-northeast, damaging structures on Ridge Road before crossing into Jefferson County. The tornado entered Jefferson County at 10:29 pm, and damaged structures in the Johns and Sumter areas before damaging a manufacturing facility just southwest of VisionLand Theme Park. The tornado crossed Interstate 65 and US Highway 11 where additional houses and businesses were affected. The tornado ended at this point at 10:43 pm. This F2 tornado had a path length of 15.2 miles, 2.9 miles in Tuscaloosa County and 12.3 miles in Jefferson County. The path width was about 450 yards. Three injuries were reported in Tuscaloosa County.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Storm Chasing 11/8/89 in Tuscaloosa and Hale Counties, Alabama

George H.W. Bush was President of the United States. Power ballads such as "When I See You Smile" by Bad English were topping the charts. Jerome Walton of the Chicago Cubs won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. And, not surprisingly, there was severe weather in Alabama.

Severe thunderstorm approaching Highway 69 in Hale County, Alabama, 11/8/89
The morning of Wednesday November 8, 1989 an F1 tornado struck the northeast side of Dothan in Houston County, Alabama. During the afternoon of November 8, severe reports were confined to a few wind damage reports in West Alabama, but it happened to be a day I remember for a few reasons. My first "storm chasing" experiences were in the 1980s and most of them are not documented. This is not the first, but one of the first I was able to document on video. 

From NOAA Storm Data, November 1989

In these videos you will hear audio of the Birmingham NWS NOAA Weather Radio (with real human voices) and audio of James Spann, Scott Richards, and Janet Hall who were broadcasting the evening news on WBRC 6.  I was listening to them on 87.7 FM.  Channel 6 was the only station in the Birmingham market which had audio fall within the FM radio band. This disappeared when Channel 6 went digital in June 2009. 

Here are the videos:

Thanks for reading and watching!


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