#NWAS20 Report: An Odd Week in an Odd Year

September 19, 2020 Leave a comment

From Sunday through Thursday, I “attended” the 45th National Weather Association Annual Meeting. There’s a word in quotes, of course, because of everything that has gone on this year. Thanks to it not being safe for a bunch of people to travel to Oklahoma, it was decided that the meeting would be held virtually this year.

This meeting is generally designed to do two things every year. First, it helps everyone who works in the weather enterprise learn something, including new forecast tools or even updates to the severe weather warning system. Second, it’s a chance to connect with people who do similar jobs, or even with completely different jobs but still have weather as a focus. It’s always an enthralling week of meetings and after meeting get togethers that make for a fantastic week.

We were supposed to be in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this year, a place I really wanted to visit. As mentioned in last year’s NWA report, I have a few friends there. So I was looking forward to going out there. But once we hit March, specifically the 12th or so, everything changed with the coronavirus outbreak. That is still going on, of course, so the NWA decided they needed to do something. In July, we (the membership) were asked to take a survey about such things, and soon after that the meeting would indeed be virtual.

Unbeknownst to me, there are apparently apps specifically created for meetings like this. So for our meeting this year, we basically had our own achievement-based system for the entire five days. If we asked the speaker a question, we got points. If we posted in the forum, posted a picture or responded, we got points. And several other things. The winner of the points system would get something interesting. I didn’t win, so of course I don’t remember. Ha!

The app made it more fun by allowing us to communicate with each other at any time during the meeting, and even let us do a few live video meetings with each other to hang out for a little while. So we were together, even though we weren’t. It ended up being a fun time, but slightly less fun, considering the circumstances.

During the entire meeting, I was in the weather office watching all the videos and asking what questions I could come up with. Originally, I’d planned on being in a studio for every session to keep the door shut and people out of my way. That’s not feasible when you’re working on major schedule changes (in the case of WHCB) and doing regular work. If, heaven forbid, we have to do a virtual meeting again, my goal is to do it from home while on vacation! All of that said, the reality is that if I’d been at the meeting in person, there are some sessions I would’ve missed simply due to getting back from lunch or the hotel to the meeting rooms too late. So it ends up being six of one and half a dozen of the other in the final analysis. It did make the whole experience rather odd, from normal work going on during the meeting to being able to drive home at the end of the sessions…that’s why I call it an “odd week.”

The meeting started with the student session, then the broadcasters workshop. Normally, these meetings kick off at 7:45 in the morning. This year, each day started at 10 AM. Since I’m no longer in college, that led me to be able to stay home until early afternoon, when the broadcasters’ session started at 2 PM.

In the days preceding the meeting, I planned what to do. I wasn’t aware that it was possible to view meetings without being heard or seen, so I decided to have a laptop with me just in case. I also decided to watch the meeting entirely at my desk at work, which worked quite well. I think having a computer hard wired to the system helped a ton. While everyone experienced some software issues especially early in the week, I didn’t have a problem the entire meeting!

The broadcasters’ session involved things specifically for people on TV and radio. We looked at anything from how to use social media to communicating warnings to blind people to how best to use radar while covering severe weather. A couple of those aforementioned friends in Tulsa were presenters in that severe weather session, so I took many, many notes on that. Sunday night’s finale was the broadcasters showing their “reels,” a chance to get critiques from peers on how they do their forecasts. It provided me more notes on how to do things in my 20-30 seconds of broadcasting each day. No, I don’t get 90 seconds to three minutes like the television meteorologists, but I can learn things from them to help make my forecasts better on the air.

Monday started with a specific class on flash flooding. Normally, we’d all have handouts for this and do the work, then we’d discuss how what went. Last year was a huge thing with emergency managers and broadcasters and first responders in an actual severe weather event. This year, we were put in the seat of a National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center forecaster looking at a flash flood event. We were to work in groups to draw the day’s outlooks based on current conditions and the predicted state of the atmosphere. It was fascinating!

I visited our local NWS Weather Forecast Office in Morristown years ago for a similar thing where they gave me an event and I could use an offline version of their system to issue a tornado warning. It was for a line of storms, and based on my training (and some TV watching), I picked the correct storm for the warning. I got a taste of what the folks in the office have to do to determine whether a storm is likely to produce a tornado and how to get the information out.

During the exercise on Monday, we communicated with our session leader on where we thought the different Excessive Rainfall Risk areas (Marginal, Slight, Moderate, High; similar to the Storm Prediction Center’s outlooks), needed to be and how to draw the individual areas. There were two sessions, and I offered up a few questions in each session. It turns out that there was a major flooding event in Michigan that most of us missed, including me. It also turns out that the event was a difficult one for the pros to handle, so we handled it rather well, all things considered.

We followed that up with what would’ve been the Supporting Women in Meteorology luncheon that turned out to be another session like the rest. I promised last year that I’d always go to this meeting, and I most certainly will, even if it’s virtual. I grew up watching women play sports from my teens on, and that has led to a great respect in me with regard to how women contribute to our society.

Following that was a session about satellite meteorology. Occasionally, sessions like this can get a little dry, but I was interested in where we are headed in terms of upgrading the weather satellites and eventually replacing the old one. We’re not far away from putting another two up in the next five years or so, and advances in technology (and hopefully the pipeline to get the data to our computer forecast models) keep making amazing things possible.

The awards meeting is normally on Wednesday at lunchtime, but this year it was after Monday’s sessions. It consisted of a pre-recorded video from Todd Lericos, the NWA President, congratulating all the award winners. This time, the people who nominated the award winners were able to present the awards. That was a fun thing. This blog won’t name drop a whole lot since I didn’t see anyone in person, but I will drop at least one. It’s is Mike Wilhelm, one of the storm chasers in Alabama who saved many lives during tornadoes, especially the big outbreaks like in 2011. Mike passed away a couple years ago, and we miss him a lot. I met him after that outbreak in 2011 at that year’s NWA meeting and we kept up with each other since. He received the Walter J. Bennett Public Service Award for his amazing work as a storm spotter in Alabama for all those years. That’s a well deserved award.

Monday night at NWA meetings is normally the broadcasters’ dinner, followed by a big party that includes either karaoke or (like last year) pinball and watching football. This year, that was reduced to a Zoom meeting, but was still pretty fun. I was on the meeting with three meteorologists from Cleveland, so of course I just HAD to feature my Cubs World Series Champions hat. That, predictably, was met with some hilarious consternation from the Indians fans!

This year’s meeting featured keynote addresses from two of the protagonists from the 2019 meeting, Dr. Neil Jacobs and Dr. Louis Uccellini. Dr. Jacobs is the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (aka NOAA) and was on during Tuesday to talk about how artificial intelligence will change how forecasters do their jobs, but won’t replace them. Algorithms can do amazing things, from identifying fish to identifying rip currents. There’s more on that coming later, as well as Dr. Uccellini’s keynote later on.

My takeaway from what Dr. Jacobs had to say was how I wished that could’ve happened last year. Go back to the NWA 2019 meeting to go over all the junk that went on (that I can tell) and how his talk went last year. This year, he was able to focus on the computer models and how artificial intelligence is going to change the state of weather forecasting. It was a fantastic message, one I wish would’ve been allowed last year. I’d seen him on a Weather Brains live show a month or so ago, so it was good to see him in the academic and more personal sides of life. I’ve got tons of respect for that man, a year removed from that hurricane chaos.

I’m not going to go through all the sessions on here, because this blog is getting long enough already. The theme of the meeting surrounded the artificial intelligence aspect of changing how we forecast and making forecasts better for the public. While there are some things being researched that don’t involve artificial intelligence that were covered here and are very exciting, those that do involve AI are quite interesting.

I will talk about one presentation on Tuesday that really caught my eye. It was by Travis Wilson, the Science and Operations Officer (yep…a man named SOO) at Spokane, Washington’s NWS weather forecast office. He covers eastern Washington, parts of Idaho and western Montana during his daily work, and realized that looking at all the webcams in the area to find fog was a rather tedious process. So he used what’s called a Convolutional Neural Network (or CNN) to detect foggy conditions on those webcams. CNN’s are most easily recognized by us as the technology that gives us self driving cars and facial recognition on our phones. He started with detecting his golden retriever in a picture of just that dog, then using the system to detect the chances of that dog being in the picture with another one. Fascinating stuff.

Travis ended up taking that kind of technology and found 1000 images of foggy and clear conditions to train the system. When he started to run the system, he noticed that digital video issues (like buffering) can cause issues with the system when only part of the image loads. It turns out, his system ended up at 95% accuracy, which is amazing. I was absolutely floored by that one, and that’s by far my favorite presentation of the meeting this year. I know that kind of technology would be useful in our neck of the woods!

On Wednesday, we were updated on the new things coming from the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (the ECMWF or colloquially called “The Euro.”). That’s currently the best operational weather model on the planet, and they’re constantly working to make it even better. Which means this country needs to do quite a bit of that. We are well behind already!

My last session of Wednesday was the second broadcasters’ workshop. Lelan Statom (last year’s and still reigning Broadcaster of the Year) brought us a wealth of information on how TV weather people can communicate with their co-workers. Some of that advice I have a chance to leverage into a radio setting, something I plan to do. You’ll remember Lelan from last year’s meeting report and from TV when he worked at WCYB a fair amount of time ago. He’s working at Nashville’s channel 5 now, and is a rock at that station with covering weather from bad days to good ones. I have tons of respect for him, and it was a highlight of the 2016 meeting in Norfolk when I was able to meet Lelan! That was a very good day.

By the time I was finished working on Wednesday, I needed a long break. So I spent the evening as normal, preparing for the final day of meetings on Thursday. The last day of these NWA meetings typically consists of some deep dives into various research that’s being done inside NOAA and the National Weather Service. Chief among them is the continuing NWS effort to simplify the hazards they issue. Do you know what an Advisory is? How about an Areal Flood Warning? Many people don’t know them or understand them, so those products are either going to be consolidated or eliminated altogether.

By the way…an advisory is where the office is telling you something’s happening that will affect your day, but it’s not at the level of a severe warning or a winter weather warning of any kind. And currently, there are two types of non-flash flood warnings. Areal flood warnings and river flood warnings. The latter is easy…flooding involving a river basin. An “areal” flood warning just specifies that the warning is for a polygon-based area on a map. That’s it. But it sounds like a really confusing word, doesn’t it? That’s what the NWS is trying to get rid of now that everything they issue is available to the public…and has been for a while. And speaking of flooding? There’s work done on a severity index for that, similar to the EF tornado scale or the Saffir-Simpson scale for hurricanes. Research is ongoing!

The aforementioned Dr. Louis Uccellini talked about building a weather ready nation during his Thursday keynote. He talked quite a bit about hurricanes and how the NWS is working to meet the challenges in operational meteorology as things continue to change into the future. They’re always trying to help broadcasters and the public reduce impacts from weather and climate issues by finding out how people receive information, respond to it, and act on it. That is a constantly moving target, something we’re all trying to get hold of. The NWS is at the forefront of researching the best ways to communicate the forecast, both during crazy weather and calm weather.

The rest of Thursday featured how to communicate with the public during various weather events, from hurricanes to severe weather to snow squalls to even flooding. While they don’t directly impact what I’m doing every day–at least not yet–these things are very helpful to know that the way things are done in our National Weather Service are changing…we hope for the better!

Finally, NWA president Todd Lericos and my friend and president-elect Nate Johnson closed things out. Despite the fact that this was an entirely virtual meeting, 733 people attended. That’s astounding! Most of those were from NOAA, and many of the rest were fellow broadcasters. As far as I know, I was the only Tri-Cities person in attendance…and I looked for everyone else a few times. Thankfully, the sessions are posted so we can watch them again later. I have a few I missed that I’d like to get to, especially from those concurrent sessions.

Two months ago, I didn’t like the idea of doing the meeting this way. But the National Weather Association’s amazing organizers got the job done with minimal issues…after the first day. These people have done that through many bad circumstances, including government officials not being allowed to attend (that’s happened three times before they finally moved the meeting to September); odd happenings involving National Hurricane Center maps, Sharpies, and offices getting in trouble for doing their jobs; and now a global pandemic. Each and every time, given all the issues, these folks have come through with flying colors. It is absolutely amazing, and everyone in the NWA involved in this meeting deserves the highest of praise for an amazing meeting.

That said, it still just wasn’t the same. Being able to hang out with fellow broadcasters in person is a hallmark of these meetings, and I really missed both that and the ability to get to know a new town. Here’s hoping that by next year’s meeting, all of this COVID-19 stuff will be behind us and we can get things back to the real normal.

As for next year, thankfully the hotel in Tulsa where we were supposed to be this year has rescheduled! So should we be able to meet in person next year, we’ll be in a town where I know a few people. Whether I fly over there or drive, I’m definitely looking forward to it. And hopefully, considering the success of the virtual aspect of the meeting this year, that will be included in what happens in 2021 if we do get to go out there, so those who don’t can still have access to all the wonderful presentations.

There are several meetings between now and next August’s 46th annual NWA meeting. I’m signed up for one or two of the virtual ones coming up between now and the Spring, and I’m looking forward to those. I’ve been trying for ten long years to get back to Starkville for Mississippi State’s Southeast Severe Storms Symposium, and that’s definitely on my radar for early 2021. We’ll see how it goes!

I’ll keep this post sticky at the top of the blog for a while so people can get to it easily. I love attending these meetings, because it gives me lots of ideas on what to do better, and sometimes how to do them better. Here’s hoping 2021 can be more normal and travel can be a thing again!

Categories: Weather Info

September 20, 2020 #TriCitiesWx Forecast

September 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Does it feel like fall outside to you? With temperatures in the 40s early Sunday morning and cooler in the mountains, it sure does to me! Fall doesn’t astronomically begin until Tuesday at 9:31 in the morning, but some crisp mornings are already here! Welcome to the Tri-Cities Weather Blog forecast for tonight through Thursday!

Our weather is calm and cool for at least Monday and Tuesday, and it’s looking more and more like Wednesday will be the same. We may have some moisture from what’s left of Tropical Storm Beta later this week. Here’s the outlook:

  • Tonight-Clear and cool. Low 44.
  • Monday-Mostly sunny. High 72.
  • Monday night-Partly cloudy. Low 44.
  • Tuesday-Mostly sunny. High 72.
  • Wednesday-Partly to mostly sunny, a small chance of rain late. High 74.
  • Thursday-Partly cloudy with a small chance of rain. High 74.

High pressure gave us fantastic weather this weekend, and at least two more days of that are on the way. Tropical Storm Beta (we have had so many storms we had to go to the Greek alphabet!) will spend a good bit of the week in Texas and Louisiana before moving through the South. That’s what could bring some rain showers Wednesday, with better chances on Thursday.

That clearly depends on where the storm goes. Right now, it looks to hang out in Texas through Tuesday, drift into Louisiana on Wednesday, and to Mississippi by Thursday or Friday before falling apart somewhat. So while chances are looking good for dry weather Wednesday, we could be good for the rest of the week. I’ll keep an eye on that track in the coming days.

As far as cold fronts go, there’s nothing coming. There are fronts to our northwest and way out west, but there’s a lot of high pressure blocking things right now. That’s why the tropical storm is not moving so much, too. It could be next week before anymore fronts get in our area.

Of course, all of that means mostly dry weather for a while. Highs will be in the low 70’s for the most part this week, with lows in the 40’s early in the week to near 50 by the end of it. All just a bit below our average for this time of year.

I’ll have updates each day over the course of the rest of the week. Have a fantastic Monday!

Categories: Daily Forecast

September 18, 2020 #TriCitiesWx Forecast

September 18, 2020 Leave a comment

We have lots of clouds around on this Friday evening, but there’s not much rain to speak of. With all the sports going on in town this weekend, that’s good news. The weather does look calm and beautiful deep into next week! Welcome to the Tri-Cities Weather Blog forecast for tonight through Monday!

It’s a simple forecast…so much so that I’m not even going to outlook this. We’ll have clouds tonight and low temperatures in the morning close to 50 degrees.

After that, high pressure will be near or on top of us for a while, bringing partly cloudy conditions tomorrow, then sunshine for Sunday and Monday. Highs will be in the low 70s, with overnight lows at the coolest point we’ve seen in a while, in the mid to upper 40s.

That’s it! Nothing more to it than that. There are tropical systems around, including enough to get us into the Greek alphabet. But none of those will bring us any issues weather wise through Monday at least.

So, get out and enjoy a wonderful weekend!

Categories: Daily Forecast

September 17, 2020 #TriCitiesWx Forecast

September 17, 2020 Leave a comment

Wow, it’s been a busy week! There’s been a hurricane, a weather meeting, new programming, and website upgrades. I’ll talk about all of those at some point, not necessarily in this blog, though. While we’re waiting out this soggy Thursday afternoon, welcome to today’s Tri-Cities Weather Blog forecast!

A lot of my time this week has been taken up with the National Weather Association annual meeting, which was virtual this year. I’ll post a blog on it hopefully Saturday. It was fun and definitely as informative as ever, but not being able to see good friends in person hurt things. We go to Tulsa, Oklahoma, next year, so hopefully things are better by next August.

More on that in the coming days, though. Our weather features clouds and drizzle this afternoon. Rain should move out by this evening, and after that we should start to dry out for a while. Here’s the outlook:

  • Tonight-Mostly cloudy, some scattered showers. Patchy fog possible. Lows near 60.
  • Friday-Becoming partly cloudy. Highs near 70.
  • Friday night-Mostly cloudy. Lows near 50.
  • Saturday-Partly cloudy. High 72.
  • Sunday-Partly cloudy. High 73.
  • Monday-Mostly sunny. High 72.

Tonight will continue to feature clouds and scattered showers, but nothing too heavy. Fog could be rather dense late tonight and into tomorrow morning, so keep an eye out for that.

Low pressure that includes the remains of Hurricane Sally are in the South right now, and look to move up the Southeast coast tomorrow. As it gets further away, our weather gets better and better!

The cold front that went through did make things cooler. So did the clouds, specifically, for today. But over the next four days, we should see temperatures in the afternoons staying below 75 degrees, with morning lows near 50. Even cooler temperatures are possible in the mountains. That sounds nice, doesn’t it!

I took a peek at the extended forecast for the next seven days, and the high pressure behind the front looks to be over top of us all the way through the middle of next week. So dry weather may be the norm for close to a week before rain returns.

That’s it for now…I’m going to work on an NWA blog once our post-session hangouts end tonight. It’s been a busy week, working and attending meetings, but things are well and hopefully new weather toys are on the horizon. Thanks for checking the forecast today. Have a good one!

Categories: Daily Forecast

September 16, 2020 #TriCitiesWx Forecast

September 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Meetings, meetings, meetings. It’s been a busy day! It’s a busy time in weather, especially with tropical systems. Sally is the only thing we’ll talk about here, as it will make landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast tomorrow morning. That will bring us rain later this week. Welcome to the Tri-Cities Weather Blog forecast for tonight through Saturday!

Clouds are plentiful outside as of just before 5 PM, but there’s also a bit of sunshine as well. Rain won’t be an issue tonight or tomorrow, but Sally and a cold front combine to change that by Thursday. Here’s the outlook:

  • Tonight-Partly cloudy, some morning fog. Low 58.
  • Wednesday-Mostly sunny. High 81.
  • Wednesday night-Becoming mostly cloudy, with rain showers late. Low 62.
  • Thursday-Cloudy skies with scattered showers. High 74.
  • Friday-Cloudy with rain showers likely. High 73.
  • Saturday-Mostly sunny. High 72.

Nothing remarkable happens through tomorrow evening, except clouds becoming more numerous Wednesday night. Rain showers could begin ahead of the front and Sally as soon as the wee hours of Thursday morning.

From there, scattered showers will be likely off and on both on Thursday and on Friday. Sally looks to be closest to us on Friday, so the better chance of it raining all day will be the last day of the work week. Thursday should be more of the off and on variety.

The cold front kicks Sally out of the country by Saturday, which means dry, less humid weather for us to start the weekend. Up in the North Carolina and Virginia mountains there will likely be troubles warming up to 70 to start the weekend.

That’s it for today’s forecast. Have a great Wednesday!

Categories: Daily Forecast
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