#NWAS20 Report: An Odd Week in an Odd Year

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!

#NWAS19: 4 Days, 3 Hugs, 2 Speeches, and an Airplane

Last week, I attended the National Weather Association Annual Meeting in Huntsville, Alabama. Once a year, each of the major weather organizations get everyone together for a big meeting to discuss how we do our jobs, how we do it better, and to see the new research that’s going on. As you can see above, there’s a link to the NWA’s website above. For the rest of this blog, I plan to link you to the people in this meeting via their Twitter, so watch for those links! You can look at their accounts and tweets even if you don’t tweet. And, now that I’ve figured it out, here’s an album of some of the pictures I took in Huntsville!

Huntsville was selected as the site late last year. I was excited about this, because Huntsville is just a few ticks shorter than the 6-8 hours I’ve driven to previous meetings. I planned on driving down with Ricky Matthews, a meteorologist at News 5 WCYB. We put together our plan, and then I prepared staff at my stations for my absence. Saturday afternoon, Ricky and I left for Huntsville. Which, thankfully, was a problem free drive.

We checked in Saturday evening, and discovered James Aydelott holding court in the lobby. James is the chief meteorologist at FOX 23 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Generally, when we’re not in sessions at these annual meetings, a lot of us are hanging out with him chatting about various TV weather things, and sports are usually involved, too. Most of it’s inside baseball and I’m sometimes listening, but that’s not always the case. But it’s always fun, and hanging out with James was a regular thing both at sessions and away from them.

Sunday morning, most of us had to stop by the registration desk to get a packet that included the agenda booklet, our badge for the week, tickets to various events we’d pre-registered to attend, and a lanyard to wear with it. I received my packet and found a surprise! On many of the years that are multiples of 5, you get a ribbon to stick to your badge. And this year I got one! There are many ribbons (presenter, candidate, office, etc.), and you can have three or four or more. But just getting the first one for being a member for 5 years was pretty fun for me.

Sunday was primarily broadcaster related. My friend Jason Simpson from WHNT TV in Huntsville welcomed everyone to town. I’ve been fond of Jason since he was on television in Birmingham and was able to visit him in 2012 on that forecasting vacation of mine. I’ve followed Jason’s story as his son Brody has had serious health issues in his short life. Brody seems to be doing fine right now, but Jason and his family are aware that can still change even to this day. Jason’s faith during all of this is wonderful, and I’m blessed to count him as a friend in this weather business.

His former boss James Spann was up shortly thereafter. James is the chief meteorologist at ABC 33/40, WBMA in Birmingham. James (click this link to see about his new book!) started broadcasting on radio at a station in Alabama in the 70’s, then he kicked off his television career in 1979. He’s been in Birmingham since the late 90’s. He’s another forecasting vacation alumnus (if you can call it that), and has always been a very dynamic speaker. He was talking about covering a tornado online that was out of his market this past March. A lot of how I think about severe weather coverage comes from things James has said in the past. He is very passionate about every tornado having 0 lives lost, and when that number is above that, he wants to know why. Since you can never know the lives you’ve saved doing coverage, the only measure of success is how few lose their lives. As James might say, 1 is too many.

The highlight of day 1 was the Integrated Warning Team workshop. It was an exercise where people who deal with severe weather do a job in the same circumstance that they don’t do in real life. Broadcasters did emergency management and National Weather Service duty, while the other two swapped off into the others. Despite Jason Simpson’s protests–and my own good judgment–I merely watched. Even in just watching, it was interesting to watch how things that happen in different buildings during a severe weather disaster unfold in the same room. I’ve toyed around in my head with being in emergency management, so watching how the different counties were involved in putting their resources to best use was also intriguing for me. While the county names were changed, we were told later that the event in our workshop was from April 27, 2011 (this link goes to my blog about that day). Not surprising, considering all the storms that were on the map!

I took plenty of notes during the last session of the day, on media and communication. It was an hour and a half on how to tell the weather story and what to do with it. My favorites were Betsy Kling from WKYC in Cleveland talking about the best ways to put together TV graphics for a show, and Alan Sealls talking about what words to use during a broadcast. He talked about what to say and what cliches not to say, and in general how saying the same things every day differently makes forecast communication less stale. Again, many notes were taken. I’m going to work with some radio-minded meteorologists about improving my 15 and 30 second forecasts each day. I know one thing to change, by telling a story in that time as opposed to just reading forecast conditions and temperatures.

Day Two started with the first of the two speeches. Thanks to Hurricane Dorian, the President, and a Sharpie, the two keynotes on Monday and Tuesday were going to be very interesting and well attended. If you’re not aware, during Hurricane Dorian, President Trump tweeted out that Alabama was one of the states that could have major impacts. The people of Alabama went crazy, and it took people like James Spann and the National Weather Service (NWS from here on) office in Birmingham to calm them down. This didn’t set well in Washington, despite neither Spann or the NWS office knowing it was essentially Trump who started it. So someone up there got hold of a National Hurricane Center forecast cone and extended the track unnaturally into Alabama with a Sharpie. All of that happened over the course of a week to ten days before the meeting, with lots of other shouts being yelled about how appropriate it was for anyone to contradict the President, regardless of the fact that Alabama didn’t have a lot of a chance of being hit by that hurricane. Jobs were threatened, and it was generally nasty. Right before a major weather organization meeting in Alabama, of course.

The first big speech was Monday’s keynote by the Director of the NWS, Dr. Louis Uccellini. And his message was magnificent. There were no minced words, not one chance of a misunderstanding. Dr. Uccellini strongly defended the NWS Birmingham office by saying they did what they were supposed to do in making sure the public knew the correct forecast and that they didn’t need to take action at all. We gave him a standing ovation on that point, and then another one once his speech was finished. It was a strong show of support by the leader of the NWS to that office and every office in the system, and by all the people in the room in support of that stand. And, predictably, news of this was online within the hour. Good. The world needs to see us protect our own, and we did a fine job of it.

The highlight of day two for me was an interesting presentation by two meteorologists from different stations in Cincinnati, Jennifer Ketchmark from WCPO and Randi Rico from WLWT. The short story of their message is how power plants can actually cause enhanced (or any at all) snowfall downwind. Of course, you see these stacks of smoke coming from plants all the time (Eastman, for those of you in Kingsport). Apparently in the right conditions, they can cause either more snow downwind, or cause snow where there wasn’t any nearby. Sort of like lake effect. I’m intrigued by this, and I wonder if that happens in our area. That kind of thing can be added to the forecast process and make snow predictions more accurate. So now that’s in the back of my mind, and I’ll have to find out if stuff like that happens here, too.

Alan Sealls was back for another one about weather apps and how they’re wrong…but not really. How the apps position the low or the forecast for overnight is a big deal and can really mess up how people interpret those things. Is there a possibility of changing the graphic for 7-10 days of a forecast based on this? Perhaps…it’s very interesting since I’ve considered making a 5-day graphic like that for years. Alan introduced an idea for a new way to do these graphics by stretching 24 hours across a day for three days. It’s an intriguing idea that I might have to investigate for this blog.

Speech number two is honestly one of the strangest things I’ve ever witnessed in person. The keynote at the start of the meeting’s third day was by the acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Dr. Neil Jacobs. NOAA is the parent organization of the NWS, and they’d issued an unsigned missive against the Birmingham office tweeting that Alabama wasn’t in any danger from Hurricane Dorian. Thanks to that and a bunch of other political stuff, Dr. Jacobs’ message was quite important. I think 90% of the people who were at the meeting in Huntsville attended that speech, so it was a packed house. Add to all of this that Huntsville police were on hand from day one making sure our badges were on and we were supposed to be where we were going. That kept a lot of media out of there, thank heavens, but this was the first NWA meeting where I’ve experienced that level of security.

The packed house was silent as Dr. Jacobs stepped to the front of the room, and he immediately thanked everyone “for staying.” That seemed peculiar. Most of the body of his keynote was basically him standing in the middle of the road of the situation. Toward the end, though, he went from a seemingly prepared statement riding the fence to a very human element. I was pretty far away from him at the time, but I could tell he was very emotional. Here’s a man basically playing both ends against the middle with absolutely no path to win the game. I felt for him. I can’t imagine being in such a position. Dr. Jacobs ended his speech and immediately turned and walked out of the room.

All of us just sat there. We were all dead silent for the entire keynote, but at the end there wasn’t applause or anything. We were dead silent. I, for one, didn’t really know what to think about what was just said or how to react to the things he’d said, particularly before the emotions started coming forth. It was completely the opposite of the end of Uccellini’s message 24 hours earlier. Eventually we moved on into the morning’s sessions, but for at least five minutes (some have said it was ten or more), hundreds of people sat in stunned silence. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Even now, as I write this a week later, it still causes my mind to stir. There’s so much to think about there it’s incredible…so it’s understandable why there was a lot of silence for a while on Tuesday morning.

The important presentation for me that morning was by one of my Mississippi State professors, Kathy Sherman-Morris. She was presenting on how people who are blind or have trouble seeing deal with tornado warnings. There are so many things that can help anyone who has disabilities be alerted to severe weather, but I’d never thought of one thing that popped up on a slide that struck me. How do we better help people who have vision issues get their warnings? One of the top answers was to call it like you’re doing a sport on radio. Where is it, where is it going and when is it going to get there? That struck me immediately, having done some baseball play-by-play and listened to enough of radio for all sports. Just like yard lines or a spot on the ice or where the ball was hit, we need to clearly talk about where the storm is and where it’s going in the same way. It was groundbreaking for me, definitely something I’m going to do now that I’m back home.

During the afternoon, we went into mental health mode. If you’ve read my 2013 NWA meeting blog series (part 1 is in the link, the link to part 2 is at the bottom), you know that we were generally beginning figuring those things out back then. I told my story there, but over the past three years since the Norfolk meeting, I’ve told it online more frequently. This time, an entire session was devoted to how those of us who have to warn people that severe weather is coming have to take care of ourselves, not only after the storms but even while they’re happening and before them.

The chair of the session was Becky Depodwin, who has been an online stalwart for discussing mental health in the weather community as long as I’ve known her. Most of my conversations about my story have gone through her in the past few years. She talked me through a lot of things and helped me to realize that I’m not alone in this. There are a lot of us who have had issues dealing with what these storms do to people. During this session, we discovered that it doesn’t have to be something that kills 250 people in Alabama or 13 people between Pigeon Forge and Roanoke. It could just be damage that causes people potential bouts of depression. There was a psychiatrist on hand for the session who helped us understand that it happens to everyone in this business sooner or later, and the main thing is to have a support network to help you through it. I know I did with two people before I met Becky who connected with me and told me what I needed to hear…and in one case not what I wanted to hear. Those people helped me dig out of some pretty deep doldrums, as has Becky in recent years to continue the recovery.

And that’s where the first hug happened! After the session was over, I went out to clear my head a bit and get to the restroom and walk around. Inevitably, I went back to the meeting room a couple times. I’d seen Becky a few times throughout the first couple days, but never got a chance to get to her and say hello. On my second run through the room, the gatherings around her departed and I was able to walk right up to her! Normally in a professional environment like this, you shake hands and talk. This was completely different, because Becky decided forget the handshake and go for a hug. Considering all the things we’ve talked about in the past, that was appropriate, respectful, and therapeutic. We were able to talk a little bit about various things before someone else intercepted her. Hugs mean a lot, and they probably mean even more in this type of setting. I wasn’t really expecting it, but knowing Becky, it wasn’t surprising either. That’s one person who really means a lot to me, and all that she was able to do during her time in Huntsville was encouraging for me because she got the recognition she deserves for practically pioneering our industry toward paying more attention to mental health in our field. I’m very thankful to call Becky a friend of mine, and she’s changed my life for the better without a doubt.

By Tuesday night, Ricky and I had decided to depart a little sooner than we’d originally anticipated. He had things going on up here that he wanted to do, and despite all the complete chaos of the first three days, I was very keen to get myself back home. So he didn’t have to convince me much. My main goal was to get to 4 PM to watch a friend of mine from the NWS office in Nashville give her presentation. But at the end of the day, she does work in Nashville, so if it got down to it, I could go without that. I would miss the VORTEX-SE sessions, where a lot of the new research on tornadoes in our area was coming from, but I could find that stuff later on as well.

The plan for Wednesday was to get out of the hotel and pack the car by noon, finish the sessions we’d planned for the day and get out of Dodge. The last interesting presentation I was able to see was about the March 3, 2019 tornado that killed 23 people. This talk was mainly about what happened to the mobile homes. I tweeted that 19 people were lost in mobile homes that day…over 85% of them. That raised a lot of interest, so I got into answering some tweets well into the climate change panel that finished off that session. I hope I was able to convey that I don’t have an issue with mobile homes of any sort, but in severe weather you’ve got to get out of them.

After that session, we finished getting ourselves together and loaded up Ricky’s car to head home later on. What followed was the NWA Awards Luncheon, which will be described below. After I returned from there, Ricky was shuttling people back and forth to the airport, and wanted to leave a little early. I resisted a bit, but realized I didn’t have a whole lot of options and left a little early.

Hugs two and three would follow after that, both rather surprising as well. Ricky was taking James Aydelott and Laura Mock to the airport so they could fly back to Tulsa. James, you know from earlier. Laura works with him at Fox 23, and she was around quite regularly during sessions and after them whenever we were out, whether it be the broadcasters’ dinner on Monday night or just hanging out Tuesday night (more about those later). So we’d been around each other and talked quite a bit and generally had a good time. That was the case Wednesday afternoon when we left the hotel at a little after 3 PM to get them to the plane James pilots.

And there’s the airplane! Ricky and I delivered Laura, James, and their stuff to Huntsville Executive Airport, where his plane was tied down for the week after they flied over from Tulsa. James checked in, and we walked right out to his plane! There was a nice thunderstorm on the other side of the runway from us, so I took pictures and pictures and pictures of it and the plane while the other three untied it and got it ready to get James and Laura back home. Once everything was ready, we said our farewells. James walked over to me and we did the handshake-to-hug thing. I wished him safe travels, and then Laura wrapped me up in a bear hug. That’s one I wasn’t expecting at all! We exchanged “it was nice to meet you” in various forms and wished each other safe travels on the way home. Then Ricky and I stood back and watched as James and Laura took off.

During the trip home, I thought a lot about that, even while talking with Ricky about different things. The bottom line I’ve discovered about that is something Becky said during the mental health panel, and stuff I’ve heard numerous times elsewhere. Life isn’t meant to be lived alone. Other people are here to help us and we’re here to help them. We’re all in this together. Once that phrase hit my head, the hugs didn’t surprise me anymore. I probably needed those last two as much as James and Laura did, not to mention Becky the previous day. It was the best possible closing ceremony to a four day whirlwind that I’ll not soon forget. It seemed the secondary theme for the meeting (after “Pay it Forward”) was indeed that we’re all in this thing together.

Aside from the people I mentioned above, I met so many people and reconnected with them during these four days. First of them is Jessica Van Meter, who works at the NBC station in Toledo, Ohio. It seems like everywhere I was, so was she! We introduced each other via raised badges during one of the early Sunday sessions, and after that found each other at the same table or row of chairs frequently the rest of the way, even in that last session. We didn’t get to talk all that much, but it was fun to meet her early on during this thing.

It took a while, but I did finally get to reconnect with Aubrey Urbanowicz, a former Chili’s bartender, WJHL intern, and now she’s the Chief Meteorologist at WHSV in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She’s one of those instrumental in helping me mentally after the 2011 storms, but since I’d mentioned that to her three years ago, I didn’t do that here. We met during a session (I think) on Monday, and were grouped together with other folks during the following two evenings. I got to see a completely different side of Aubrey during this meeting, and that was a lot of fun. Reconnecting with Aubrey (and seeing more pictures of her dog, Bear) is definitely one of the highlights of the week for me.

Tom Wachs is another former WJHL intern who is in Milwaukee now. We connected I think because he was one of the few who can say “Blountville” correctly on the first try looking at my badge. I got to update him a lot on what’s been going on in the Tri-Cities since he’s been gone, and he’s absolutely floored by The Pinnacle!

Ken Weathers is a Twitter buddy of mine, a meteorologist at WATE in Knoxville. We talk a lot of soccer on Twitter, and naturally, the first time I saw him, he had on a Manchester United polo. That, of course, reminded me that I need to get some Everton gear! He was with us during the evenings a lot, too, and it’s always good to see him. I need to go to Knoxville and visit his station sometime…I’m told it’s rather legendary!

So now that I have all his former interns out of the way, I can talk about the man himself. While I saw Mark Reynolds at the NWA meeting in Birmingham in 2011, I didn’t get to say hello. This year, I was able to briefly after the first session. After the Tuesday sessions were finished, I was able to talk to Mark about his longevity at WJHL…35 years. I told him I was all of five years old when he started there…which led to a humorous facepalm from him!

In the interest of time, I’m lumping the last six of these in one paragraph…because this is getting lengthy! Ricky and I met with Garrett Bedenbaugh early on, I think before the meetings even started, and he was a mainstay throughout everything all four days. Henry Rothenberg works at channel 5 in Nashville, and is a good friend. I enjoy getting to see him every year because he always acts like I’m the coolest person in the room. Steve Keighton is at the NWS office in Blacksburg, and I’ve met him a couple times before, once at that office. We talked about a poster he’d put up about tornado frequency and what systems the tornadoes came from. That’s right down my alley, considering some research I’d done at Mississippi State. Lastly, Krissy Hurley is the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the NWS office in Nashville. She’s a Predators fan! We get to talk a lot about that during the season, and it was very fun to finally meet her, albeit quite briefly. Sometime during hockey season I’ll have to get over there and visit that office. I hear my Calgary Flames are in town October 31…so that might have to be it!

Lunches during the meetings were all themed except for one. Sunday (where I saw Ken Weathers in his Manchester United shirt and saw Henry Rothenberg for the first time) was a food truck rally where we got to pick a truck and get a meal for free. That was nice! I’d never eaten anything other than a doughnut or pretzel from a food truck until then, so I can now say that’s a new event under my belt. The food was really good for sure! Now if only we can get more food trucks to Blountville!

Monday was the one lunch were I didn’t go anywhere special, and the other two were decided for me. Tuesday was the Supporting Women in Meteorology Luncheon. I was there one of the first years of this but didn’t go, which was silly. So this year I decided I was definitely going to attend. For those who don’t know, I grew up a fan of Pat Summitt. My father started me watching women’s basketball before I was a teenager, and I learned a lot through that. From there I’ve supported a pro team in the past, and now one of my favorite teams in the world is Appalachian State’s field hockey team. I’ve even branched out into softball, and every Olympics I’m always watching some female athletes doing something. So this luncheon was something I could not miss. How can I not combine my favorite profession with an athletic endeavor I’ve supported since at least the late 90’s?

I walked down there and back with Haley Clawson, the Chief Meteorologist at KESQ TV in California. We met in Norfolk at that NWA meeting (which never got a blog, apparently!) and I’ve followed her in her athletic endeavors running the occasional triathlon. This is nothing new, because I know people who run marathons in this business. So I’m a fan of Haley’s, and on the way back from the luncheon I asked her about her plans for anymore triathlons in her future. She told me it’s really difficult to train for those, and didn’t really know how many she could do after her next one in November. I mentioned to her that I was paying attention to her last one, and she explained how the timing works and that sort of thing. So she’s going to tweet out when her next one is so everyone can keep track and cheer her on from wherever. That’s going to be a lot of fun!

As far as the luncheon itself goes, it was intended to support women, but it was women supporting men supporting women. It wasn’t a “bash the guys” session in the least, and I was happy about that. We were welcomed there in that we’re the guys who are going to help stop the idiots say stupid stuff or act inappropriately. I enjoyed that quite a bit, and honestly almost told that Pat Summitt story above in front of everyone, but my nerves prevented that. I did tell Haley part of it on the 12 minute walk back to the next session. I enjoyed that luncheon and I’ll definitely be going to it every year I’m at an NWA meeting.

The final lunch was the Awards Luncheon, a dressed-up, fancy meal with all the different forks and stuff. Not knowing which fork to use first, I decided to go from left to right…nobody laughed at that concept, so it was okay. I got goosebumps when the East Mississippi Chapter of the NWA/AMS won the chapter of the year award during the luncheon. We knew about most of these awards beforehand, but I was proud of that one because it’s a Mississippi State thing, and that’s where I’m from in this field. Becky Depodwin won a special award due to her work in mental health awareness in meteorology and all of the other things she does. I could tell in Becky’s voice that winning that award was overwhelming for her. I was so happy for her because she has a servant’s heart for trying to help people. That’s what we’re all supposed to be in this to do, to help people. And Becky’s helping colleagues in the process, including me. So I’m thankful for whoever nominated her for that award. She definitely deserves it, and I told her that once the luncheon was over.

The other two awards I’ll mention here was the Broadcaster of the Year Award. Here’s another former Tri-Cities meteorologist, as Lelan Statom from channel 5 in Nashville won it! If you recall, back in the 90’s Lelan worked at WCYB for a couple years before jumping halfway across the state. I enjoyed watching him on TV then, and was honored to meet Lelan in Norfolk three years ago. He’s a world class human being, and I’m beyond happy to know yet another Broadcaster of the Year.

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to Mike Smith, a former broadcaster who turned into an innovative entrepreneur in the weather enterprise by making a business based on keeping trains (among other things) out of severe weather. Mike is outspoken on Twitter about all things weather, many things Kansas, and generally anything that strikes his fancy. I agree with most of the things he says, and we’ve talked online about various things in the few years I’ve known him online. We tried to meet up in Birmingham in 2011, but couldn’t get connected. This year, right as I was headed out the door to get in the car with Ricky on the way home, I found Mike walking up the hallway. It was a warm, brief conversation between a couple guys who are normally over a thousand miles apart but appreciate each other’s work. I know I haven’t touched the surface of describing Mike Smith in this paragraph, but that Lifetime Achievement Award is well deserved.

On Tuesday afternoon, we were in the middle of a lengthy poster session where those who weren’t able to get a speaking spot would be able to present their work to anyone who stopped by. I walked out of that particular afternoon session and heard thunder. Naturally, James Aydelott came by and asked me something about software I’d heard of, but never used, and would be useful in this situation. So we went to the vendor’s booth and he showed me a couple tricks. Meanwhile, many other meteorologists were gathering outside to watch the storm come in. James and I, along with hopefully soon-to-be NWA President Nate Johnson (vote for him this year, weather peeps!) were cracking a lot of jokes about what exactly would happen if a bunch of meteorologists were hit by lightning at at weather meeting.

Eventually, the rains came. It’s been dry across a lot of the southeast recently, so this was welcomed by the locals for sure. By the time the rain hit, everyone was inside, watching the storm from behind the safety of closed doors. The storm was given a Severe Thunderstorm Warning by the Huntsville NWS office, so we all watched it intently. Apparently there was some small hail involved. Suddenly, a few of us in the crowd (that eventually included Aubrey and Laura and several others) noticed the staff at the registration booth moving things in a hurry. It turns out, the closet was leaking water! By the time I got there, everything was moved just before the water came gushing forth. I was a bit slow on the reaction, but thankfully Nate and Bill Murray (not the movie guy) and others got in to help. The staff at the convention center came in to help, and everything was okay. But for the third day in a row, there’s nothing like a little drama at the weather meeting.

Most of the evenings after sessions were involved in going to get food, and then hanging out at local establishments afterwards. We’d all meet in the lobby for an hour orso, then disperse to wherever. Sunday night, I got an invite from Tom Wachs to go to an event at the Space Museum. Having been there 28 years ago as they were building I-565 in front of the place, I knew I had to go. It was magnificent! We had dinner in the museum, talked about all sorts of different things, then saw a movie on the moon landing in the IMAX theater. That was incredible! To see the video from 1969 in that kind of a setting with all of the audio recordings from the entire mission was something I’ll never forget. I’ll have to try to see that on the small screen somehow…wonder if they sell it on DVD?

Monday night’s event was the broadcasters’ dinner at a place called Pints and Pixels in downtown Huntsville. It’s in the third floor of a building there, where there’s a bar on one side and video game machine and pinball tables on the other, with more games in the back. It was fantastic! Their slogan: “Where everybody knows your game.” That, of course, I thought was hilarious. While I can’t wear it much of anywhere, I’m going to have to get a t-shirt. We had dinner there, and I sat with a couple younger TV meteorologists who were just getting started. One of whom was Carson Meredith, who works at WAAY in Huntsville on weekends. I listened to them talk about things typical for people just starting out on TV, and after Carson left, I was able to tell the story of what I do on-air for weather warnings and things. That was quite well received, and considered innovative, even, to cover severe weather on radio the same way they do it on television. I’d never really thought about it that way, but for someone as young as that to think still being exclusively in radio can possibly be innovative, that was a real shot of confidence for sure.

Tuesday night was an “everyone on your own” thing, and somehow I ended up with Laura Mock, Aubrey Urbanowicz, and Mark Reynolds with one of the NWS Birmingham staff. We talked a lot about the particular issues of the day, and just generally had a good old time in another one of those downtown Huntsville joints. There was some good music, too, although it did make it hard to hear the conversation at times. Either I’m getting old or need to get my ears cleaned out! We all went to another place for a couple hours after supper called Below the Radar, before it closed. Meanwhile, everyone else came rolling in. Ken and Ricky and James and Tom and Morgan Palmer and whole crew came in and we had a good old time until we shut the place down at 10.

From there, some went on to other things, while others of us went to the hotel. It was me, Mark Reynolds, Chikage Windler, Iris Hermosillo, and Henry Rothenberg walking a couple miles back to our hotels. Iris works in Arizona these days, and is from there! Chikage has been to a few different places, I think Indianapolis when I’d first heard of her. She’s now in Austin, Texas. Mark and Henry you know. We walked back, and noticed some distant lightning, but hadn’t looked at our phones until we got back to the fountain around the corner from the hotel. Mark and Iris went to feed the ducks when we started to feel rain. Henry noticed by looking at radar that we were in trouble, so he communicated that to Mark and Iris and we started walking quickly as the rain got more intense. Then the lighting got more intense! We all started running to get to some sort of shelter, and eventually found a tunnel to keep us from getting any more soaked. So one selfie and a few minutes later, we embarked on the rest of the way back. The lightning wasn’t as bad, but it was still too close for comfort. Thankfully, everyone got back safe, but for a while we were definitely concerned!

In fact, on our way out of town there was another nasty storm near Huntsville that a lot of folks could see from the meeting. It even produced a microburst, and caused damage in parts of Huntsville, too. That was the storm that James and Laura took great care to stay away from as they took off at the airport and headed back home that afternoon. And in the airport, they showed us a neat little weather book for pilots. It looked interesting enough that I bought it!

And that’s the end of my NWA Meeting story in Huntsville, Alabama. I’m thankful I didn’t have an agenda like I did the previous two meetings, and that I didn’t volunteer to work it like I did in Birmingham. I could just enjoy everything and learn stuff and hang out with people. I’m very thankful for the ability to connect with all of these fine people, and it’s taken me four meetings to start to develop friendships that will hopefully last for a long time

I hope you’ve enjoyed my look back at this meeting. It was an invigorating five days, even if I had to sit in a car for eleven hours to get there and back!

Here’s How To Hear Me

There are a lot of different ways to hear the sound of my voice either on a regular basis each day or when there is severe weather threatening. So, here’s a list of every possible way you can hear where I broadcast or tweet with about weather.

Starting with me, you can find me on Twitter @wxmc. If you have weather questions for me (along with weather reports or pictures), send them to mike at whcbradio dot org. Of course, use symbols and no spaces for at and dot. Any pictures or reports can be forwarded to the National Weather Service to help them out.

On-air severe weather coverage is limited to tornado warnings. I’ll be on the air in the studios in Blountville, starting at WHCB and then rotating to the other stations. My forecasts are on the air once an hour during normal days on the following radio stations, with tweets and other information for the stations to follow:

Everything begins (as mentioned above) in the WHCB studio. That’s 91.5 FM in the Tri-Cities area. You can hear us online through our website at WHCBRadio.org. Click the Listen Live link on the top of the page. We have Twitter and Facebook as well! Forecasts air on WHCB twice an hour most hours, Monday-Friday.

Next up, there’s The Possum. It’s a country music station, found at 96.3 FM, 100.7 FM, and 870 AM. The AM signal is good across all the Tri-Cities, and well beyond, daytime hours only. 96.3 is better east of I-81, generally, and 100.7 is best west of that, both on the air 24/7. Streaming is available at 963ThePossum.com. Twitter and Facebook will provide updates as I can get to them, as for all the social media platforms. On-air forecasts are provided once an hour, Monday-Friday and most of Saturday.

Each post on this blog will post to my Twitter, the WHCB Facebook and Twitter accounts, and The Possum’s Twitter. We’re working on getting more Facebook pages linked to the blog’s automatic posts, and for Love FM as well.

If you wonder what to do when severe weather strikes, go up above and click Severe Weather Safety Rules. You’ll find everything you need to know there. Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook or email if you have questions!

Storms from Seven Years Ago

I know I haven’t been around a lot with forecasts recently, and I’m working to get back to my former daily forecast blogging self. I have a lot of things to work through to get there, but regardless, if we have severe weather on the way, you can hear me in the Tri-Cities on 96.3 FM, 91.5 FM, and 97.3 FM with any tornado warnings that might happen.

The point of this post is exactly that, covering tornado warnings. I try to blog my story about the 2011 tornado outbreak that started on April 27. What follows is what I wrote in 2013 about that, and includes the link to my story that was written late in 2011. Feel free to check out the “As Big As the Sky” series, which comes out of those events as well.

April 27, 2011. The worst tornado outbreak in this country in my lifetime. Maybe ever. So much damage and loss of life from Mississippi and Alabama across a lot of Tennessee and a lot of the Eastern third of the country.

As I did last year, I’m posting a link to my story from that day and night two years ago. You can read it here.

During my college years, I always had awful feelings when the latter part of June came around because I lost two friends of mine in car wrecks on the exact same day two straight years. Nowadays, I get those same feelings coming up to the 27th of April. There were so many problems and failures that night…I’m thankful to know that I’ve taken steps to fix a lot of those issues, just in case another outbreak like that happens again. I’ll be ready next time!

Whether you’re a fellow weather professional or someone who just clicked the link from Twitter or Facebook, I’d love to know your story from that day. Click “Leave a Comment” and let me know what you experienced.

April 27, 2017 #TriCitiesWx Forecast

Clouds and rain have moved through, but not all of us saw rain hit the ground today. We’ll see things get very warm tomorrow and into the weekend with summer-like conditions! Welcome to the Tri-Cities Weather Blog forecast for tonight through Monday!

This will be a short one, but you’ve got homework to do after the outlook. Here goes:

  • Tonight-Rain ending, partly cloudy late with patchy morning fog. Low 54.
  • Friday-Partly cloudy to mostly sunny and warm. High 86.
  • Friday night-Partly cloudy. Low 59.
  • Saturday-Mostly sunny with a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. High 90.
  • Sunday-Increasing clouds, a few showers and storms possible late. High 85.
  • Monday-Cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms. High 75.

Basically, after tonight we’re done with organized rainfall until Sunday night and Monday. There will be a few pop-up storms like summer during the heat of the day Saturday. A cold front brings our rain chances late Sunday and much of Monday.

Homework: This is the 6th anniversary of the terrible tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011. It’s a day and night I’ll never forget. Read about that here.

Then, especially when there’s nice weather, read the Severe Weather Safety Rules page. Use that page to get yourself, family and co-workers ready for when tornadoes strike again, or for any type of severe weather. Take a look at the page for alerts to learn how you can get warning information. Make a plan to keep yourself and others safe.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is my pink wristband story. There’s a book review in there, and my story of things that happened after I read the book. Something else I’ll never forget about that day.

Keep in mind when reading these stories that they’re multi-part stories. There should be a link at the bottom to go to the next one. If not, as far as the “As Big As the Sky” series, go to Weather Info and you’ll find it in a tab there.

I hope that gives you a glimpse of why I always wear 4/27/11 things practically daily. It reminds me of why I do the forecast every day, during calm weather or storms. My goal is to help people, and it’s something I remember every day when I sit down at this desk to make a forecast.

Even if it’s just whether it’s going to rain or not, a forecast helps people plan their day, and that’s what I want to do. Help people. My friend Shelby Hays from KOCO TV in Oklahoma says it well in her blog. I feel the same way.

So there’s your reading assignment! There’s no test or anything, but you’ll do something important in the process of reading these things. You’ll know what to do wherever you are in the event of severe weather of any kind. Hopefully along the way you’ll learn a little about me, too, and do your own bit to help others. We all definitely need to do more of that!