This is the seventh and final installment of my story of the NWA Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, October 15th through 21st, 2011. I’ll get back to my regular forecasting duties tomorrow, but if you missed a segment they’re all listed at the “NWA 2011” link at the top of the page…from this one all the way back to the first one.
When you have Wi-Fi and a smartphone and an iPod Touch, outside influences can now gain a foothold during meetings like this one. That can be either good or bad, and that was evident in full force this week.
I realized during one of the Sunday sessions that I forgot to change my fantasy team for the week of NFL games. I’m in a group with some folks at work, and I normally change players around because they don’t, which gives me a big advantage. Thankfully, I was in a bye week, so it didn’t really matter. I still don’t know how many points I would’ve scored that week…which is probably good!
The bad outside influence of Sunday was real bad. I knew vaguely of the IndyCar race going on at Las Vegas, but I wasn’t sure of the timing of any of it since I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere to watch it. That’s where Twitter comes in. During one of the afternoon speakers, someone tweeted about Dan Wheldon being in a really bad wreck. From what I heard, I knew it was bad. In fact, Brian Neudorff got hold of video of it, and he tweeted from inside the same room that it looked really bad. My heart sunk, and I said a quick prayer in the midst of one talk or the other, hoping that the worst didn’t happen. Not long later, I kept getting “RIP Dan Wheldon” tweets and that pretty much destroyed my focus for the afternoon. I think I did a good job of not showing it and looking like I was paying attention, but my mind was gone. During the tweetup at Ruby Tuesday later on, I kept craning toward the TV to see the crash that ESPN was showing endlessly. Yeah, it was bad.
Later that night when I was in my hotel room, it occurred to me the irony of the day. I was sitting in Alabama, my all-time favorite driver was from Alabama, and a race car driver died that day. Even though Davey Allison’s situation was a helicopter crash and not a car, the thought still resonated with me. When I travel for days at a time like that, I don’t generally get homesick. That was the feeling even during the tweetup when I told Mary Wasson the homesick feeling I was having, but I never explained that to her. While I’m not a rabid racing fan like I once was, I do watch a lot, and these tragic events bring back bad, bad memories of 1993 for me.
I’d like to think that didn’t bother me during the rest of the week, but I know it took a little of the edge off the proceedings for the Monday through Thursday sessions. It helped a lot that I was involved in the Town Hall on Tuesday. I think that was one of the more important things I’ve worked in my life, being involved in trying to figure out what people think about the severe weather warning process and what we as weather people can do to get people to safety in days like April 27th. So on Wednesday and Thursday, those things more or less evened out.
On Monday, and each day thereafter, the tradition continued of having students from local meteorology colleges and universities give weather briefings in the morning. It was fun watching James Spann set up his camera and try to hook into the audio board on my first volunteer day so he could get those briefings on the Weather Xtreme video. I took those presentations (the three I got to see) as an opportunity to try to figure out where those students were getting their weather data…and hopefully to change a little about how I forecast in the process. I used my iPod Touch and Blackberry a lot during those 15-minute briefings to hopefully update my arsenal of weather info to use when I’m making my forecasts each day.
Wednesday was a very interesting day, a day after storms moved through Birmingham. Those were not severe, but the midweek storms were in Florida. According to the NWS office in Miami (many of those folks were in Birmingham!), a tornado touched down in Broward County, Florida that day. There were three Florida tornadoes in all, the most intense being that one in Broward County with estimated 120 mph winds.
I saw the Storm Prediction Center’s Mesoscale Discussion (they send those out when they’re thinking about whether or not to issue a watch for a certain area due to storms) earlier in the morning, and they felt a Tornado Watch might be necessary for South Florida. They were right, as big storms moved through there, and the watch verified. I kept a watch on those storms while in sessions late in the afternoon, very interested in how things would work out. Apparently the other meteorologists were interested as well, because there were lots of tweets about it.
The storms on Tuesday remind me of someone else I met during the meeting. Somehow I ended up like Denny Hamlin at Talladega and didn’t have a lunch partner on Tuesday, so I wandered to Riverchase to get some Chick-fil-A and go back up to the main meeting room. When I got up the escalator, I saw Ted Schmidt from KTTC (@KTTCWeather) in Rochester, Minnesota. I now remember him well because my best friend from high school lived in Rochester for a few years, but until then I’d never met him. We stood at the top of the escalator and could look out the window and see the storms moving toward our location. In the process we chatted a lot about said storms, and quite a bit about football, and the general state of the NCAA these days, along with the whole “what do you do” thing to get to know each other. It was a fun conversation to be sure. Little did I know that the next day he would get the Broadcaster of the Year award at the luncheon, too! That was a fantastic chance meeting. As far as I know, Ted doesn’t have his own Twitter, but I have the weather department in one of my lists for sure! Congrats, Ted!
Finally, as I sit here typing away on this early Monday morning (a usual staple for me, it’s nearly 2am!), I look back at an absolutely fantastic seven days. The whole thing ran the gamut of emotions, from shock and sadness to intense determination to happiness and practically everything in between. I’m thankful I was able to experience the whole meeting and to be able to remember all this to put into such lengthy stories! If you read through all this, thank you. I hope it gives a good idea of how I went through the most amazing week in weather that Alabama has ever seen. The only thing I can compare it to is the Olympics, and even then I’ve called it the Weather Geek Olympics. I think that applies…and I’m honored I was able to be a small part of such an awesome event.