Special Report: NWA Meeting in Birmingham 7

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.

Special Report: NWA Meeting in Birmingham 6

This is the People edition of my weather blog. Special mentions of folks I met or saw through the five days. Either they were involved in multiple days or I flat can’t remember which day. And there’s a few of these will be mentioned here and in the other five as well.

First of all, it was great to meet James Spann again. I helped make sure his expensive computers and audio stuff didn’t walk away while he went to ABC 33/40 to do TV. Even if I wasn’t a volunteer that day I would’ve been happy to do it. James is a man I admire a lot. He has so much going on in Birmingham and loves what he does, from the TV stuff to WeatherBrains to working in his church and with hospitals and stuff I probably don’t know and will never know.

Before my own coverage on April 27th, I was watching James as he and Jason Simpson tried with everything they had to get people to safety during the tornadoes all across Alabama that day. James is intensely focused on what went wrong that day, as am I. All that said, the coverage he provided on that day saved far more lives than were lost. He will be comforted one day by this fact, that’s for sure. I didn’t get to say a final goodbye to him, but that will happen via electronic means once all these reports are finished.

Brian Peters works with James, and he was head of the A/V staff during the entire week. That man is absolutely amazing with all the technology, including the new stuff. Even when there are problems, Brian can solve them and most of the time that happened before the speaker was finished with their presentation. That is quite impressive. Well done, Brian!

Through the WeatherBrains program, I’ve heard a lot from Bill Murray. I say “not THAT one” every time because that can be a problem when you have a name like that. Bill is quite possibly the one and only reason the NWA meeting ended up in Birmingham, and it ended up being timed perfectly considering the meteorological events of the year. Once that happened he kept everything organized and got the volunteers scheduled and generally did a masterful job getting the whole meeting planned. Very well done, Bill!

Officially, J.B. Elliott was one of the volunteers, and he played a big role in the proceedings as well. I only saw him twice, on the same day, and we chatted for a bit. He remembered me from last September’s Severe Storms Symposium at Mississippi State, which is awesome. He likes to people watch, so it’s not at all surprising that J.B. remembers people he’s only met once and that one time happened 13 months ago. I’m looking forward to hopefully meeting him again when MSU has that same meeting again in March.

As for the volunteers, I got to work with Mike Wilhelm, who led the charge all week long with the huddles and game plans each day. On days we were short, like the last one, he took over for someone who had to be away for a while. That’s what a true leader does, and something I wish a lot of people possessed.

The rest of the volunteers were fantastic, from John Brown putting up with my ignorance on Monday to Jason Elser helping try to figure out why in the world the Weather Brains stream kept stopping after 2 minutes and 22 seconds. Eventually we figured out that the final session was causing it, and once they were gone it all worked just fine. Other volunteers I ran across were Jessica Talley, David Black, John Talbot, Damon Ferguson, and Nancy Galloway…each of them and many others doing a fantastic job getting everything ready and making it work. I think we did a darn good job! 🙂

In the process, there were lots of people I saw but never officially met. Dr. Pat Market is the President of the NWA and he was present everywhere throughout the meetings. I think Dr. John Scala did a masterful job with the Town Hall, pointing out key ideas that came through the answers to the questions that night and facilitating conversation. Later on in the sessions, I thought I saw Mike Witcher from WBIR in Knoxville, but I only did see him once. That’s very sad, because I did want to chat with him.

I did get to work a little with Jim Stefkovich, who is the Meteorologist In Charge at the NWS office in Birmingham. It was more of a “the boss asking you to do something” kind of thing, but not with the same edge. There’s also the difference that he pitched in to help, which is something bosses don’t often do. I wanted to chat with him before leaving Alabama as well, but that didn’t happen. Thankfully I got some of the information I needed from other sources.

Wes Wyatt is one of those people I got to meet and didn’t realize exactly who he is until after most of the event was over. He works at WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Fox 6. He was wearing a yellow volunteer shirt, so I figured he was just one of the folks helping out. Nope. That’s even considering he presented with his chief meteorologist, J.P. Dice, on Sunday. I just didn’t put two plus two together…might as well have been Calculus. Anyway, it was good to meet Wes. I’ll keep watching for him on twitter now that I know who he is!

I just missed Jim Cantore, but had kind of half a conversation with him and Brad Panovich and Betsy Kling early on Thursday. He’s one of those people who you just can’t get to when you need to. Mark Reynolds from up here in Johnson City ended up being the same way, mainly because he didn’t stay for the whole thing.

I never did get to meet Ashley Brand, as much as I tried to coordinate that through Twitter and the like. She is the first person in the “she looks like someone I know” department that became a big deal ever since I decided to go to Birmingham for this meeting. Before April 27th, my favorite moment watching her was when she was telling people to take cover while watching a funnel cloud right in front of a Dollar General somewhere in Alabama. She deserves a big pat on the back from that day for sure. Between volunteering during the event and finding folks from my standpoint, and with Ashley trying to go to the meeting while still working and taking care of her baby, the deck was stacked the wrong way from the beginning. It’s okay…you can’t get everything right in a big event like this!

As far as I know, nobody from the TV show Storm Chasers was there, except Sean Casey and the TIV during WeatherFest while I was sitting in Bristol waiting to drive down on Saturday. It could well be that I just didn’t see them, but I was hoping to see Tim Samaras and his team there sometime during the week.

As soccer announcers would say, I did get one right “at the death.” Laura Velasquez has been a Twitter friend of mine for what seems like years. We’ve been tweeting the ups and downs of Cubs fan life ever since we first followed each other, and that’s a lot of fun when you’re in a world of Reds baseball like me. She, like Jim Cantore, seemed to have a lot of people around her every time she wasn’t in a session. She volunteered this year, and once I figured that out I thought it would be easy to say hi to her early on. Not so fast, my friend. I found Laura chatting with a few other folks during the final break of the meeting, right before all of that group left for home! It’s a good thing I didn’t wait much longer to say hello to her!

Everyone else I met wound up in the first five pages somewhere or the other. I honestly didn’t meet as many people as I should, because I can be a bit shy sometimes. My other problem was that my business cards have an address on them that doesn’t allow me to send messages out. The one I did give out to Bonnie Reed had to be edited to put a useful e-mail address on it.

One last post about NWA is coming, this one tying up some loose ends and talking about some outside influences that did a lot to my general mood for most of the week. Let’s just say it dawned on me quickly the irony that I was in Alabama on Sunday, October 16th.

Special Report: NWA Meeting in Birmingham 5

It’s the fifth and final day of the NWA meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. I’ll do maybe another post or two about it after this one and return to normal programming. I’m trying to get all I can remember of it documented before I start forgetting things. Thankfully I have the 153-page agenda with me as a reminder of some things!

The final day of the meeting was a volunteer day for me. I was to help Jessica Talley run microphones to people during the questions after each presentation during the four sessions that day. That’s a very interesting job, to be sure. Basically, we stood at the back of the room and waited for the timer to go off or the speaker to finish talking. Then we’d walk up the room and hand the microphone to folks asking questions so everyone could hear them. I’d seen her and Laura Velasquez and others doing that throughout the week.

When you’re doing that job, seconds feel like hours. Someone would raise their hand and you just couldn’t get there quick enough. It drove me crazy for the first couple times until I decided that if I wasn’t doing it fast enough life goes on. Don’t get me wrong, I did my best at it, but I didn’t kill myself if it took a couple extra seconds once in a while. It turned out okay by the time it was over, I think.

Day Five of the NWA meeting doubled as the first day of the GOES Users Conference (GUC). They would be going on to Friday after all the NWA people went home. A lot of the day’s festivities belonged to satellite meteorology, mainly how the new GOES-R will help weather forecasting. It was quite interesting, and just as Bonnie mentioned on Wednesday, a lot of stuff was there that I was looking for. In the coming weeks I’ll definitely be doing more research on this stuff and get to know it better.

Anything that will help me with my forecasts is important. That’s why I decided not to go to Talladega. I wanted to make darn sure if anything came out of those meetings or the student weather briefings that I could use in the daily forecasts I post here, that I would be in the room to see it and note it either in the agenda, my iPod Touch, or my Blackberry. Honestly, that is why I ended up not minding so much that I missed the general sessions on Monday when I was helping with the teachers session. That helped me quite a lot, so it worked out just fine.

The final session of the morning was an interesting one involving putting together satellite, radar, numerical weather prediction and aviation weather data together in the same place. I’m always looking for ways to get all the weather info I can in the same place to save some time, so I can understand the interest in putting that together.

After that ended, the Wynfrey workers were feverishly working to get the two rooms we were in divided in half. The GUC meetings were in one room, NWA in the middle, and a completely different conference in the front section. I’m still amazed at how quickly they put everything together.

While I watched, I ended up chatting with Mike Wilhelm and one of my Mississippi State professors, Renny Vandewege (@RennyV). Renny was talking about going to get something for lunch, which was an awesome option since I was starving. He was looking for Matt Ernst, who already planned on getting lunch with him, and invited Mike and I along, which was nice. We ended up using Twitter to find Matt (cryptically, I tweeted, “We’re looking for you!:) and go get something to eat.

We went to Jim and Nick’s not far from the hotel. Very good barbecue for sure. The best thing about my order was that the sandwich wasn’t enormous and there wasn’t a thousand fries, either. The portion was just right and the food was good. I didn’t even mind the pickles on my sandwich either.

The conversation around the table went from storm chasing to April 27th to forecasting to football and back around again. I saw a bunch of clouds hanging around the Tri-Cities and commented on that fact. The latter part of the conversation changed to radio stuff, where I got to talk about a lot of things that go on at the station and some of the stuff we do and what we’ve done in the past. It was very good conversation, lots and lots of fun.

The first afternoon session involved improvement of the current forecasting tools. The National Weather Service is constantly trying to figure out how to make the forecast models better than they currently are, though special work by a lot of the different forecast offices. In fact, one of those presentations was by Steve Keighton from the NWS office in Blacksburg. He did make notice of the fact that Virginia Tech is starting a meteorology program. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If they’d started that 15 years sooner, I’d be a Hokie right now.

During the final break, I finally officially met Betsy Kling. She was beside the escalators trying to get people to donate so they could have either a Respect the Polygon t-shirt or Nick Walker’s CD. The shirts were too small, so I couldn’t get one, and I bought Nick’s CD from him on Monday afternoon. We chatted for a bit when none other than Jim Cantore stopped by. That ended up being a group conversation that was pretty fun, but I didn’t get to talk to Jim on my own. Honestly, I didn’t find myself being too bothered by that.

I took a trip downstairs, mainly to get away from all the noise, and found Laura Velasquez (@laruavelasquez) and Brian Neudorff and Jennifer Watson (who is currently @jwatson_wx but that might change) standing near the entrance to the mall at Riverchase chatting. Perfect timing, I walked over to Laura and introduced myself…or at least got close to it. We talked for a little while about various travel-related subjects. Come to find out, they were about to leave when I got down there! I was very happy to get to meet Laura, as we’re both Cubs fans and we tweet a lot of baseball stuff back and forth.

After that, it was all about getting to the end. Mike Wilhelm took over microphone 1 for the last session, and I took the second one. That final session was about an assortment of things from predicting summer storms in Florida to tsunamis and climate change.

By this point I was feeling pretty bad, honestly. The emotions of everything for those five days, plus things I’ll talk about later, absolutely wore me out. I thought more than once about getting another hotel room for the night and waiting until Friday morning to go home. Knowing I’d have to do that on my own, without Dan driving with me, I decided to go along with the original plan.

The meeting adjourned at a bit before 4:30, but I still had some unfinished business. The volunteers were to meet one final time, so I waited around a bit for that to happen. Brian Peters (@helenawx) was running the AV for the whole thing, and asked me if I had one of those laser pointers yet. Nope, so he tossed me one, a very nice souvenir from the meeting. That’s all the final huddle was about, so I went to find the War Room to say goodbye to the rest of the volunteers before leaving.

A lot of folks were in there, and I chatted a bit with Bill a while before I finally set out of there. It was fun to meet all those people who were instrumental in helping at this year’s NWA meeting, some of whom were very important toward the TV broadcasts on April 27th.

The last thing I needed to do was get mom something. She wanted a snow globe, but I couldn’t find one with a Birmingham or Alabama theme. I asked Bill about that, and he told me to go to Things Remembered and get something there. From there, I did some other business and met Dan by the escalators. He needed to get a snack and a drink, so that worked perfectly.

Things Remembered is a very fancy place with a lot of really nice stuff you can get engraved. The snow globes were right at the front, but there wasn’t anything Birmingham or Alabama themed. I decided on a mother-themed one, which I figured would work fine. It was very nice and very expensive, but thankfully I had enough to get it, so no harm no foul there.

By the time I was finished, so was Dan. We went and got me a drink and headed out. My goal was to get through Gadsden and past the three-quarters of a lane heading north on Interstate 59 before dark. That plan went perfectly, thank goodness. We stopped in Georgia to get some gas and food, and that was basically it. The two of us, the Red Corolla Brigade, hauled it from there and got me back to Bristol by midnight, and Dan to Blacksburg by 2am.

That ends day number 5, the last one of the NWA meeting in Birmingham. I’ll have more about the people I met there coming up next, then a final one picking up some pieces and writing up a big conclusion on the matter. Needless to say, there were lots of emotions involved and lots of fun things, too. To say I enjoyed my time in Birmingham would be an understatement!

Special Report: NWA Meeting in Birmingham 4

Before I begin, a reminder that I’ll be jumping back into regular weather duties on Sunday evening, October 23. I’m working hard during my final weekend of vacation to document all I can of the NWA Annual Meeting in Birmingham so I don’t have to put it in later in the week. In case that happens, you can always click “Daily Forecast” on the top bar and you’ll see the last forecast I posted.

Day Four was Wednesday, and included the National Weather Association’s Awards Luncheon. The morning sessions were held in Riverchase Ballroom, where all the exhibits were the previous three days. It was a bit smaller than the Wynfrey room the other sessions were in when it was in two pieces.

The morning sessions were all about radar, severe weather, and tropical weather. The highlight of the session by far was the talk by Charles Woodrum from the National Weather Service about a lightning safety toolkit for outdoor venues. This was a big deal a few weeks ago when many, many sites had problems with lightning, including West Virginia and Tennessee.

Come to find out, from the Tennessee vs. Oregon game last year was used as an example toward continuing further study. Right now, the rule is that everyone must evacuate if there is lightning 6 miles from the stadium or closer. The study found that for Neyland Stadium, a 6 mile radius is not enough. It seems that delays should be started if lightning is 8 or maybe 10 miles from a stadium.

That’s definitely going to get further study, and Tennessee is helping with that! So are Texas, Florida State, and West Virginia. The NCAA is apparently interested, but we’ll see if they actually do something that makes sense. In the Oregon case, UT sent fans to Thompson-Boling Arena for safety until the storms passed if they couldn’t stay close to Neyland. It was a very good idea. If you happen to run a stadium or any outdoor venue, check out http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/ for more information on how to keep people safe if you have an event where lightning could be a problem.

After the final session of the morning, it was time to go to the luncheon. I completely forgot that we had to have tickets for that. Dan Goff was there, and told me to look in the bag I got at registration on Sunday. No dice. Another guy nearby didn’t have one either, and I was quite unhappy that I’d apparently lost mine. Big thanks to Dan, he gave me his, and the two of them went elsewhere to eat. Not bad! I knew I had a ticket somewhere, but for some odd reason I just couldn’t find it. I’ve cleaned out my bag since then, and still can’t find it…maybe I dropped it somewhere.

After they left, I walked over to the Wynfrey room, the last two sections of it, where the luncheon was going on. I finally found a seat and looked over two places and could’ve sworn I saw someone I knew there. I thought the woman looked a lot like one of my former co-workers from a few years ago. I introduced myself, and found her name is Bonnie Reed. She works with the GOES-R program…new technology that’s going to make forecasting easier. It was very nice to meet her. We would talk a bit more later in the day.

The food at the luncheon was interesting. That day (October 19) marks the first time I’ve ever eaten lettuce with a fork. At least they had ranch dressing to put on it, and decent croutons. Second course was stuffed chicken, and it was quite good. I don’t know what the green stuff was inside, but it tasted a lot like ravioli stuffing. Very good. Dessert was cheesecake with a couple raspberries and blueberries with whipped cream. As cheesecakes go, it was okay. I enjoyed the blueberry, of course!

Betsy Kling started things off with the big raffle…lots of awesome prizes. I didn’t buy tickets, so therefore I didn’t get anything. There were table prizes, too, but the number 34 didn’t come up. We were close a couple times. Betsy was also on stage for the icebreaker pep rally thing on Monday night helping get people to cheer for whatever side of the country they went to school, east or west.

Bill Murray got a big award during the luncheon for his help in getting the meeting to Birmingham and doing a fantastic job running everything. There were lots of other awards, including two lifetime achievement awards, which is definitely cool. I honestly don’t remember all of the award winners, save one member of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department and something about what he did during the Memphis floods a couple years ago. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important stuff here…just lost to my memory right now.

The following short session was a re-hash of the big weather events of the year…since a lot of people just showed up. Right after that was another discussion on April 27th, with lots of the TV meteorologists in Birmingham and some local emergency managers talking about lots of things, many of which happened during the Town Hall the night before that. It was very interesting discussion.

At some point we’ve got to figure out what gets people to react to storms and make them go to safety. It seems at least so far that it takes at least two reliable sources to make that happen, whether it be TV, radio, weather radio, local sirens, live video of storms on TV, or calls from family.  Sounds like any two of those things will get people to take shelter, but not just one. That can make a big difference when it comes to tornadoes.

Next was a big long break for poster sessions and stuff. There were five different poster sessions during the meeting. Part of that was the huge amount of abstracts that were offered…a lot were turned down and ended up being posters. The other is that later on the GOES Users Conference was to add in to the last part of the NWA meeting. Those satellite posters would add to the enormous list. I know on the day I helped Tara and Jessica we stopped numbering boards at 42. If that was the case for each poster session, that makes 210. I’m sure there are more accurate numbers, but if you add that with however many talks there were, that’s absolutely astounding.

Anyway, this was an interesting break for two reasons. On Tuesday, I chatted with Tara Golden, one of the forecasters at the Birmingham NWS office. I found her during a break and we stood and chatted for a bit about a lot of things, mainly what each of us does for a living. I talked a lot about my particular situation and got a non-specific confirmation that I’m a long way from working in the NWS as far as I can tell. I have lots more classes I have to take.  That night, I decided while I was using Facebook on my iPod touch to go ahead and add Tara to my friends list. As soon as I did it, I thought that might’ve been a bad idea, since we’d only just met each other. She confirmed it, so that was cool. During this Wednesday afternoon break, I found her and pretty much told her the same, and she said she was okay with it. We talked for a little bit, but not as much as Tuesday. It turns out this was her last day, as she had to work at the office on Thursday. She wished me luck with all of what I’m doing and we were on our way to other people.

The second reason is that I found Bonnie Reed sitting in the room a few minutes before the late afternoon session. She was typing away happily on her laptop. I told her that it was nice to meet her and we started chatting about what we do, which is a typical conversation in meetings like thate. She mentioned something about training for broadcasters with the new GOES-R system, which definitely sounded interesting. She told me that the sessions the next day would tell me more about it, but she would also take my card if I had one (and I did…she was the only one who got one!) and let me know if she knew of something that would help me. Good deal. I went to get one and eventually wandered back up there to sit near her for the last session. She was right about more info coming up. In fact, Bonnie even contributed to one of the Thursday talks, which was definitely cool.

That afternoon session included a very interesting update from the National Weather Service on the use of social media. The last thing I heard, they wouldn’t use Twitter because it’s run from another country and the government can’t be bound by another government’s laws, or some such thing. Apparently that’s been worked around and they are rolling out Twitter accounts to the offices and other organizations like the National Hurricane Center and the like. That is cool, for sure, but they have strict rules about that sort of thing. To be sure, that is understandable, but at the same time, they’ll have to relax a few things to make sure their Twitter accounts are actually useful. We’ll see how that goes.

Another strict rule is the use of aviation volunteers when it comes to damage surveys. I love the fact that folks are willing to help. In fact, Mark Reynolds did a good bit of surveying damage from the air a couple times during storms around here. Apparently the NWS can only use the volunteers if they were already planning on flying and going in the general direction where they want to go. Again, a bit harsh, considering tornado tracks typically aren’t that big, but with this it makes sense because it is expensive to fly planes, especially when doing it for an organization that can’t pay you anything.

The next-to-last session of the afternoon was also interesting in terms of weather decision support for aviation. Jeff Tongue gave that presentation, which is an update on the NWS’s Golden Triangle Initiative. Said Golden Triangle is Atlanta, Chicago, New York…for now. It may include San Francisco later, which would make it a Platinum Parallelogram or something funny like that. I can’t recall all the details, but the main goal is to keep air travel safe while trying to cut down on delays at the big airports.

Somewhere in the day, a lot of the TV folk were going out to Talladega to get a tour of the Speedway there. I’ve always loved that track and wanted to go, but it was way too late by the time I found out. Besides, I really wanted to take in as much weather stuff as possible while I was in Birmingham. During the “Other Stuff” blog I’ll outline one other big reason for that…not enough time for that now.

After a quick trip to try to find some warm clothes (FAIL…stores in malls don’t cater to 3xl people) and get food, I drove back to the hotel. That night I watched a little TV and eventually faded off to sleep.

With one day to go, there were some very important people I hadn’t met yet. Laura Velasquez and Jim Cantore were two of the big ones on that list. I’d seen each of them numerous times, but they’re quite popular and therefore constantly had people talking to them. I have no problems with that, I just needed to get to them before everyone else next time!

I didn’t know Mike Smith (@usweatherexpert) was there until early afternoon. He wrote a book called Warnings about how the warning system has developed in this country. It’s a book I really want to get and read, but my main goal was actually meeting him.

I tweeted Ashley Brand right after I saw her on TV that morning, wondering if she was going to be in either of the last two days. She told me that she was working TV cut-ins and she has a baby to take care of, too, so she could only get in and out a few times each day and not stay long. I told her I’d make a concerted effort to catch her during one of the sessions the last two days.

Therefore, Thursday’s goal was to fix those problems and try to meet a few more people, all while still volunteering, too, and eventually driving home. The last day was a big one for sure.

Special Report: NWA Meeting in Birmingham 3

Day Three of the NWA Annual Meeting in Birmingham was Tuesday. Starting things on Sunday really messed with my brain, so at times everything got mixed up. That’s why I mentioned earlier that there will be an extra blog about other things because all the days ran together!

I wasn’t to volunteer on this day until the big Town Hall meeting later that evening. I still wore my yellow shirt and arrived early, just to double-check that I had the correct plan. That was the case, but since my hotel was a 30 minute round trip, I had no chance to change and therefore wore my yellow shirt anyway. It worked out quite well.

The keynote address was from Bill Proenza, the Southern Region Director of the National Weather Service. The big thing I heard from him is that the leaders of both political parties, President Obama and whoever leads the Republicans these days are focused on having a fully funded National Weather Service, despite all the financial troubles. It’s good that some are, but at least two that I know of will either cut it regardless, or think that the NWS gets too much money for what they do. Too much money to save lives? That, sir, is why I hope you get beat next election cycle. Both of you, for that matter, and there is one I can vote against if need be.

Anyway. During one of the breaks I got to go through some of the exhibits and pick up some stuff. I got a couple things from just about every booth, except a couple because I wanted to talk to someone at those, and there were so many people there when someone manned the booth that I didn’t get to them. I did get a lot of stuff from the NOAA table, including a 2012 calendar already.

The morning was devoted to forecasting ideas and decision support type stuff, kind of a mix between the past and future. Early after lunch was a lot of interesting winter weather projects. Michael Eckert from the HPC (Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, yes spell check that IS a word!) talked about a storm in the Shenandoah National Park on Thanksgiving of 2006. That storm was so not predicted that a phone call to the weather office sounded something like this:

Caller: So when is the ice storm going to end in the park?

Weather people: What ice storm?

I’ve been there and done that before. Turns out that storm took down a lot of trees across parts of the park area, taking out lots of trees and power lines as well. One picture in that slide show was of a stick that was covered all the way around 1 inch deep in ice. It looked like a popsicle. Very amazing stuff.

The final session of the afternoon was a lot more information about how and why people did what they did in reacting to the storms this year. Dr. Laura Myers from Mississippi State did a good job reminding all of us that the last thing we weather people needed to do is react loudly to any of the results in the town hall later on. That was a very good point, for sure.

Immediately after the session ended, work began in making the 2 rooms plus 1 a three room area with lots of chairs for the Town Hall Meeting. A lot of the folks from Alabama who were in the storms in one way or the other would be there to answer questions. The questions would go up on the big screens and the people would answer with little clickers that had numbers 1-9 on them. The computer system would tally up the votes and show them to everyone once all the people voted. Then we would talk about what happened, if the results were interesting.

My work for the night basically consisted of pointing people to their sections. People answering questions went on the sides, all others to the middle and in the back. Eventually that got changed to where the people with clickers went to the middle and the rest of us went to the back and sides. Once that change happened, it really made my job useless except for pointing people to the middle. After the thing started, I was to watch for people who had questions written on cards, and if need be take them to the counseling room if anyone got upset. Remembering April 27th bothers me a lot, and I wasn’t in it…so I understand how someone might get upset trying to recall things from that day.

Dr. Myers was on stage, along with Dr. John Scala to facilitate the event. 10 of the folks who decided they wanted to do this were up on stage as well, and they were the ones who talked a lot about what they did on April 27th. I tweeted the daylights out of the event, because all of the information was interesting as it came about. The fact of the matter is that the people who were there by no means represent a full cross section of the folks in Alabama who went through this thing. Regardless of that, it was still interesting what they all said in answering the questions.

The meeting went quite well, but I discovered that I might have a problem. Wednesday was the day of the awards luncheon. I’d forgotten that it might be a ritzy event and could require dressing up. One or the other of the folks I knew talked about wearing a suit to the thing and that made me realize there might be an issue since I don’t own a suit. There were options if I absolutely had to worry about it. In fact, I thought about switching my last volunteer day to that one so I could wear my yellow shirt. That I knew wouldn’t be a problem.

I went to ask Mike Wilhelm (@bamawx), the volunteer coordinator about that particular situation. He said he didn’t think it would be a big deal if I wore a red polo shirt the next day. I was somewhat reassured by that, but needed a second opinion. I found Bill Murray (again…not THAT one) and asked him the same question. He told me that students would be there, and most of them don’t own suits either, so I would be just fine. Besides, he was just a regular member of the NWA only a few years ago, and now he’s running this big meeting. Nicely said.

I will explain in the extras section why I even thought for a second about going home early…that would’ve been the plan if not for what Mike and Bill had to say. I would’ve changed to a volunteer on Wednesday, stayed Thursday, then gone home during the day Thursday. Alas, that wasn’t necessary, so the fifth day of the meeting is coming up…but the fourth one is up next!