My summer vacation final thoughts

In the beginning I said something about having three blog posts about my trip last week. But, just like I did last year for the NWA meeting, there are a few loose ends that need to be tied up here. This still won’t cover everything, but it will give a more complete picture of that week.

In Birmingham, I did get to see James Spann’s legendary rolling cart where he puts his laptop during severe weather coverage. I had all the intentions of taking a picture of it for posterity, but that never happened. It does occur to me that I need to steal that idea for coverage at the radio stations, except for the fact that we don’t have wireless internet yet.

Despite that, life would be lots easier with a laptop. If need be, I can take it between studios and connect it to the non-automation computers and have the same screen, data, and everything running at the same time. That laptop might be what I get with my tax refund this coming year, provided any of us get one or if we do get it we’ll have to pay to drive cars or live on land we already own.

I digress…

It turns out my memories of a lot of construction in Huntsville was correct after all. They started construction on Interstate 565 in 1987, and it opened to traffic in October of 1991, which would’ve been six months or so after I was there. It’s amazing that I remembered such a random thing about that trip from all those years ago.

Another technological masterpiece is that everyone had iPhones or iPads. Added all together there were at least a dozen of them, counting mine…and that’s just what I could see! So at least I’m with the in crowd there. Oh…and I have a newer iPhone than James Spann. He has the 4, I have the 4S. That is also amazing.

I was informed upon my return that a couple people were unhappy that I didn’t stop by to see them in Huntsville. They were playing around, but it would’ve been fun to meet more people on the trip this time. At the end of the day, I was quite happy I got to see the three people I did, although there are a lot who I missed over the course of the trip, most of them in Birmingham, actually. Maybe next time, I suppose.

As far as Twitter handles go, Brad Panovich is @wxbrad, James Spann is @spann, and Jason Simpson is @simpsonwhnt. If you’re interested in weather in general, those three guys are great to follow for weather info. Most of the time they’ll be talking about their markets, but occasionally something will come up outside that they’ll tweet a little as well.

Finally, I mentioned a potential sequel. That’s likely in the works for 2013 at this point, but that depends on a lot of different things. I do still have the notebook where the original idea came out, and I could go anywhere from to Raleigh to Cincinnati to Grand Rapids to even Arkansas. And if I was to have enough money to fly I might even give Texas a try. We’ll see how that goes.

Over the coming days and weeks I’ll take what I learned last week and refine my forecast process a bit, and honestly do some things in life to make myself better away from the forecast desk as well.

Thanks for reading about my summer vacation. I hope you enjoyed it!

My summer vacation Days 5, 6, and 7

Friday the 13th was the final weekday of my first week off in 2012. It started in Birmingham, and would end at midnight with me near Knoxville on Interstate 75.

It all started at about 9am in the hotel room, where I woke up pretty much on my own. That happens to me when I’m in strange places, I’ll want out of there quick, apparently. I also discovered that someone had started a new edition of the old game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” The new host is one of those multi-talented people that get to host game shows these days. He’s okay, I guess. I would rather have Monty Hall (and Bob Barker on The Price is Right) any day. Drew Carey does a pretty good job, though.

At 9:45, someone knocked on my door, opened it a little, and found it locked. I wandered over to find that it was someone wanting to tidy up the room. I figured that was a bit early, but I went ahead and got ready to go anyway. This trip didn’t involve four hundred different things, so getting out of the hotel didn’t take me that long.

Nor did getting in my car. Apparently I parked in the worst place in the world, because there were four kinds of bees on my car. There might’ve been ten of them altogether, but it was still a little odd. I got in the car quick and got out of there. Thankfully, the bees fell off my car as I drove.

Last year when I was in Birmingham, I did not realize how close the Wynfrey Hotel and Riverchase Galleria are from James Spann’s TV station. It’s all of six minutes away. I had to go back there, mainly for the interest of re-living some fun times from the National Weather Association meeting last October. The other reason besides food was to stop at the Bama Fever store.

The borders on the left and right of this blog show you one thing about me. I’ve lived in Tennessee for all my life, and if I get a cut my blood bleeds orange. That said, my beloved sister let her little boy pick his own team a couple years ago. Naturally, he picked one of the worst possible teams. So, on Friday the 13th this Tennessee meteorologist walked into a store named Bama Fever to get his nephew a sticker and t-shirt with elephants on them. Needless to say, I was in and out of there pretty quick!

The drive from Birmingham to Huntsville was pretty easy, and uneventful. My last trip to Huntsville was circa 1991, a trip to the space center. All I remember is that there seemed to be absolutely nothing there but it at the time. I don’t know if I-565 was there or not…I wasn’t nearly the road geek that I am now!

Continuing a fine tradition of timeliness, I arrived at the WHNT parking lot exactly 70 minutes early. I spent all but the last 8 of those minutes listening to more WeatherBrains shows, alternating sitting in the heat and starting the car for the air conditioning every 10 to 15 minutes. That wasn’t a bad deal at all, and once I changed from t-shirt to polo shirt, I was ready to go.

WHNT is the stomping grounds of one Jason Simpson. For years he was the morning meteorologist at James Spann’s station in Birmingham, and the second person on the air live for severe weather. That was a formidable team for sure, and when that Huntsville chief meteorologist position came up, it was perfect timing. They couldn’t have hired a better guy.

As I think I mentioned yesterday, I was watching when the tornado went through Tuscaloosa in April of 2011…both of them, for that matter. The first one (on the 15th, I think) was dark and hard to see. As if he was merely¬† pointing out the location of the key wall clicker, Jason saw it first: “There it is.” Power flashes allowed us all to see the rain wrapped tornado’s location. While that day wasn’t The Big One that came less than two weeks later, I noticed and appreciated how calm Jason was in pointing that out right before their skycam’s power died.

After those two awful days of tornadoes and a few brief Twitter exchanges, for some reason it felt like an old friend coming around the corner into the lobby. I’m sure TV people hear that a lot when viewers come in, but in this day and age of online streaming, someone hundreds of miles away can have the same type of feelings. It’s a fantastic world we live in.

The WHNT studio is probably twice as big as the one at ABC 33/40, and just a bit smaller than the one at WCNC in Charlotte. It’s very nice, with a really cool blue theme. The weather folks (can’t say “guys,” Jennifer Watson will probably kill me!) are pretty much stuck in the back corner office within a couple seconds’ walk of the studio. That’s definitely a nice place to be for sure, as they have all sorts of computers in there and a bar to hang jackets and all sorts of things that make you look good on television.

One of the guys was already there when Jason and I arrived. The next person who walked in the door was wearing a Montana t-shirt. I said, “Jason, you have got to be kidding me!” He made the connection right away, as Montana has knocked App State out of at least two playoff runs, and the two are playing in the second week of the upcoming football season.

I got to chat with Jason about mostly weather things, which was a lot of fun. We talked a bit about my trip to Birmingham, too. That was a fun moment, because Jason told me a lot about James Spann that showed up quite a bit when I was at 33/40. I always like it when my thoughts about something and someone else’s thoughts about that same thing (or in this case, person) pretty much match up dead on.

Eventually, one of Jason’s interns from Florida State showed up. I had to bring up the fact that Florida State just couldn’t tackle Peerless Price in that championship game and that’s what beat them. Jason said that it wasn’t that, but the fact that Tennessee’s punter David Leaverton made the mistake of punting to FSU’s world class kick returner, and ended up being the last line of defense and making the tackle at the 15 and preventing a touchdown in the process. Of course, we watched the video of that play.

It took a while, but I finally got my well-prepared flash drive into one of the laptops and transferred my favorites so we could chat about how I do what I do, and let Jason impart some knowledge on me. I soaked everything he said up like a sponge. I don’t know how old Jason is, but I’d say we’re not too far apart in age. That’s one reason why I wanted to go to Huntsville.

The afternoon was a lot of fun, as we’d go a page or two into my favorites and either Jason would have something better for me or I’d be using a page he’d never seen. We swapped e-mails a few times, trading links like we had stacks of baseball cards on the school bus. In the meantime, the four of us in the room would chatter about various things along the way.

One of those things is that Jason and I are products of the multi-national champion weather forecasters known as the Mississippi State Bulldogs. There is a big tournament style forecasting competition around the country, and our alma mater does quite well in that, and has won it a few times. In fact, the football coach is known for mentioning it: “If the meteorologists at MSU can bring us national titles, surely the football team can do it!” What a great line! Throughout the course of talking about forecasting, more than a few things that I use reminded Jason of a couple of the professors over there in Starkville.

Basically, the whole afternoon ended up being a lot like a bunch of college buddies trading stories and learning weather stuff from each other. It was very different from my other two stops during the week, but at the same time a lot of fun. The only difference is that you don’t normally see college guys putting on makeup. I didn’t see Brad or James do that, but right before his TV hits, Jason went over there and dabbed on some stuff. It’s one of those things that should probably be funny, but at the same time it’s part of the business. When you’re going to be on in HD, you’ve gotta look perfect.

Jason has his own laptop, and apparently the station has four in that room that nobody uses very much. That’s how I got to have my own, and he darn near let me leave the place with it! The fact that all three of the guys I visited have their own laptops that they connect to the station’s network is a pretty good sign that I should probably do that at some point myself. That would be especially good since during severe weather situations I have to bounce around between two different studios. Heaven knows, that might be three or four before it’s over with!

In the process of the forecasting talk, I actually whipped out my forecasting sheets. Each sheet I have has two days printed on it, and I hand write all of the information on it every day for each 3-day forecast. Jason asked me why I wrote down the current pressure on my worksheet, and I didn’t really have a good answer for it. After a couple days of thinking, I’ve realized it’s almost subconscious…I write it down so when I check the computer models for how much rain there’s going to be, I can also see what the surface pressure is predicted for that time in the future. All of that is on the same map.

I never have been really quick in situations like that, but I’m really glad he put me on the spot with that. It made me ask myself if it’s worth while to take the time to write that number down. I get about an hour to forecast and then do my recordings, so every moment counts. In the four forecasts I’ve done since I’ve been back, I have run through my mind asking myself the same questions Jason asked me. “Why do I do this? Is it important, or just a waste of time?”

That’s the reason I went on this trip. The goal was to gain information in terms of the forecasting processes of these three guys, and I got a lot of valuable information, some links, and even a few computer programs I might have to pick up that might help, laptop included. I’ve always known there are holes that need to be filled as far as what I look at in my own forecasting process. This trip really shed some light on what I can do better, and in cases like that, just making sure that what I do isn’t a complete waste of time.

I didn’t get to sit in the studio for Jason’s news, or even to meet any of the non-weather TV people who work there. That didn’t bother me all that much. That was one of those things like the in Charlotte and Birmingham that didn’t necessarily go as planned, but that’s okay. All things work together for good, and that’s exactly how it happened with this trip. Brad and James and Jason covered varying amounts of varying things with me, and the whole ball of wax perfectly fits into what I wanted out of this week of my vacation.

That said, we did watch the newscasts from one of the monitors in the office, and they have lots of good stuff. We all joked about a few things in the middle of the news, happening just a couple dozen feet from us. It felt a lot like a college atmosphere the whole time, but at the same time it was still all professional as well. They showed me the perfect balance between the two that day.

As was the case with Brad and James, there are a lot of things about the Huntsville visit with Jason Simpson that just can’t make the cut on this page. I’m sure Jason will remind me of something funny that happened that just has to be added in later on. As we left the studio following the 6pm news, Jason snapped a picture with me. Very cool stuff. I didn’t do that with the other guys because it seemed a little unprofessional to me to ask for something like that, a lot like asking for autographs or stuff like that. Jason just blew that off and had someone snap the picture, which of course he immediately posted to Twitter.

After we took that picture, we went our separate ways. The last thing Jason told me was that he wants to go to a Tennessee game sometime if I run into any tickets. I’ll have to get something like that together! It would be lots of fun to be the one with the short trip for a change!

I left Huntsville after a really, really fun day. I’m really thankful that Jason let me stop by for a little while and share some of his vast knowledge with me. He’s got a great base of knowledge from working in central Alabama that will definitely help him in north Alabama. Huntsville is an extremely competitive weather market, but that’s never stopped any of us Bulldogs from diving right in. Hail State. ūüôā

The drive home was filled with occasional thunderstorms, and a ton of fog. I took I-565 to US-72 through northeast Alabama, which was a longer stretch of road than I expected. It was after dark when I hit Tennessee, then I-24, then Georgia for two miles before returning to Tennessee again. I was just outside Knoxville at midnight, and after battling a lot of post-storm fog, I arrived back in Bristol safe and sound at 1:40am.

I slept a lot and did a lot of nothing on Saturday, except a trip grocery shopping. That evening I got another reminder of the college days, as one of my close ETSU broadcasting buddies arrived and we got to spend a few hours together. Even after driving 1500 miles, that night I ended up driving her all over creation. The total trip took me from Bristol to Jonesborough, though Johnson City to Elizabethton, then back into Johnson City. We were having a great time, so I decided we’d drive to Bristol, too, and then all the way back to Jonesborough. It was the absolutely perfect cap to a fantastic vacation.

I’m going to do one more blog about the whole trip, kind of tying up a few loose ends, stuff that’s bouncing around in my head that I didn’t get to in the first three episodes.

The basic story is that I got what I wanted and more from this trip. It went from forecasting advice to realizing TV stations have the same problems I do. Then it was talking about life and career stuff, to flashbacks to college days. This vacation was a complete and total success, and I believe I might have to have a sequel!

My summer vacation 2012-Days 2, 3, and 4

It took me long enough, but here is the second of three installments about my weather forecasting vacation I took last week.

Tuesday was family day. I went with my dad, mom, and nephew Jacob to Boone, North Carolina, a fun little road trip. There was nothing much interesting weather wise, as it was a beautiful day all the way through Elizabethton, up through Newland, NC, then to Boone. We stopped at Mast General Store there, and bought a bunch of stuff, namely a toy gun, $35 in a bucket of candy, and some Coke glasses for my dad. Fun stuff, and it was great to get my mom up to Boone, if only for a little while.

Wednesday was rest day. After driving to Charlotte and back Monday and to Boone and back Tuesday, Day 3 was involved in only driving to town once. A very nice change. Lots of TV watching!

Also, there were a lot of nerves. Every time I take a really long trip, I get butterflies the day before I depart. I knew I would be driving a lot on this last leg of the trip, and I’ve had road troubles in previous long road trips, and I hoped to not have any this time!

Thursday morning was spent packing. The plan was to leave at 10:30 or thereabouts, and try to get to my hotel in Hoover (just south of Birmingham) by 4 to check in, rest a bit, and change clothes so I could go across the street to visit James Spann.

If you’ve read my story about the tornado outbreaks last year, you know at least a little of the regard I hold for James. He’s been in Birmingham for most of his career, and he knows every little hangout and restaurant and school in his market. So every time severe storms come, he tells people where the storms are going, in terms of places they know. Besides all of that, he does a lot of things in the community, from teaching youth at his church (including lots of Bible School fun) to holding a position on the board at a local hospital. All of that plus his TV duties, speeches and weather programs at schools, daily weather videos as well as the WeatherBrains show he hosts with all the new technological challenges it provides every Monday night. The man does more in 24 hours than most of us do in a month, and I’ve been known to say that if I accomplish 10% of what James has in his entire life, I’ll be perfectly happy with my time here on Earth.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to this visit to chat with a pretty legendary person. The drive down was eventful, as there were scattered thunderstorms off and on all the way down the road. There were a few rough spots, especially on I-59, which might be the worst Interstate highway in the country. At least this time there wasn’t too long of a one-lane path before Gadsden. Back in October, it felt like about 45 miles. This year, only 17.

Despite a few stops along the way, I arrived at just the right time. I can’t get much credit for that, because in the whole process I forgot to factor in the change to central time. No problem! I took the time to rest a bit and watch a little TV once I figured out how to make the TV work.

My goal was to get there a bit before 5, despite the meeting time at 5:30, to try to meet a couple people I didn’t get to see last October. That didn’t happen, and I arrived at about 10 minutes after at the front door. That also meant that nobody was at the front desk when I hit the call button. Thankfully, some nice station employee held the door for me. I took a left at the door and found the lobby, and sat there, watching the news.

In the process I chatted with the lady who was cleaning the building, tweeted James that I had arrived, and generally continued relaxing. Shortly after the news ended at 5:30, the man himself came around the corner and offered a handshake. I started to get up, and he said for me to keep my seat. Apparently James had never been out to that part of the building, at least not in a while. We chatted there for a few minutes, stopped for a bit in the news room, and went through that back to the sports anchors’ office.

While I don’t get to watch every night, I do try to catch ABC 33/40’s news when I’m at home in the evenings. I like to watch a few different meteorologists to see how they tell the story of the weather during their three minutes. It’s fun to pick up some of their mannerisms and even some funny phrases and incorporate them into my blog and the on-air forecasts I do. James does a pretty funny “song of the night” segment on the live stream, and it’s hilarious. They play a song from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and James will ask the others at the desk what they think of the song. It’s a fun little bit.

I bring that up because one of my favorites at their station is a sports anchor named Sara Jane Harris. When James and I reached the sports office, there she was, sitting there working on things. For once when it comes to Alabama, I had good timing this time! We chatted for a bit, and somehow or the other I got myself into a situation where I now have to send her baked goods. How that happened, I’ll never know, but in true WeatherBrains tradition, I’ll just say that¬† James is to blame for it. (LOL)

At any rate, the station tour went as station tours go, and I got to see the where the producers and audio people work along with lots of the edit bays and stuff like that. I enjoy seeing those and comparing them to other stations. I have determined at this point that news rooms all pretty much look the same. I may be wrong on that, though!

That was a quick half-hour. Before I knew it, James and I were off to the TV studio to start the 6pm news. That studio is a lot smaller than it looks! That is the case most of the time, except for that vast expanse Brad Panovich and his co-workers get to play with in Charlotte. In the process I got to meet their news anchors, Dave Baird and Brenda Ladun. I like them both, and it’s generally hilarious when James and Dave pick on each other. Brenda’s usually the referee. Once the countdown happens, lips are sealed unless you’re reporting!

Speaking of quick half-hours, that was another one. James Spann, in his awesomeness, decided to record all his radio stuff early so we’d have time to get lunch and chat between the 6 and 10 shows. That required him to go back to his office and record them while I watched the newscast. The best part of it was that I was quite talkative during commercials. It was a lot of fun, I guess because it felt like I knew everyone. I even threatened to trip James on his way from the desk at the weather center to the key wall. He said, “Go ahead! That will just make things more interesting!” That and the “Spann army” catching Dave at a concert the night before made the show a lot of fun to see in person. Oh, and Sara Jane waved at me, too. (Sorry…had to add the unprofessional fanboy moment in there!)

Once the show ended, Dave walked over and shook my hand, which was pretty cool. After that was a moment that happens where I work all the time. James and I went to his office to figure out where to eat. I told him I would generally have anything that isn’t Chinese food, but specifically burgers or barbecue would be fine with me. We hashed out a few places, and landed at Five Guys. James told me he hadn’t been there in a while, and their burgers are good, so that’s what we picked.

And about that office…it’s very tiny. James calls it a broom closet, and he’s not far off! There’s enough room to get to his little fridge in the corner, and from the door to the chair at his desk, and that is it! The camera on the WeatherBrains show makes it look twice as big as it really is. I was absolutely amazed.

True to form on this trip, paying for his lunch didn’t happen. We ordered our burgers and I reached into my wallet, and James said I needed to put that back, he’s got this. That was awesome of him for sure, even though I have always felt like I should be getting his lunch!

The conversation that night at Five Guys was decidedly not weather related, more career based. James told me his story and asked me a few questions about what I want to do in life. He gave me a lot of fantastic advice through the course of the meal. Basically, I need to focus on where I want to eventually get in the field of meteorology and get there. That’s one of the things I’ll have to chew on for a little while.

It was a lot of fun to see a couple folks walk up to our table and start talking to James because they watch him on TV all the time. One was a college age girl who was so nervous she sent her mom to say hello and was standing around the corner! That might just be the cutest thing ever. She eventually peeked out and got a picture with him. The other was a man with his three kids. James is great with kids, and he talked with them about as much as he talked with their dad. Even though we did technically get interrupted by this, I enjoyed watching it.

There was very little forecasting talk that night. I’m okay with that, because we did hit some topics that I don’t really tell most people. We sat in his office for quite a while and he gave me so much great advice my mind couldn’t store it all. It’s really awesome that he took the time out to talk about life things even when we were supposed to be talking about weather stuff. I’m very thankful for those few minutes we talked in his office.

Eventually, time came up to head back to the studio. Sometime during the evening James played with some of the fun software that he has, and he showed me where the various station transmitters are and played around with the topographic maps he doesn’t typically use much when that software is on the air. Along with being able to visit parts of the office he hadn’t in a while, he also learned new things about the computer program he’s worked with for some time. I felt quite happy that my presence helped him discover some things that night.

The weather things we did talk about that night were basically James showing me all of the things he has at his disposal. There’s a chat room with his spotters, the other that most meteorologists have with the various NWS offices, and all of the skycams from all over the South. It’s an impressive setup to be sure.

Just before 10pm, everyone started to go back into the studio. There are really only 6 people at once in the studio during a show. One runs the teleprompter, then there’s the floor manager, and the rest are on-air. All the cameras are operated from the control room, and that’s very interesting to watch, especially when it zips around from the key wall back to the anchor desk, and vice versa. The full shot of the whole desk is interesting, because the camera has to go a long way back to shoot the whole thing!

I will have to defer to James, who will probably read this eventually, as to what the Song of the Night happened to be, because it is lost to my memory. Sara Jane picked it, and it was a great song. I even meant to write it down, too!

Before long, the 10pm news was history, and most of us filed out. The prompter girl and floor manager stayed, because the sport segments for the morning needed to be recorded. That meant I had to merely wave at Sara Jane on the way out the studio door back to the office for the final time.

As usual, there are a lot of things that happened or we talked about that are either lost to history, or really don’t belong here, so they’re left out. As a matter of fact, there are probably a few things I included that maybe shouldn’t be here! I had to catch myself a couple times while typing to keep from giving away too much information.

That said, I’m really thankful that James shuffled his schedule around for me last Thursday night. The conversations about “life stuff” were really beneficial to me, as well as the fun stuff that happened along the way. James Spann is a salt of the earth man who puts others before himself in lots of different ways. As I said before, if I can grow up to be 10% the man he is, I will consider this life a success.

Most of what you see here ran through my mind when I was sitting in the hotel that night, as well as the following morning before I headed to Huntsville. It was a spiritually filled type of feeling, and that’s something that I haven’t been able to say all that much here recently.

That’s the end of Day 4, the second TV station day during my vacation. Tomorrow (or later today, as it goes…wow, 2:30am!!), I’ll finish off the story by telling about my first visit to Huntsville since seventh grade. In the process I would be visiting another man who has stacked up a lot of accomplishments in his career in television weather, Jason Simpson. His is a name also forever etched in my memory from April of 2011.

More on that tomorrow…thanks for reading part 2 of my summer vacation report!

My summer vacation 2012-Day One

First of all, a quick note. If you’re looking for the forecast, click “Daily Forecast” above, or just scroll down past the end of this post and you will see the forecast for Tuesday through Friday there.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I took a very long summer vacation this past week. At the start, I must thank Cody Jennings for helping me out during the week by basically doing my job for me during my vacation. I couldn’t have done this without him!

To start at the beginning, earlier this year I had a Dave Ramsey-inspired idea. He always talks about going out to lunch with people who are smarter than you and find out why. Go and see how you can do your job better.

I took that to heart, and I created a summer vacation forecasting tour. In the beginning, the list involved 10 meteorologists at 8 TV stations across the South, from West Virginia to North Carolina to Alabama and more. It also involved enough miles to make me need to change the oil in my car twice over!

Once I decided what week I was going to take, I decided to contact three of the bigger TV meteorologist brains in the South and go from there. The closest of the three is Brad Panovich, from WCNC-TV Newschannel 36 in Charlotte. Next is a relative newbie to the chief meteorologist life, Jason Simpson from WHNT in Huntsville. Finally, more or less the Boardwalk space of Southern meteorologists, James Spann from ABC 33/40 in Birmingham.

I sent all of them e-mails and Twitter messages, plotting out the idea, and what they’d do…more accurately, what I would be doing as well. The plan was to watch these guys do a forecast and see why they do it as well as they do. I brought a little notebook, to take notes on any links or computer programs or anything that any of the guys thought was important to helping me get better. All of it was with concern to keep myself as much out of the way as possible since all of them would be actually working. I just wanted them to do what they could, and if something wouldn’t work, that’s no big deal.

The other part of the plan was that I’d take them all (separately, of course) to lunch…and I would pay for it. That part didn’t go so well, as you’ll see over these three blogs. It’s really very funny, honestly. Even during a quick meeting with a college friend on Saturday night (which won’t be mentioned otherwise here), I didn’t pay for a thing…except two milkshakes. Amazing.

Anyway, through scheduling plans and all that, the plan was set forth. I’d meet Brad in Charlotte on Monday, travel to Birmingham to see James on Thursday, then up to Huntsville to see Jason on Friday afternoon. I was very thankful that they all three made time out of their schedules to have me around for a few hours. Averaging around five hours at each shop is pretty amazing!

Monday was pretty much the short trip, down to Charlotte and back, same-day. In the early weeks of the plan, I might have stayed in Charlotte and driven to Birmingham. Thanks to recent Twitter messages from some folks in Huntsville, that would probably have been a better plan! Things change, though, so the plan ended up with me going back home from Charlotte Monday night.

The weather coming up I-81 and down I-77 was fantastic on the way down. Let me peg the geek meter regarding that trip for a minute. At Wytheville, the north-bound I-81 and south-bound I-77 is the same road! That’s what is known as a wrong-way concurrency. It doubles in places as well, as south I-77, north I-81, and south US 11 and north US-52 are all the same road as well! How’s that for a confusing mess? Thankfully, it’s pretty easy if you stick with one of those all the way through. I knew 81 would go into south 77 toward Charlotte, since I’ve done that trip many times.

In a shocking trend, I arrived at the TV station early. I had hand-written directions to WCNC, because I wanted no part of getting lost in Charlotte for a second time. As soon as I got out of the car to stretch, I got a text from Brad that he was about 10 minutes away. Perfect timing!

He picked me up and we went to Which Wich. It’s a Subway style place, where you have to label the bag with the order and toppings you want. I got a number 9 with pickles, mustard, and lettuce…I think. And, before I could get to my wallet, Brad already paid for his lunch. Oops. Not supposed to happen that way! Little did I know how unsuccessful that endeavor would be throughout the week! Brad and I talked a lot about all sorts of weather stuff, from tornado outbreaks to interesting facts about the Tri-Cities to severe weather coverage stories. It’s the kind of thing weather geeks like me just love.

Back at the station, another theme started itself, in the fact that Brad has his own laptop. He has a really rapid fire way to get pictures off his computer and onto social media sites that is just fantastic. He also has a program that’s a major upgrade to mine as far as weather is concerned that I need to find a way to pick up as well.

Of course, there are lots of things he and all TV people have that I won’t have because I don’t need, like expensive graphics software and computers dedicated to making up the maps he appears to point to during his forecast. I am seriously considering doing a 7-day forecast type thing, which needs a creative moment from me and a program I already can use.

The other big deal is that the station was about to roll out their new studio set-up. For most of the afternoon I wondered where Brad would put me during the news, until I realized that they were using a temporary set elsewhere in the station. Before the next news started at 4pm, I got to chat with Brad about a lot of forecasting things in terms of how he does what and when, and a lot of the things I mentioned earlier are ideas that he had that I plan on using in the future.

Then came the thunderstorm. We all were watching it coming, as meteorologists are good at doing. In fact, I was on my phone updating storms up in the Tri-Cities on Twitter as long as my phone would stay on. Eventually we were able to hear the thunder in the studio as we were all plugging away on various projects and the engineers were working on new studio and weather computer stuff. Suddenly, there was a loud boom and all the lights went out! The engineers all exclaimed something I won’t repeat here, and went scrambling to find out why everything wasn’t backed up to the generator. I know that feeling all too well! Thankfully, that power outage was less than 15 seconds long and didn’t seem to bother the computers.

Eventually, I must have been sitting there staring into empty space, because one of Brad’s co-workers asked me if I wanted to go up to watch the show at the temporary studio. I did, and that’s where I spent the rest of my time there.

Brad is a very busy person during newscasts, as he’s always checking social media during shows when he’s not on the air. The storms moved out of Charlotte, and he had to update his forecast for any warnings or lack thereof, or dividing up the warning in terms of what is in his market and what isn’t.

All of this was going on while the news and sports were happening. Another concept that will repeat itself is that the sports anchor shows up after the weather forecast, reports, and gets out of there. Most of the time they stay until the end for the shot of everyone, but I’ll assume that shot (and the early show weather “hits” they do) were taken out of the plan in order to keep things simple.

During one of the breaks the lady who reported the news yelled at me and asked if I was one of Brad’s spotters. I thought about that for a second and told her that I was and I wasn’t. I’m not officially, of course, but sometimes weather events that happen here go into that market, so in a way I am. She seemed satisfied with the short version of that answer!

After the 6pm news ended, that was basically it. We walked back down to the new studio so I could get my stuff and we left. Brad was on his way back home during his break to be with the kids before coming back for that week’s edition of Weatherbrains.

On the way home, I ran through a couple storms and one that looked beautiful. Since I was going 70 on the Interstate, there was no way in the world I could take a picture of it. I tried, though! I did get to stop in Statesville and get gas and food as well.

I decided to stop by the radio station to see if the Weatherbrains show was still on, but the internet was down there. I caught the last 10 minutes (sans Brad and James since they were on TV), but I also knew that I would have lots more time to listen to that show on the way to Birmingham in two days.

This was the trip where I took the most notes, and probably the second most focus on forecasting of the three stations I visited. I visited Brad’s station in March of last year, so a lot was the same as then except the new studio stuff. The new setup, which did premiere on July 16, looks fantastic, and the weather department there will be able to pretty much slide around between computers and update things during severe weather coverage with warnings and things. It really does look great there!

That’s the story for part one of the trip. The goal of the whole thing is to make my forecasts better for you each day, and to make my coverage of severe weather better as well. That is the point of this, and I’m thankful that Brad had me to WCNC last monday.

Either tomorrow during the Reds game or shortly thereafter, I’ll talk about the non-weather parts of the vacation and then tell the story of visiting a station that is one of my all-time favorites, and will always be etched in my mind after last April. Another trip to Birmingham is coming up!