The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 19, 2012

Forecasters cautious at approach of spring

From staff reports

— Could Alabama’s warmer-than-normal winter indicate a repeat of spring 2011?

In an interview published this week, John Christy, the state climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said the ongoing La Nina weather pattern could make for a warm spring, one of the key ingredients for an active season.

In essence, the pattern brings colder air from the Pacific Ocean into proximity with the Gulf of Mexico’s warm, moist air. Unstable air masses often form over the southeast when the two fronts collide.

Dr. Greg Forbes, a severe weather expert with The Weather Channel, said in a press release there’s no fool-proof way to predict how bad the tornado season could be. He said determinations are made within a few days of an outbreak when all the ingredients come together, just as they did on April 27.

“That occurrence isn’t always well-related to longer-term, larger-scale factors like La Nina, so not every La Nina year behaves the same,” Forbes said. “That said, there has been some tendency for the January-to-April period in La Nina years to be active with tornadoes.”

Like Forbes, Stephen Latimer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville, said predicting the severity of the spring weather season is a near-impossibility. He did, however, agree that the La Nina pattern could affect the boundary between cold and warm air over the southeast.

“I don’t think we’re going to have more tornadoes (this year). We get an X-amount of tornadoes per year in the spring due to the boundary between warm and cold air,” he said. “I think his assessment (on the weather pattern) is correct, but we just don’t know (how severe the season will be).”

Weather preparedness

As a means of raising public awareness about changing conditions, Gov. Robert Bentley last week proclaimed Feb. 19-24 as Severe Weather Awareness Week.

“The key is readiness,” Bentley said. “When storms strike, it’s too late to prepare. Let’s prepare now.”

Each day within Severe Weather Awareness Week will focus on a different threat. Monday will focus on the threat of severe thunderstorms and Tuesday will focus on the dangers of lightning. Wednesday will highlight tornado preparedness, while Thursday will focus on the threats of flooding/flash flooding. Friday will highlight the needs of NOAA Weather Radios in homes and other indoor spaces where people need warnings.

This week Bentley also proposed a once-a-year sales tax holiday on weather radios, flashlights, generators and other supplies needed to help prepare for weather disasters, though a bill has not been introduced in the Legislature.

Alabama Department of Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Yasamie August said some of the items that might be included in the sales tax holiday include severe-weather emergency essentials such as bandages, disinfectant, other first-aid supplies and prepackaged tornado emergency kits.

State EMA Director Art Faulkner said he favors the state offering a sales tax holiday to help people prepare for storms.

“Anything we can do to encourage people to take this seriously,” Faulkner said. “It’s great to give people an incentive to be proactive.”

Bentley said the holiday would work much like the sales tax holiday in August, when for one weekend, the state 4 percent sales tax is removed from school supplies, books, clothes and other items needed as students prepare for school.

The governor said the tax holiday was suggested by a committee formed after the April 27 storms to offer ways to better prepare for storms.

Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said he agreed with Bentley’s proposal and would be in favor of offering a city sales tax holiday on tornado preparedness items if the measure is approved at the state level.

“I would certainly be open to the guidelines set up by the state, and I would hope the City Council would take the same lead and adopt such a policy,” he said.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.