Mississippi, Alabama, and Some Odds & Ends

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about anything, and I think it’s time to try and work back into it. Maybe I’m just more inspired now after attending talks at the AMS Conference in New Orleans about how totally awesome social media in severe weather is. Or it could just be that I enjoy doing this, and I tend not to do it enough, and I post too much on Facebook when I can package a lot of things in here. Just to catch you up on some things….

I started contributing to another blog on a weekly basis in my free time, with just some more in depth “whys” about the weather…just some color on what’s going on with the weather, maybe a postmortem or two, or some interesting links and info. I usually don’t touch forecasting issues, as I keep that minimal because of my job. Anyway, be sure to visit PhillyWeather.net. Bookmark it, read it, love it, like it on Facebook. I post Wednesday evenings.

I went to the American Meteorological Society conference in New Orleans last week. The conference was solid…some good talks. But, man, New Orleans is a great city. I visited it for the first time last year, and it’s rapidly climbed my list of favorite cities in the US. I think my top 5 is probably

1.) Philadelphia
2.) Madison
3.) Chicago
4.) New Orleans
5.) Houston

Six through 10 would probably feature NYC, Boston, Pasadena, Seattle, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

There were a lot of talks at AMS about the springtime tornadoes, some of which were extremely sobering. I recalled many of the details of those tornado talks last week in a blog over on PhillyWeather. I won’t repeat myself here, but you can check those out if you want.

After AMS, my wife and I, as we seem prone to do, took a detour on the way home and spent a couple nights in Central Mississippi and Alabama. It’s a part of the South I’ve never visited before. It’s worth a visit. We spent the first night in Jackson, MS and the second night in Birmingham, AL. Jackson is a very old city, but seems to have quite a bit of Southern charm to it. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn downtown, which I strongly recommend if you find yourself in Jackson…just a lovely old hotel converted into a modern HG Inn. We didn’t spend much time in Jackson, so I’d like to go back, but we did check out the State Capitol . Lovely grounds, like most state capitols, with a handful of other monuments.

After Jackson we visited Vicksburg and spent a few hours exploring the Vicksburg National Military Park there….site of the 1863 Civil War Siege and Battle. It’s a good place to visit…lots of history as it really was a major turning point in the War…not so much from a strategic perspective (though it was that), but from a morale perspective in the Union.

We drove back east through Jackson again on our way to Birmingham. Birmingham is a great city as well. The Little Five Points area is pretty cool..hip, with some eclectic individuals, but cool. We also visited the gigantic¬†statue of Vulcan in Vulcan Park overlooking the city. The area really reminded me of a mini Atlanta. If you’re in that region, it’s worth a trip to the city. We overnighted in Birmingham before heading home through Montgomery and Dothan. The Alabama State Capitol is very, very nice. Lots of monuments (an intriguingly high proportion of them were devoted to the Civil War). Definitely worth a visit. Some very friendly people in both Mississippi and Alabama. I look forward to exploring more of those states eventually.

Backtracking a bit… On our way to Birmingham, I had my wife navigate us into Tuscaloosa, AL, following the path of the horrific EF-4 tornado that ravaged that city back in April. I’ve seen one tornado in my life…a meager F-1/EF-1 tornado that hit Somers Point in 2001. I was a cashier in a grocery store there and watched it move across the parking lot. I was stunned. It did a minimal amount of damage, but it was the most intriguing thing I had ever seen meteorologically.

I anticipated we’d see a fair amount of damage, but we were honestly not prepared for what we saw. Everyone’s seen pictures and everyone knows how awful it was. But to actually see firsthand just how much of a scar this left on this city. I never expected it. Seeing pictures is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes is another entirely. I really wanted to take photographs of some of the damage and the scope of how much damage there was, but I was very conflicted…I really didn’t want to be that guy who gawks over something as awful as what these people went through, and honestly, after seeing some of it with my own eyes, I didn’t want to photograph it. I took about 3 photos, one or two of which actually came out. That photo is posted at the left, which shows what used to be a full neighborhood, now completely vacant, barren, empty. Amazing to see how close the tornado was from the University of Alabama (literally about 5 blocks). It was a real eye opening experience, one that really brought home the fact that what we as meteorologists love so much and are so passionate about can really devastate communities and people’s lives. A lot of people were somewhat annoyed at the social science talks at the AMS conference. I think some of those people need to visit some of these communities devastated on April 27th and on other days and understand that weather isn’t just science or something that inconveniences people…it impacts people’s lives directly. Here’s to hoping the 2012 severe weather season is much, much quieter.