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The Weather Journal column started amid uncertainty about whether readers would drizzle off. Its future looks sunny.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Andrew Morgan (center) and Josh Tiller, with Jacobs Tree Worx out of Vinton, clear trees off a property on Holly Lane in Daleville on July 3, 2012. Morgan said their crews worked many days to clean up debris from the now-famous derecho.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Tree limbs hang on a power line near a house in the 400 block of Walnut Avenue Southwest after the 2012 derecho. Such scenes became all too common.
The Roanoke Times | File 2009
Elijah Spurell, 4, walks past a snowed-in car on First Street Southwest in Roanoke following the 2009 snowstorm.
The Roanoke Times | File 2004
Lt. Daniel Rakes (front right) with Roanoke city’s Ladder 13, helps Delma Ferrell through the rising waters around her home in Roanoke in September 2004. The flooding was caused by the remnants of a tropical system. Her husband Marvin carries their dog Precious while accompanied by firefighter/EMT Maurice Nicholson.
The Roanoke Times | File 2011
Houses and trees lie in ruins following a tornado that hit Pulaski in April 2011.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
“Welcome to Weather Journal.
I’m not a storm team, I’m a single weather geek. I don’t have a meteorology degree. Weather is my passion, but journalism is my profession. The two have blended many times in my career but never so beautifully as this.
What I seek to do here is to take tons of weatherspeak that I absorb surfing through often-obscure meteorology Web sites and distill it into real, human language for some informative, engaging and entertaining discussion.
Welcome along for the ride. When it comes to weather, it’s guaranteed to be a wild one.” -- The Roanoke Times, Oct. 28, 2003
Things that work don’t always start as things that are widely expected to work.
A decade ago, The Roanoke Times developed a new page called “Town Square” inside the Virginia section as the newspaper was redesigned to go along with the implementation of a new full-color press.
But there wasn’t enough copy to fill Town Square on every day it was planned. So a copy editor — who often sent emails out to editors about upcoming weather events and had dabbled with an online weather column format for the past nine months — was asked to write some weather-related material twice a week for “Town Square.”
That’s how the “Weather Journal” column was born, first appearing on Oct. 28, 2003. Ten years later, I’m still here, writing about weather once a week in the paper and almost every day on the Weather Journal blog on Roanoke.com.
I’m not sure anyone expected this column to still be here 10 years later. Weather columns are not a common feature in newspapers across the nation, and the appetite for weather discussion on the printed page in Southwest Virginia was, in 2003, an unknown variable.
Since Weather Journal’s inception in the paper 10 years ago, we added the Weather Journal blog in 2006, where the discussion goes on almost daily among scores (sometimes hundreds) of readers who comment and thousands of others who follow along. Traffic peaks in the tens of thousands with the expectation of winter storms.
All credit for the longevity of Weather Journal goes to the readers, who have sent me many encouraging notes over the years, and who ask insightful questions that challenge me to dig deeper. After all, my own education in weather is ongoing.
My goal has always been to keep weather itself as the star. To that end, I’m celebrating 10 years of Weather Journal by picking out what I see as the five biggest weather events in The Roanoke Times circulation area over these past 10 years.
Top 5 weather events of Weather Journal era
No other event in my 10 years of doing Weather Journal has been so outside our region’s normal weather experience and literally added to the daily vocabulary of thousands. More than 100,000 customers were without power during our hottest 10-day stretch of days since the 1930s. In terms of widespread and intense impact across our region, the derecho stands apart during my 10 years of doing Weather Journal. It was also one of the busiest and most successful periods for the column and blog — I wrote four front-page columns in eight days and followed the progress of the derecho and the record temperatures closely that day, using the term “derecho” 10 hours before it hit.
It was the first widespread foot-plus snowstorm in 11 years from the New River Valley westward and in 14 years from the Roanoke Valley eastward. Excitement began building early in the week with blog chatter about a potential late-week storm. It became obvious by Thursday morning that this Friday evening-Saturday morning storm was really going to happen. It set up a winter of more than 40 inches of snow, snapping the region out of years of mostly mild, dry winters.
It’s not unusual to get remnants of tropical systems in our area during the fall, but to have the circulation centers of three former hurricanes move through was unprecedented. Frances, early in the month, poured 4 to 8 inches of rain on mostly dry ground, bringing many streams to minor flooding. Ivan at mid month didn’t drop nearly as much rain, but spawned a destructive tornado in Henry County and another one near Goodview. Jeanne at late month, with similar rain totals to Frances, capped a month of tropical soakers and put the Roanoke River out of its banks to its sixth highest mark on record.
I’m usually hesitant to call anything in our area a “tornado” until after the official damage assessment. This one was so obvious on the evening of April 8, based on radar and observations, that I was using the term without reservation a few hours after it hit. Actually touching down a couple of times at Pulaski and Draper, this was one of only two tornadoes (Henry County in 2004 being the other, noted above) destroying a multitude of homes in our area during the past 10 years. Damage topped $8 million — but blessedly, no one died. Almost three weeks later, an even stronger and deadly tornado would rip through Glade Spring farther down near Interstate 81 in Southwest Virginia but technically outside The Roanoke Times’ circulation area.
Another event outside our normal experience, with an afternoon of 30 to 50 mph winds and some gusts into the 70s on a partly cloudy, cool but not cold afternoon. Wildfires spread rampantly, shingles went sailing, limbs and trees were toppled (bringing down many power lines) and awnings and signs tipped over across the region. Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton was unable to arrive in Roanoke by helicopter two days before the primary election. The headline on my blog 3 days before: “Quiet weather ahead.” Oh well, can’t call ’em all.
Weather Journal runs on Wednesdays.
Weather JournalStorm track isn't very snowy for us