Tracking storms for six decades

Tracking storms for six decades
Maps drawn on boards and real, live outdoor weather observations - WAFF weather coverage in the 70s-80s. (Source: WAFF Archives)
Maps drawn on boards and real, live outdoor weather observations - WAFF weather coverage in the 70s-80s. (Source: WAFF Archives)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Since 2004, the phrase "We Track Storms" has been synonymous with WAFF and the First Alert Storm Trackers. It is not merely a slogan; in the simplest, most deconstructed way, it is the mission statement of each meteorologist who works here. It is what they do that keeps you informed and safe.

Over the last six decades of this station's history, the job of the person you see in the weather lab has grown more vital as technology has improved to better forecast approaching storms. In the heat of the moment, that technology has allowed us to give you increasing warning time to get to safety.

In the early years of WAFF's history, the daily weather maps were hand-drawn. Weather reports were provided by teletype machines. Former meteorologist Glenn Bracken started working for the station when it was then known as WYUR. Glenn is perhaps best known as being the first in North Alabama to do weather reports outdoors, incorporating teletype reports with visual observations.

From hand-drawn maps, computer capabilities advanced enough to provide viewers with live radar images. As the years moved on, weather reports became more advanced with such things as satellite imagery and animation.

Former Chief Meteorologist Bob Baron has taken his experiences with forecasting and reporting the weather to help WAFF and other television stations around the world develop better forecasting technology.

Baron Services has gone on to introduce many tools you see during severe weather coverage, such as real-time lightning detection, radar-indicated rotation insignia, estimated-time-of-arrival tracking, and much more.

Jay Prater, who spent nearly a decade with the station, helped develop the "severe weather plan" protocol WAFF news and weather teams have used to cover significant weather events.

WAFF has covered many major weather events over the decades: floods, blizzards, and of course, tornadoes.

The April 27 2011 tornadoes hold special significance at the station. Viewers -not to mention Brad Travis and staff members in the studio - watched a massive EF-5 tornado approach a tower camera in Limestone County. Moments later, the picture froze; soon after, 48's Live Doppler radar took a direct hit by the tornado.

The station replaced the destroyed radar with a one-million-watt unit, providing even more powerful coverage of future storms.

The digital age has allowed WAFF to provide more weather coverage than ever before.

With the advent of smartphones, WAFF can now provide even more localized warnings with the 48 Storm Team app. Warnings can now be delivered based on the user's location, even when traveling out of the viewing area in Alabama, or out-of-state. If you are in a 100-mile radius of our station when storms move in, your weather app can even alert you to lightning within your vicinity.

Today, when severe weather approaches, and the 48 News and Weather apps stream continuous coverage, including First Alert Doppler radar and commentary from Storm Team members. This provides an essential backup method for people who lose power and access to television.

Weather changes frequently in the Tennessee Valley - from docile and pleasant, to dangerous and life-threatening. From every weather day you remembered to the ones you barely noticed, the First Alert Storm Trackers have been there.

They will continue to be there, keeping you safe. They track storms.

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