Frances eases by county – Calera station hub of weather activity

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Meteorologists at the office of the National Weather Service in Calera had a busy weekend, coordinating statewide forecasts and weather alerts in the wake of Hurricane Frances.

Forecasters predicted between one to three inches of rain would fall on Shelby County from Monday night to Wednesday. Most of the flooding and strong winds from the storm were expected to affect the eastern portion of the state.

On Monday, meteorologist Faith Borden watched a series of radar images on computer screens in the National Weather Service office in Calera.

The office, located at the Shelby County Airport, coordinates emergency and daily weather forecasts for the entire state.

As Frances entered the state Monday, winds had decreased to about 25 miles per hour. Alabama Power reported about 3,000 outages scattered across the state at that time.

This week, the office was a hub of instant weather feeds that went to everyone from Gov. Bob Riley to local Red Cross volunteers.

Staff at the National Weather Service began Monday morning with a conference call with the Hurricane Center in Miami, followed by conference calls with the Southeast River Forecast Center, the state Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross.

Several meteorologists from the Calera drove to Montgomery and briefed Gov. Riley and officials in Washington, D.C., about the storm’s progress.

Hurricane Frances had subsided to a tropical storm with winds averaging about 25 miles per hour by the time it reached the southeastern portion of Alabama on Monday. The once-mighty category four hurricane still had a barely-discernable eye.

Counties in the eastern portion of the state were under flood warnings and wind advisories through Wednesday. The storm was expected to dump one to three inches of rain in Shelby County before moving northeast.

Forecasters predicted the storm would reach Chattanooga by Wednesday afternoon.

While six other meteorologists studied storm data and radar screens, Borden said that huricanes change the usual work day at the National Weather Service office. More staff members come into the office and members rotate shifts, she said.

Normally, staff work at the office 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During a hurricane, however, more people work in the office in Calera.

By this weekend, Borden predicted drier weather for Shelby County as a cold front moved into the state. She said the storm will have moved into Tennessee and north Georgia