50 Years of WHNT Weather

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Taken from top of Highland Medical Center in Scottsboro, AL. (Photo: Stacey Burton)

TENNESSEE VALLEY (WHNT) – Modern-day meteorology was in its infancy when WHNT signed on the air in 1963, and it’s unlikely anyone at the time realized the important role television weather would play in years to come.

TIROS-1 sent back the first images of our atmosphere from space on April 1, 1960.  Weather radar had only been in operation for about four years in 1963, and there was a lot to be learned from the shapes and shades of green on those old scope displays.

The Tennessee Valley’s weather legend –  H.D. Bagley – took a part-time job delivering weather forecasts at WHNT in November 1963.  H.D. was a seasoned meteorologist who became one of the most trusted men around thanks to his calm demeanor and straight-shooting style of broadcasting.

H.D.’s tenure at WHNT began with some of the coldest, snowiest winters on record.  Even the Blizzard of ’93 could not surpass the heavy snow that fell on the Valley on the night of December 31, 1963.  Florence recorded 19.2 inches of snow in 24 hours.  That is the heaviest 24-hour snowfall on record in Alabama.

In 1966, a frigid air mass settling into the Tennessee Valley in late January sent temperatures to depths we have never come close to in the years since.  New Market set an all-time record low of 27 degrees BELOW ZERO on the morning of January 30, 1966.

Somewhere between the icy grip of winters past and the blazing heat of summers gone by, the Tennessee Valley earned a reputation for having some of the worst severe weather anywhere in the world.

WHNT and H.D. Bagley were there through it all when the “Super Outbreak” of tornadoes tore this region apart on the night of April 3, 1974.  Eighty-six Alabamians died in the swarm of tornadoes that seemed to target the Tennessee Valley that night.  Two EF-5 tornadoes tore through Madison County, and H.D. was on the air with the warnings even as the final tornado of the night, an EF-3, ripped through Redstone Arsenal and passed just south of downtown Huntsville.

Weather technology has changed a lot since H.D. Bagley tracked violent tornadoes with a modified ship radar back in 1974.  In the late 1980s, Doppler radar gave Chief Meteorologist Tim Simpson a better way to view a violent tornado that hit Airport Road and Jones Valley on November 15, 1989.

Daily weather forecasts had also changed from H.D’s grease pencil to Backyard Weather with Tim.

In the early 1990s, Chief Meteorologist Dan Satterfield introduced long-form severe weather coverage to the Tennessee Valley.  If there was a tornado warning, you could rest assured that Dan was on air covering it, leading the way.

Technology continues to advance, and WHNT is right there on the cutting edge.  In 2004, Live ARMOR dual-pol radar became first dual-polarimetric radar in the nation operated by a television station.  That investment is still paying off.

Thirty-nine years after H.D. Bagley helped the Tennessee Valley through a violent night of tornadoes, WHNT News 19 Meteorologist Ben Smith led the coverage of another Super Outbreak of tornadoes on April 27, 2011.  Ben, Christina Meeks, and Alan Raymond watched the storms from the pre-dawn hours until after sunset using Live ARMOR, NWS NEXRAD, live video cameras, social media, and they streamed it to the world on WHNT.com<http://WHNT.com&gt; reaching thousands of people here and elsewhere who wanted to know what was happening to our community.

WHNT News 19 is now and has always been about the Weather Where You Live.  Our mission is to give you the tools to plan your days around our fickle weather and keep you safe when that ever-changing weather turns on us.