VORTEX-SE Weather Research in Alabama, County Health Rankings Released

Mar 21, 2016

National Severe Storms Laboratory field command vehicle
Credit NOAA

Dozens of the country’s top meteorologists are gathering in north Alabama for a massive research project focused on severe storms and tornadoes.

It’s called the Verification of Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment, or VORTEX Southeast. The program hopes to allow researchers to better understand how the climate and environment in the Southeast affects how tornadoes form and how strong they get. Scientists also want to improve their ability to forecast these storms.

Dr. Kevin Knupp directs the University of Alabama in Huntsville facility where the VORTEX program is headquartered. He says one of the main reasons behind the study is that Southeastern tornadoes tend to be more deadly.

“The fatality rate is much higher here in the Southeast, for several reasons. One would be greater population density. But other reasons are that tornadoes just are not as visible here as they are on the Great Plains, because of low cloud base and trees and topography.”

Researchers from across the country will observe storms and gather data through the end of April. They plan to publish their findings later this year and hope to conduct a second campaign next spring.

A new county-by-county study on health in Alabama shows even affluent communities can improve. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released its rankings, which examined 30 factors like smoking and obesity as well as education and jobs.

Shelby County ranked best in the state; Wilcox County was the worst. Shelby has four times as many doctors for its population compared to Wilcox and half the number of drunk driving deaths.

Katie Wehr is with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She says Alabama’s urban and rural counties show similar problems to other states around the south.

“So in general, we see counties that are healthier counties have higher graduation rates, lower numbers of children living in poverty, lower smoking rates. And I think if we look side by side between Shelby and Wilcox, we’d see something similar.”

The study also looked at things like preventable hospital stays, air pollution, and how long it takes for people to drive to and from work.

Officials in Gulf Shores say an immediate ban on alcohol has been placed on public beaches in the Gulf Shores corporate limits.

The decision to ban alcohol on Gulf Shores beaches came Friday during a special session of the Gulf Shores City Council. The ban is effective immediately and will last until April 17.

Mayor Robert Craft says the reasoning behind the ban is to maintain a safe environment in the Gulf Shores during spring break. Craft says there has been an increase in students at the beach in recent years. The Gulf Shores Police Department says they have seen a significant spike in arrests recently.

Gulf Shores spokesman Grant Brown says no alcohol may be consumed between the dunes and waterline. Anyone in violation of the new alcohol ban is subject to a fine up to $500 or up to six months in jail.