Ten years ago…

…I lived about a thousand miles away from home, forecasting the weather for East Texas on KLTV. February 1, 2003 became a day I will never forget.

It was a Saturday, a day I was off of work. My pup, Theo, was just about three years old and slept every night on the foot of my bed. He was a deep sleeper (as was I) but awoke abruptly that morning. Usually, if someone knocked on the door, he ran to the door to announce the arrival of a visitor. This time, he stood on top of the bed barking loudly, for no apparent reason. I calmed him down but within a minute there was a loud knocking on my front door. I scratched my head, threw on some shorts and opened the door. My next door neighbor Harrison, out of breath, was describing the sound of an explosion. We looked in all different directions in the sky and down Grande Boulevard, expecting to see a plume of smoke from a car wreck or something. In my calmer state, I assured him everything was alright and he needed to get back to the morning routine (of sleep). We were both in our 20s and 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday was not the time to be bushy-tailed and bright-eyed.

I got back into my warm bed and within another minute my phone rang. It was my mom calling from Illinois. Her first words were “Eric, are you watching CNN?” My first instinct was 9/11 as we both watched on TV what was happening to our country while talking on the phone. I went into the living room, turned on the TV to find the banner “Breaking News: Communication with Columbia Lost.” It took me a while to grasp the severity of the situation. When the news anchors showed the flight path from Texas to the landing site in Florida, I began to piece the events of my morning together.

A vivid sight in the sky was captured by a Tyler, Texas doctor February 1, 2003.

The loud “explosion” my neighbor heard (and that woke Theo) was the sound of the Space Shuttle Disaster. I told my mom I would call her back later and then ran next door to tell Harrison (now back in bed) what had happened. He immediately grabbed his camera and we jumped into my car. My first instinct was that of the shuttle sitting nose-first into a field nearby. At that time, we didn’t know it broke up on entry. I thought there might have been a mechanical failure that caused it to literally crash.

As we exited the gates of my apartment community, I remember the wail of emergency vehicles in all different directions. It was surreal as I had never heard that before. We drove southwest on Texas 155 toward Palestine as that’s where CNN said some of the crash debris had been located.

Because it was a February Saturday in East Texas, we noticed there were fires burning in fields as we left town. It was nothing out of the ordinary as farmers and ranchers typically did that sort of thing on weekends. Later in the day we found out the fires were that of burning debris that had been strewn over hundreds of square miles of East Texas.

I remember seeing pieces of twisted metal on the shoulders of Texas 155. Again, I didn’t think twice about it since it was a fairly busy highway and trucks lose their loads a lot and cars have fender-benders occasionally. Later that day, it became obvious to me that the debris was in fact from Columbia.

After being gone about 45 minutes, we decided we weren’t going to see anything and if there was something to see the authorities wouldn’t let us anywhere near it.

I called the KLTV newsroom to see if there was anything I could do but our assignment manager said that they were calling everyone in, except for the Meteorologists. I went back and watched the coverage for hours, not knowing what emotions I was supposed to feel. KLTV’s coverage lasted for days…literally, days. Our coverage revolved around Columbia as we became Ground Zero for our nation’s new tragedy. I remember how wonderfully the team came together. One of my dear friends Dana Dixon, a reporter for KLTV, was sent to Nacogdoches where NASA had set up a command post. She had the daunting task of reporting on the recognizable remains of the shuttle and its occupants. I remember she broke up a few times on the air as any true reporter sometimes does during significant events. She held it together day in and day out providing the latest information to me, our viewers, and the nation during national news cutins. That Saturday turned every employee of KLTV into a true journalist, all of which I was proud to work with. Heck! The TV station’s slogan was and still is “Proud of East Texas.”

Space Shuttle Columbia memorial at Arlington National Cemetery (Taken by 13News Anchor Eric Wilson two weeks ago)

I remember where I was during the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and on 9/11 and felt many of the same emotions ten years ago today. Just yesterday, I read an article that NASA knew there could be problems on re-entry, due to broken heat shield tiles on Columbia’s wing. Because another Shuttle wasn’t ready to be launched and Columbia’s mission was far removed from the International Space Station, they could either notify the crew and keep them in space (rapidly losing oxygen) or try to bring them back to Earth. I believe NASA made the right decision not to communicate their fears to the crew. Instead of potentially dying in space, gasping the last available breaths of air, they died in a few seconds on re-entry as heroes…modern-day pioneers. The risks they took along with their final sacrifice should never be forgotten, whether it is the 10th anniversary or the 11th, or the 200th!

For me, I remember more from Saturday February 1, 2003 than I do six days ago. Maybe it’s because I wanted to be an astronaut when I was really young. But most likely it was because it hit so close to home.

 

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Posted under aviation, news, safety, space

This post was written by qni_it on February 1, 2013

Holiday Travel Forecast

Sunday will be another major travel day and luckily, very few issues will arise (in regards to weather).  Locally, we can expect filtered sunshine with highs in the upper 20s.

The majority of the Midwest will remain dry through Christmas Eve.  The only exception is the Ohio Valley late Sunday into Monday.  A low pressure system will quickly move through that area and bring rain showers to parts of southern Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio (and the southeastern United States).  Snow showers will be likely Monday in northern Indiana, northern Ohio, and much of the eastern Great Lakes.  A quick snowflake or two will be possible across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin on Christmas Eve as well, but the chance is very slight (20%).

Nationally, the Pacific Northwest will deal with some rainy and breezy conditions from near San Francisco north to Seattle.  Snow showers will be on and off throughout the Intermountain West.  On the opposite side of the country, a few lingering snow showers will exit New England late Sunday.  All in all, airports and train stations will be weather-worry-free through Christmas Eve.

If you like warm weather, and you’re headed to Florida or Texas for Christmas, you’re in luck!  Temperatures will be in the 60s and 70s for many areas of those states.  Mild air will also be in place over the Desert Southwest. Up north, the Northern Plains, Minnesota, and areas to the east through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan will be a bit colder than normal.

Have safe travels!

-Joe

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Posted under aviation, rain, safety, snow, sunlight, travel, weather, Wind, winter weather

This post was written by Joe Astolfi on December 22, 2012

Weather may be to blame in fatal helicopter crash

Around 8:30pm Monday night a REACT medical helicopter, flying from Rockford Memorial Hospital, crashed in a field south of Rochelle, Illinois killing the pilot and two flight nurses. While the Federal Aviation Administration and The National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash, weather is a suspect not worth overlooking.

Normally, we think of wind shear and severe thunderstorms as the main causes for air disasters. In this case, the helicopter was likely flying through super-cooled water droplets. These unfrozen droplets can exist in the atmosphere in liquid form, even though the temperature of the atmosphere is below freezing. As an aircraft flies into these droplets, the cold fuselage comes in contact with the cold water, causing ice to form on the aircraft and wings (or in the case of helicopters, rotors). The accumulation of ice may not be noticed by pilots and passengers during night flying and if it is, usually the pilot can ascend or descend to a different flight level where the ice won’t accumulate or will melt. It is not immediately known whether the helicopter involved in Monday’s crash had deicing equipment.

Icing is dangerous because of a few reasons. 1.) It can change the aerodynamics of the aircraft; proper aerodynamics are needed to ensure there is enough lift to keep the vessel in the air. 2.) Ice can produce a significant amount of weight, causing the rotors to spin too slow to maintain flight. 3.) Ice can cause blockages of pitot tubes and vents. This can cause errors in instruments such as altimeters and airspeed indicators. 4.) Ice formation on unheated parts of the aircraft can affect the ability of radio transmission. 5.) Ice accumulation that falls off of aircraft may damage necessary pieces of equipment for flight.

Conditions at Rochelle, the nearest airport to the crash site, were cloudy with intermittent snow showers and flurries. At flight level, it is certainly possible that the crew ran into low clouds and super-cooled water droplets, which could’ve caused icing. Shortly after we confirmed the crash, I spoke with Casey Sullivan, a Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Illinois. He could not confirm whether icing was a factor. “We did not receive any reports of any icing in that area from aircraft, but that’s not to say it wasn’t possible.”

Since there were no survivors or pilot reports in the area, we must look to the profile of the atmosphere from this evening’s balloon launch at the Davenport, Iowa National Weather Service Office. To the left is the vertical profile of the atmosphere around Northern Illinois this evening. Meteorologists and pilots refer to these charts as “Skew-T Log P” diagrams. What’s important to know is the red line represents the temperature (slightly below freezing at the ground (bottom)), with a steady decrease as you ascend into the atmosphere (top). The green line is the dewpoint. The air is completely saturated where the green and red lines are very close together. This occurred from near the surface, up to about 5,955 feet. This is the most likely area for super-cooled water droplets to be present within the atmosphere. Unfortunately, most medical helicopters travel at a level below 5,955 feet…making the threat of aircraft icing a real and present danger if the aircraft did not have deicing equipment.

Stay with 13News as we continue to cover this air crash. -Eric

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Posted under aviation, news, safety, science, snow, technology, travel, weather geek

This post was written by qni_it on December 11, 2012

Thanksgiving Travel

This weekend is shaping up to be an incredible stretch of weather, but just because our weather is comfortable and sunny doesn’t mean that everyone else across the country has the same enjoyment. Usually weather in other parts of the nation doesn’t really concern us much. This week is one of those exceptions with Thanksgiving coming up just around the corner. There is some good news if you are traveling for the holiday or having relatives make the trek here. At least it is mostly good news. Aside from the far Northwest and a small section of the East Coast, traveling conditions early next week should be very favorable. The risk of flight delays is minimal for virtually everywhere else across the country. So if you’re hitting the road or the skies travel safely and have a great Thanksgiving! -Greg

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Posted under aviation, event, First Look, safety

This post was written by GregBobos on November 16, 2012

Another Nor’easter?

The East Coast has recently battled two rounds of vigorous weather, the first being hurricane Sandy and the second a powerful nor’easter that brought strong winds and snow to some areas. Models are starting to indicate that yet another nor’easter could be heading for the East Coast, and just in time for Thanksgiving. This storm could start gaining strength in the soouthwestern Atlantic by Sunday and move up the coast toward the northeast, making it there just in time for Thanksgiving. Thankfully, if this scenario plays out snow shouldn’t be a major concern in most areas due to warm air occupying the majority of the eastern half of the United States. However, heavy rain and possible airport delays could be an issue with this upcoming week being an incredibly busy travel week. It is still a bit too soon to tell if this scenario will indeed play itself out, so we will keep our eyes in that direction and give you updates as we get a better handle on late next week. -Greg

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Posted under aviation, event, First Look, weather

This post was written by GregBobos on November 15, 2012

Greetings from Colorado!

Hello everybody! I hope you enjoyed what was hopefully Old Man Winter’s last winter storm on Friday. And why does it seem that when I go out of town some big weather event happens?

I’ve been keeping a diary of my trip so far with the hope that you’ll learn about some of the great things to see and do in Colorado! Frontier Airlines is the third airline to offer non-stop service from Chicago-Rockford International to Denver in recent years and we need to make sure it’s successful! And this is the time to plan a trip because fares can be found cheap online and a vacation can be planned pretty easily!

On Wednesday, my good friend Lauren Williams and I flew out of RFD to DIA, arriving just in time for 13News at Ten. With new 4GLTE technology, we quickly hooked up a Skype connection to announce that Alex Soulke from Rockford won our $1,500 trip to Denver! Perhaps this can be a guide for him as well.

On Wednesday night, we stayed at the Curtis Hotel, a wonderful eclectic hotel right next to the Denver Performing Arts Center. The hotel is funky with a modern feel. Every floor of the hotel has a different theme and everyone who arrives is greeted with fresh cookies! Next door to the hotel is the Corner Office Restaurant and Bar, a great stop for a great meal on your first night. The restaurant and bar have an upscale feel but in a relaxed environment.

We checked out of our cool hotel in Denver on Thursday morning and drove south on I-25. Just a few turns out of downtown I got my first glimpses of the Rocky Mountains. I can’t believe I am 36 years old and have never seen them! On the hour trip south to Colorado Springs, they are on your right side the whole way. Once we got to “The Springs” as locals call it, our first stop was Garden of the Gods, an amazing set of rock formations. Everyone should see this in their lifetime. The rocks jut right out of the ground and are gray, orange, and red. The park is completely free and it’s an easy hike on paved walks around all of them. Look carefully and you’ll see rock climbers several hundred feet above your head. And while we were there, a deer ran right in front of us…so be sure to remain on the lookout for wildlife.

On Thursday night, we had the opportunity to meet A.J. Longhenry who went by the name Jay Fields on WREX about 8 years ago. He and his wife took us to the Colorado Mountain Brewery, a restaurant similar to the Stone Eagle in Rockford (only with several microbrews). It was great to catch up with friends and share stories. It made us feel right at home.

We stayed at the Towneplace Suites in Colorado Springs (because I got a super good deal on priceline) and met a man who was from Rockford! Very small world. On Friday morning, I called the Pikes Peak Cog Railway in nearby Manitou Springs (a smaller version of Galena). We arrived around noon for the 2 hour trip up the mountain. The cog railway has “teeth” as a center rail which allows the train to climb very steep grades. There are many boulders the size of large houses just hanging on the side of the mountain. And as we went up, it got snowier and snowier! By about 10,000 feet you rise above the tree-line. (Trees can’t grow at the very high elevations due to the wind. Simply put, the wind is so strong, it blows the seeds right over the mountain, onto the “lower” elevations. Due to the fact it is March, the train currently does not go to the summit. Our conductor, Mel, told us that they are working every day to clear the tracks in hopes of clearing all of the snow by April. The top of the mountain gets 15-30 feet of snow January through March so it’s impossible to keep the area clear. On the ride up, we drank plenty of water. As you breathe in, you are not receiving as much oxygen so it’s essential to drink as you ascend. We packed some chips and noticed near the top that the bags were inflated and about to explode! That’s due to the lower air pressure on the bags. It was an eerie thing to witness to be sure. I wondered what it would’ve been like to bring blown-up balloons up the mountain. There’s no need to be scared as Mel told us that no visitors have been injured or killed on the railroad since it was built in the late 1800s. I asked him why they built the railroad and he said “Just to take in the view.”

Friday afternoon we drove north on I-25 back to Denver. We checked into the Oxford Hotel in the heart of “Lo Do.” The hotel is one of Denver’s nicest, oldest hotels. The staff here is great! Even though it is a higher-end hotel, there is quite a sense of “come as you are.” It’s very friendly and comfortable. We are right in the middle of the entertainment district with tons of small pubs and eateries. One of which you have to try: Illegal Petes! It’s a great little bar with a kitchen specializing in quick Mexican food. The burritoes looked awesome! You’ve got to try this place.

This morning we got up and drove westbound on I-70. About 25 miles west of downtown you begin your ascent into the mountains and let me tell you, it’s intense! The highway is so steep, it’s hard to maintain your speed. (Okay, part of that is due to the fact that there are large cliffs on the sides of the highway and I was scared to go faster.) There are several little mining towns that are worth a quick stop on the way up. About 45 minutes into the trip we encountered some serious snow! We knew something was up because signs were flashing telling truckers to put on chains. Luckily, I’m from Rockford and know how to drive in snow. The temperature was about 13 degrees at the top of the mountain, even though it was about 50 degrees in Denver! Without much notice you enter the Eisenhower Tunnel which goes right through the mountain at the Continental Divide. The divide is along the highest mountain peaks where water on the east side flows toward the Atlantic and the water on the west side flows toward the Pacific. Look closely and you’ll see a small sign in the middle of the long tunnel marking it.

Once you exit the tunnel, it’s back to winter driving but this time you’re going down…and it doesn’t last long. And after a few small exits (and runaway truck ramps) we arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado. The town was very quaint and VERY snowy! In fact, the main road was completely snowcovered as well as the sidewalks. There was also a flurry of people walking to and fro because it’s the weekend and there are many skiers and snowboarders around. I need a little more practice at Cascade Mountain and Alpine Valley before I try them, but next time I will for sure! Right in Breckenridge you can see the ski resorts on the mountain making for a great photo-op. While there, we stopped at “Downstairs at Eric’s,” a lively restaurant and bar. For the kids there are plenty of arcade games and for the adults there is great food! And I have to admit, I spent some spending cash in the gift shop there.

After a few hours in “Breck,” we headed back to Denver and to our hotel. Tonight, we’re going to just randomly pick a restaurant and tomorrow we’re headed to some of Denver’s museums. I’ll post a few more pictures either Sunday night or Monday on the last part of the trip. I can see how a lot of people in our area take our direct flights to Las Vegas because of the glitz, glamour, and gambling. However, coming to Denver (and Colorado) is much more breathtaking and in my opinion easier on the wallet and full of friendlier people.

Have a great weekend and let me know if you want more information on this type of trip! I’m by no means a travel planner after one trip, but I can help steer you in the right direction. -ES

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Posted under aviation, cold blast, event, health, humor, news, safety, snow, weather, weather geek, wildlife, Wind, winter storm

This post was written by qni_it on March 3, 2012

Smooth Sailing (or Should I Say ‘Sleighing’) for Santa!

Clear to partly cloudy skies are in store for us here in Rockford this Christmas Eve.  Temperatures will fall into the middle 20s for lows tonight with a breeze out of the west southwest around 5 to 15 mph.  With no hazardous weather in the forecast, Santa Claus will be in the clear to make his Christmas deliveries around the world tonight!  The North American Aerospace Defense Command, commonly refered to as NORAD, is tracking Santa in his sleigh at this very moment!  Check out their Santa Tracker to see when he will arrive in the Stateline!

Christmas Day temperatures will climb into record territory.  I’m forecasting 41 degrees under mostly sunny skies.  If we hit that high temperature, it will send Christmas 2011 into the Top 10 warmest Christmas Day’s in Rockford history, placing us in the number 9 position!  -JA

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Posted under 13 Climate Authority, aviation, humor, record weather, space

This post was written by Joe Astolfi on December 24, 2011

Upper atmospheric research!

I was able to fly with Rob Holland in his Window World MX2 airplane today. We were able to get video of my experience as I handled 5G’s through some parts of the flight. During these extreme maneuvers, I felt my weight shoot up to 825 lbs. For more information, visit http://www.ultimateairshows.com/

Some stats about Rob’s MX2..

Weight: about 1,500 lbs (about half that of a small car)
Power: 385HP 6 cylinder engine
Maximum Rotation: 420 degrees per second (remember, a complete loop is 360!)
Maximum G’s: 5G (my flight)  10G’s (what he feels during the airshow) 16G’s (what this aircraft can handle)

…at 10G’s, a 180lb man would weigh an astonishing 1,800lbs…more than the  weight of the aircraft!

RAW FLIGHT VIDEO

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Posted under aviation

This post was written by qni_it on July 30, 2010

United flight hits severe turbulence, injures 30

united-airlinesDENVER (AP) – A fire official says a United Airlines jetliner was diverted to Denver after experiencing “significant turbulence,” injuring about 30 people onboard, one seriously.

The flight originated in Washington, D.C., and was headed to Los Angeles.

Denver Fire Department spokesman Eric Tade says the plane was able to land safely at Denver International Airport, where medical crews met the flight. He says several people were treated at the scene.

United Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy says 25 people were taken to hospitals. She didn’t know the extent of the injuries.

McCarthy says Flight 967 was carrying 255 passengers and 10 crew members. She says the crew decided to be safe and land in Denver to tend to the injured.

McCarthy says several United is working to find flights for the uninjured passengers.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Posted under aviation

This post was written by qni_it on July 20, 2010