Alabama Power USA Coastal Weather Research Center holds grand opening

Alabama Power USA Coastal Weather Research Center holds grand opening
The Alabama Power Foundation and the University of South Alabama cut the ribbon and held the grand opening for the new Coastal Weather Research Center on Feb. 11. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

The Alabama Power Foundation joined the University of South Alabama on Tuesday for the grand opening of the new Coastal Weather Research Center.

The new, state-of-the-art facility has opened on the USA campus in the Science Laboratory Building. It will not only help teach future meteorologists, but provide valuable weather information to more than 100 clients, including Alabama Power.

Bill Williams is director emeritus of the Coastal Weather Resource Center and an associate professor emeritus at the university. He started the meteorology department at USA in 1992.

Williams is beginning his 53rd year working with the center and said the opening of the new center is one of the biggest days in that history.

“We’re excited about it,” he said. “When I was a kid interested in meteorology with my own weather station at home and a rain gauge and now we’re here with all of this modern equipment and satellite imagery, it’s really a delight.”

Alabama Power USA Coastal Weather Research Center opens from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Tony Waldrop, president of the University of South Alabama, said Tuesday was a big day for the university, “But I would also say it’s a big day for the community as well with the service that they can provide here, the training of the students and we have such wonderful partners for this.”

The leading partner is the Alabama Power Foundation, which provided a grant for the new facility and has supported USA for nearly three decades.

“This is a really important project and one we’re happy to support,” said Myla Calhoun, Alabama Power Foundation president and vice president of Charitable Giving at Alabama Power.

Williams said the work the center does to provide weather information tailored for business and industry is valuable.

“We’re not in competition with the National Weather Service,” Williams said. “We’re providing a service that is not provided by the Weather Service – that is, personalized information for business and industry.”

The Coastal Weather Resource Center provides information to more than 100 companies in nine states. Its reach is even farther because it provides hurricane information to CSX Railroad for the Gulf of Mexico and the entire eastern coast of the U.S.

Waldrop said that work is a source of pride for USA.

“Think about the businesses that we have here now,” Waldrop said. “Without this capability, they would probably not make as informed decisions as they do right now.”

Calhoun said the educational mission is another key reason why Alabama Power wanted to support the center.

Dr. Tony Waldrop, University of South Alabama president, talks with Beth Thomas, corporate communications manager for Alabama Power, inside the new Alabama Power USA Coastal Weather Research Center. The center provides weather forecasting to more than 100 clients. (Mike Kittrell)

“The opportunity to help educate the next generation of meteorologists is an important asset for the state, so we’re really proud of that as well,” she said.

No longer housed in the basement of the USA Mitchell Center, where it was located since 1999, the new Coastal Weather Research Center can become an emergency alert center that will include a video wall for displaying maps and models, as well as an area to hold briefings.

For USA’s meteorology students, the new location represents a unique academic opportunity in a space more conducive to learning.

“I decided to attend South for many reasons, but the phenomenal meteorology program certainly influenced my choice,” said Madison Mosley, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in meteorology. “The program is extremely well-structured and provides opportunities to learn and work while in college. The new center is located in a building that facilitates a good working environment and has better access to parking.”

The new location includes a new meteorology broadcast center, where students can develop real weather forecasting and participate in operations as interns. Weather broadcast segments produced by students are published through the center’s YouTube channel, “AtmosCenter USA,” and featured on JagTV.

“At the Coastal Weather Research Center, students are able to see forecasting happening in real time, which is very beneficial to what I will be doing in my career as an operational meteorologist,” said Carmen Hernandez, a meteorology student. “The broadcast center is also there, which is great for broadcast meteorology majors to be able to practice their newscasts and improve while in college. I am very excited about my future career, because I feel like the meteorology program at South is preparing me and giving me opportunities to be able to stand out to future employers.”

Tuesday was a beautiful day in Mobile, with the sun peeking through the clouds during the ribbon cutting to open the center. But Calhoun said we all know that will not always be the case.

“Fortunately, today the weather is fine, but we know that this center will be here when we need it,” she said.

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