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Ben Garrett

Write. Hike. Eat. Repeat.

I am a 30-something journalist from East Tennessee. My wife and I (and our twins, and dog, and 3 hermit crabs) reside on the eastern boundary of the Big South Fork, where I am editor-publisher of the hometown newspaper and she is an elementary school teacher.

Confidence grows in severe weather threat

It continues to look as though Saturday could bring most of Tennessee — including the northern Cumberland Plateau and East Tennessee — its biggest severe weather threat of the 2015 spring season.

Just a quick update to point out the latest thinking from the National Weather Service’s forecast offices in Nashville and Morristown. I’ll post something a little more in-depth by late Friday morning. 

For now, there’s still “only” a slight risk of severe weather outlined by the Storm Prediction Center. I expect that to change when the next update is issued tomorrow morning.

First, here’s the updated hazardous weather outlook from NWS-Morristown:

Severe thunderstorms are expected Saturday and Saturday evening across the Tennessee Valley and Southern Appalachian region along and ahead of a cold front. Damaging winds and large hail are expected to be the primary impacts with this activity, but isolated tornadoes will also be possible.

That’s sort of a cookie-cutter approach. More detailed information is available in NWS-Morristown’s area forecast discussion:

A significant bout of severe weather will be possible across the Southern Appalachian region Saturday afternoon and evening along and ahead of a cold front progged to drop south from the Ohio Valley. Saturday morning, a broad area of showers — some locally heavy — will move northeastward through the region along/ahead of a warm front. This warm front will stall out across southwest Virginia and far northeast Tennessee by the early to mid afternoon. In wake of the warm front, precipitation will taper off — and perhaps some partial clearing will occur — as winds veer and increase from the southwest. As a result, an unstable environment will develop within the warm sector with CAPE values are progged to be as high as 2000 to 3000 J/KG by 21z. This, combined with bulk shear values as high as 60-70KTS will result in very good storm organization with strong/rotating updrafts later in the day.

The main question then becomes storm mode. Currently, most solutions are showing an MCS/derecho feature dropping southeastward out of Kentucky during the late afternoon and early evening. This environment would certainly support a long-lived convective derecho event, with derecho composite values between 1 and 4 observed on the latest NAM/SREF runs. Within this line, the potential for supercell structures will exist as well. Some solutions even show an initial band of discrete cells ahead of the main line during the mid-afternoon. The combination of high helicity values, high 0-1 KM shear, and STP values as high as 3 to 5 — shown by the NAM — would definitely support some tornado threat — especially near areas where a more backed surface wind profile and in areas near any lingering residual outflow boundaries from earlier convection. Overall though, the main threats will be widespread convective damaging winds in excess of 60-70 MPH and large hail. Persons that have any outdoors activities planned should particularly monitor the latest forecast information.

This is the latest hazardous weather outlook from NWS-Nashville:

Some storms may be strong or possibly severe early Saturday morning as a warm front moves across the area, with a higher risk for severe storms on Saturday afternoon along and ahead of a cold front. Very large hail, damaging winds, a few tornadoes, heavy rainfall and localized flooding all appear possible.

It seems almost surreal that we’re under a frost advisory until 9 a.m. tomorrow morning and we’re talking about a severe weather threat that will begin just 24 hours later. Our severe weather here in this part of the world more often occurs after warm weather has well established itself, but that just goes to show how potent this setup promises to be on Saturday. A lot of the classic ingredients for spring severe weather appear to be coming together. It’s too soon to say this is going to be a widespread severe weather outbreak for Dixie Alley, but at the very least it appears that some damaging hail and damaging winds will be possible for some folks on Saturday. 

A severe weather threat lurks

The biggest severe weather threat of the season — thus far, anyway — appears to be shaping up for much of Tennessee on Saturday.

Here’s the current outlook from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, which has most of the South in a slight risk area for severe weather on Saturday:


Some of this will look like Greek if you aren’t a weather nerd, but here’s part of the associated text outlook from the SPC as it applies to Middle Tennessee:

NAM forecast soundings at 21z/Sat for Nashville TN and Paducah KY show moderate instability with MLCAPE in the 2000 to 2500 J/KG range and strong deep-layer shear of 60 to 65 KT. This should be favorable for super cells and organized line segments. The strong shear and steep lapse rates from 850 to 800 MB will make large hail a possibility with super cells. Wind damage may also occur with super cells and organized line segments. A tornado or two will be possible but this should be dependent upon mesoscale factors. The severe threat should drop off with NEWD extent across NE KY where instability is forecast to be weak Saturday afternoon.

Essentially what that is saying is that models indicate instability in the mid layers of the atmosphere and sufficient wind field profiles to make supercell thunderstorms — strong, often severe storms that are usually much more potent than your average, garden-variety thunderstorm — a possibility. With much colder air aloft, large hail is a threat, and severe-level winds could work down to the surface during these storms to make wind damage a threat, as well. There is much less certainty regarding the potential for tornadoes. The threat will generally diminish from west to east — as is very often the case, as those of us who live on the Cumberland Plateau know from experience — but as the outlook area implies, anywhere in Tennessee could see severe weather on Saturday.

Here’s what the National Weather Service’s Nashville forecast office has to say about the setup in a hazardous weather outlook issued this morning:

A strong storm system will move across the region on Saturday, bringing widespread showers and thunderstorms to the mid state. Some storms may be strong or possibly severe early Saturday morning as a warm front moves across the area, with a higher risk for severe storms on Saturday afternoon along and ahead of a cold front. Very large hail, damaging winds, a few tornadoes, heavy rainfall and localized flooding all appear possible.

That’s a little more ominous sounding than the SPC’s outlook. And, frankly, probably a little more reflective of the model data at this point in the game. The SPC is understandably conservative at this juncture; there’s no point in sounding the alarm two days in advance, then have the model data change and risk losing some of the public’s confidence. By tomorrow, though, I will be slightly surprised if we don’t see the SPC’s outlook become a bit more sternly worded.

One thing to keep an eye on here in Tennessee is what happens Saturday morning. As NWS-Nashville points out in its hazardous weather outlook, storms will be possible Saturday morning, well ahead of the approaching cold front. Some runs of some models show quite a lot of rain breaking out across the region Saturday morning. If that happens, it could help work the atmosphere over and stabilize things enough to lower the risk of severe weather, particularly if we don’t see a real break in the rain as we get into the heat of the day. Another thing that sometimes happens is that strong complexes of thunderstorms along the Gulf Coast rob the northwardly flow of moisture and helps prevent the severe weather threat further north in places like Tennessee. There’s no way of knowing, however, if either of those two things will occur on Saturday . . . until we get into the day on Saturday.

So what’s the real threat here on the Cumberland Plateau and on into East Tennessee? It’s hard to say at this point. There’s a threat for severe weather — perhaps not quite as potent as the threat for the greater Nashville area, but a threat nonetheless — but also a lot of uncertainty. Here’s what the NWS’s Morristown forecast office says in a hazardous weather outlook issued this morning:

Showers and thunderstorms are expected Saturday. The airmass will become moderately unstable Saturday afternoon and early evening, supporting a chance of strong to severe storms. Damaging winds and large hail will be possible with some storms, along with a potential for isolated tornadoes.

The University of Tennessee’s spring football game is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Neyland Stadium. With two of the largest spring game attendances in school history during the first two years of the Butch Jones era (60,000+ each game), the program is hoping to fill the stadium to near capacity this year, setting a school record and perhaps even conference or national records for attendance. And they’re bringing back Vol legend Peyton Manning to help their cause. But if we continue down this road, needless to say that probably won’t happen.

Hike sneak peek

Here’s a sneak peek of the 6th week of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge:

A sneak peek at next week's hike. #20WeekHikingChallenge

Posted by Ben Garrett on Sunday, April 19, 2015

Free range kids and our parenting police state

“This is getting pretty ridiculous. Somehow we’ve morphed from being a village that helps raise children to a parenting police state.” — Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak.


The rant heard round the world

When ESPN’s Britt McHenry emerged from dinner on April 6 to discover her car had been towed, she wasn’t happy. She took out her anger on an employee of the towing company–poking fun at everything from the woman’s education to her teeth. But the employee got the last laugh, because McHenry just happened to be caught on camera for all the world to see:

It really is quite an ugly tirade. We’ve all been there, saying things we regret in moments of anger. But you have to question just how vile someone’s personality is when they aren’t content to stop with just one or two insults but continue to berate their target.

As a result, ESPN has suspended McHenry for one week.

If you think that’s lax punishment for McHenry’s indefensible behavior, you aren’t alone.

It’s ironic, though, that McHenry chose to lash out at the woman’s supposed lack of knowledge. Because, let’s face it, if it wasn’t for her blonde looks, McHenry wouldn’t have that cushy ESPN job in the first place. Who knows? She might even be signing receipts for a towing company somewhere.

Wetzel on Hernandez verdict’s Dan Wetzel is one of the best sports writers in the business. Read his take on Aaron Hernandez’s guilty verdict if you don’t read any other take on the trial:

He’d gotten away with everything, forever, until his arrogance got the better of him – killing his own friend right near his home, leaving footprints and DNA behind, returning a rental car with a shell casing in it, failing to erase his own home security system. It was a mountain of self-created evidence.

His own stupidity proved to be the prosecution’s best witness.

“You’re wrong,” Hernandez mouthed toward the jury as Shayanna wailed in pain and apparent disbelief, although that could’ve been just another act, too.

The jury never flinched. Not a single one of them.

Aaron Hernandez wasn’t as tough as he thought. His tattoos and vicious looks didn’t scare anyone anymore. His ability to catch passes over the middle carried no value.

One part of Wetzel’s piece that you want to really focus on is this:

Aaron Hernandez had gotten away with everything, forever, perhaps even a couple of murders. A sucker punch back in 2007 at a University of Florida bar that left a bouncer with a ruptured eardrum ended with no one pressing charges because, well, it’s a college town and he was a potential football star.

An incident in 2007 where two men were shot in their car after a dispute with some Gator players, including a man described as a muscular, heavily tattooed “Hawaiian” who matched Hernandez’s description, didn’t go far either.

That isn’t exactly news if you follow college football closely. There’s pretty damning, if circumstantial, evidence that Urban Meyer and/or other decision-makers within the Florida football program helped enable Hernandez to complete his college career despite offenses that should’ve landed him in jail. It wasn’t exactly a secret; it’s the reason he slipped to the fourth round of the NFL draft despite being a first-round talent. And, as a result, his life as a murderer after college was enabled.

I’ve been castigated for saying that, and that’s fine. But it doesn’t change the fact that Meyer and the Gators — and, later, Robert Craft and the New England Patriots — helped a known thug remain a celebrity . . . until he finally went too far. 

Why? Because he was a talented football player. And if you think things like that only happen at Florida or New England, you’re kidding themselves. Because in our sports-obsessed, winning-trumps-all culture, talented athletes are way too often given a free pass. It’s the same mindset that allowed Jerry Sandusky to abuse boys in Happy Valley for far too many years, and that allows players like Ray Rice to punch out defenseless women half their size in elevators with little repercussion.

Is Tim McGraw about to “Dixie Chicks” himself?

Country music superstar Tim McGraw announced Monday that he will be headlining a July fundraising concert for Sandy Hook Promise — the organization founded by residents of Newtown, Conn., in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Not surprisingly, the announcement raised the ire of gun-loving country music fans. said that McGraw is poised to “Dixie Chick” himself:

This decision is not going to be received well by McGraw’s country music fan base, which overwhelmingly supports gun rights, and views a concert benefiting Sandy Hook Promise as being a betrayal.

Sandy Hook Promise claims to “promote mental wellness, combat social isolation, and prevent gun violence,” but by far their strongest emphasis is on turning the public against the Second Amendment rights of Americans by subtly equating the support of gun rights with the murder of children, as their social media accounts clearly show.

The Dixie Chicks, you might remember, were a quite popular country music band until their decision to bash President George W. Bush while performing in London in the run-up to the Iraq war. The group’s careers subsequently torpedoed as the predominately conservative country music scene turned against them. 

So will McGraw suffer a similar fate by cozying up to Sandy Hook Promise? If conservative websites have their way, he will. Those websites, like, have labeled the concert an “anti-gun” concert, and Shotgun News has called for country music fans to delete McGraw’s music from their playlists.

Predictably, liberal-leaning has come to McGraw’s defense by saying it isn’t accurate to label the concert “anti-gun.” 

To a point, Snopes is correct. The concert itself hasn’t been labeled as a rallying event to stir up support for gun control measures. And, on its surface, Sandy Hook Promise is much more about benign efforts to keep guns out of children’s hands than the hard-core gun control organizations the gun-bearing right has become accustomed to through organizations like the Brady campaign and the Million Moms group.

And, to be sure, the conservative websites’ articles are so full of hyperbole that they’re borderline ridiculous — but that’s almost always the case.

On the other hand, there’s an old saying about things that walk and talk like ducks — and Sandy Hook Promise quacks just like a gun control lobby, even if it does it subtly.

The group has lobbied for a ban on high-capacity magazines and is in the midst of a heavy campaign to encourage laws that would effectively ban private gun sales by requiring a federal background check. Sandy Hook Promise has also applauded failed legislation that would have banned so-called assault weapons. 

That doesn’t mean that McGraw’s concert for Sandy Hook Promise isn’t innocuous. And coming out of the closet for gun control isn’t a guarantee that country music fans will turn their backs on you. Reba McEntire has publicly stated her desire to see assault weapons banned, and Terri Clark is very much in favor of gun control. And the current first lady of country music, Carrie Underwood, is a staunch anti-hunter. 

What sunk the Dixie Chicks was the egregiousness of what they said. If Natalie Maine had said, “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” while playing a concert in New York or any other American city, chances are the band would have survived the dust-up that ensued. Instead, she traveled to a foreign country to make those comments at a time when Americans were still shook up over the 9/11 terrorist attacks and more than 70 percent supported military intervention in Iraq. That was an unforgivable act in the eyes of country music fans.

McGraw headlining a concert for a group that says it is dedicated to preventing kids from having access to guns? Probably not so much so. The hyperbolic conservative websites will rant and rave, but at the end of the day, McGraw will be okay.

With that said, I was a huge Reba fan and her music has disappeared from my playlists since she came out in support of an assault weapons ban. McGraw may be on the verge of joining her in my iPod’s dust bin.

Stay classy, Ohio State

Remember when this post about Ohio State’s Urban Meyer drew the disdain of Buckeye fans who insisted that Meyer is a saint and I’m merely a hater?

Um, yeah.

Today, Tennessee received a verbal commitment from coveted 2014 quarterback prospect Jarrett Guarantano, who picked the Vols over Ohio State.

And Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith tweeted this:

An amazing cover

I don’t like cover song videos. In fact, I usually avoid them like the plague. But I watched this one . . . and was blown away.

These three Mexican girls are ages 14, 12 and 9, and they completely destroy 99% of the garage bands who have ever tried to cover Metallica’s Enter Sandman.

TN GOP names Bible the state’s official book

In response to the typical legislative complaint of, “Don’t they have anything more important to focus their efforts on?”, I’ve always maintained that it is possible — believe it or not — for lawmakers to focus on more than one thing at a time.

Sometimes, though, Tennessee’s Republican Party makes that a hard defense to make.

Today, the House of Representatives voted 55-38 to name the Bible the official state book of Tennessee:

The state House has passed a bill to make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee, despite opposition from Republican leaders and an attorney general’s opinion that the measure would violate the state and federal constitutions.

The chamber voted 55-38 on Wednesday to approve the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton, a former pastor from Bean Station.

Sexton argued that his proposal reflects the Bible’s historical, cultural and economic impact in Tennessee.

This despite yesterday’s opinion from the state attorney general that such a measure is unconstitutional:

“It is our legal opinion that the bill would violate not only the First Amendment of the United States Constitution but the Tennessee Constitution as well. Interestingly, the Tennessee Supreme Court has held the Tennessee Constitution to be more restrictive than the federal Constitution,” Slatery said. The Tennessee Constitution says “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court has characterized this constitutional protection against religious establishment as “substantially stronger” than the protection afforded by the Establishment Clause of the federal Constitution. State ex rel. Comm’r of Transp. v. Eagle, 63 S.W.3d 734,761 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) citing Carden v. Bland, 288 S.W.2d 718,721 (Tenn. 1956).

“While it may not be the government’s role to establish the Bible as the Official State Book of Tennessee, that does not lessen the value it has in the public forum. I am quite confident that the Bible’s distinguished place in history will not be diminished in the absence of a state’s endorsement,” Attorney General Slatery said.

Of course the online commentators are already decrying the religious “zealots” who are trying to turn America into a “complete theocracy.” 

I don’t think it’s anything as serious as that. I think it’s merely a case of lawmakers grandstanding in the name of Christianity. To them I say — don’t you have anything more important to focus on? 

Posts on this page
  • Confidence grows in severe weather threat
  • A severe weather threat lurks
  • Hike sneak peek
  • Free range kids and our parenting police state
  • The rant heard round the world
  • Wetzel on Hernandez verdict
  • Is Tim McGraw about to "Dixie Chicks" himself?
  • Stay classy, Ohio State
  • An amazing cover
  • TN GOP names Bible the state's official book
Posts on this page
  • Confidence grows in severe weather threat
  • A severe weather threat lurks
  • Hike sneak peek
  • Free range kids and our parenting police state
  • The rant heard round the world
  • Wetzel on Hernandez verdict
  • Is Tim McGraw about to "Dixie Chicks" himself?
  • Stay classy, Ohio State
  • An amazing cover
  • TN GOP names Bible the state's official book