Talladega: Race Weekend Weather Forecast


Last week when I issued the weather forecast for Richmond, I closed by saying the forecast would prove to be a difficult one for Talladega.  It did not disappoint.  That has certainly been the case this week, but now it’s time to make a call for this weekend and run with it.

Oct 7, 2012; Talladega, AL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers during the race at Talladega Superspeedway. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The pattern I saw coming a week ago is one that gives all meteorologists gray hair… a low pressure system in the upper levels of the atmosphere that is “cut off”, meaning it is removed from the jet stream and has very little if anything to push it along.  Weather models are terrible at predicting these things, and that just makes things tougher for us.  If you’ve been following other forecasts this week, you’ve seen a lot of back and forth, flip-flopping between good, bad and worse news… and this is totally understandable given the uncertainties in this pattern and the inconsistent weather models.  It’s easy to get lost in these day to day changes as a forecaster and as a fan wanting to know what to expect from the weather.  Trust me, I don’t like the back and forth either… in the energy trading industry I’m in, it could get you fired!  But it is what it is, and the bottom line is that with this storm system around, it’s going to be hard to get racing in this weekend without delays and/or cancellations, and those who are planning to be at the track this weekend should expect to get wet at times… and cold.

So here’s my call.  Today we have qualifying for the Nationwide Series starting just after 11am, and I think we will get this in on time.  The Sprint Cup Series will run their practice sessions this afternoon, and at the very least, I think we should get the first practice session in without issue as well.  There are a few showers currently over Georgia that are actually moving west, but this rain looks very, very light and should not cause an issue.  Other showers appear to be developing over southern Alabama (LA, if you will) and moving slowly north, but these will have a hard time getting up into the I-20 corridor.

A cold front located over Mississippi this morning will very slowly move east throughout the day today, and moisture ahead of the front could reach Talladega in the form of some showers as early as 4pm this afternoon.  This would allow the Sprint Cup Series to get their happy hour in, but could create some issues for the ARCA Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250, which is scheduled for a 4pm start.  I am pretty optimistic though that the relatively dry and stable air over northern and central Alabama this morning will keep these showers off to the south and west, so I think we’ve actually got a decent chance of getting this race in.  I just don’t really see enough clear evidence that showers should develop around Talladega this afternoon… so I’m going to ignore the models and go with my gut for today.  Temperatures will only slowly rise today into the mid-upper 60s, and we should cool into the upper 50s tonight.

Tomorrow, that changes… The cold front should be essentially stalled over central and eastern Alabama in the morning, much like it is over Mississippi today.  The models should be fairly reliable with this weather feature, but timing is everything.  If we wake up tomorrow morning and the rain is just starting to move into Talladega, then we’re toast for the rest of the day.  As it stands now, models show this slow moving band of rain arriving at Talladega during the overnight and early morning hours, with some of the models allowing the rain to taper off after 1pm, but many keeping the showers around through Saturday evening.  We need this front to get a nice kick in the rear today, because if it doesn’t, I don’t think we’ll get to see much, if any on-track activity tomorrow.  I should mention there is a slight chance for thunderstorms mixed in with the showers as well, mainly in the morning and early afternoon, but nothing severe.

The other thing to note for tomorrow is the temperature.  With the front moving in and then slowly through the area tomorrow, temperatures will likely hold nearly steady in the mid to upper 50s throughout the day, and drop into the upper 40s by 11pm.  Quite a far cry from the highs in the 80s we had last year!  Sprint Cup qualifying is scheduled for just after 11am, and the Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 is set to start just after 2pm, and temperatures will be around 58 degrees for both, provided they get on track.

Finally, the Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 is slated for a 12pm CT start on Sunday.  The cold front will have passed and should be pushing through Georgia and into the Carolinas by this time, but the “cut-off” low pressure system I mentioned earlier will be passing just about directly overhead at Talladega.  This low pressure system has some very impressive cold air associated with it just a few thousand feet off the ground (snow has been falling in the hills of northwestern Arkansas this morning!), and this creates an unstable atmosphere, especially if you can warm up the ground level at all.  In this type of weather pattern, breaks in the clouds can actually be a bad thing, allowing the sun to warm up the ground and the air just above ground, while that colder air sits above it.  Warm air rises, and does so faster if the air above is much colder, and that strong upward motion can create thunderstorms… and those thunderstorms can easily produce hail because of the availability of cold air at the cloud level.

In this case though, while that is a remote possibility, I don’t think you should be very worried about it.  I don’t see a whole lot of breaks in the clouds, and even if there were, this being more of a winter-type storm than a spring storm, among other factors, leads me to believe that any hail that does manage to fall will be small, and perhaps more graupel-like.  This storm really looks more like something you’d see in January or February than early May.  There just isn’t enough warm air in the mix to create a severe weather situation.

That said, this thing is still going to produce some showers underneath it on Sunday, and I do think they will have at least some impact on the race.  Models show showers developing after 1pm and becoming much more numerous by 4pm.  This implies that we could get the race started, but may struggle to finish it, at least all 499 miles anyway (hey, maybe we will just shorten it to a more even number!).  I am worried though about low clouds and light rain or drizzle that the models may not be picking up on, or that the showers could sneak in a little earlier.

There should be an area or two of showers near the center of the low pressure system that hold together during the overnight hours Saturday into Sunday morning, and it will just come down to exactly where they move as to whether or not they hit Talladega.  As the day wears on, scattered showers should only increase in coverage, so if the track gets wet before noon, I’m afraid they’ll have a really hard time getting the track dry enough for a long enough period of time to get racing in.  I do like our chances of seeing racing on Sunday better than on Saturday.  There’s no way anyone can call Sunday a washout this early.  So yes, Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, I’m telling you there’s a chance.  But I will be surprised if this race is run in its entirety without a weather delay.

Assuming we do get the race in on time Sunday, we should have temperatures around 61 degrees at the drop of the green flag (just after noon), and hold in the low 60s through the checkers.  For those camping or arriving early Sunday, bundle up, because it’s going to be a damp 43 degrees for the morning low, and with a lack of sunshine, it will be tough to warm yourself up throughout the day.

So as you can tell by the length of this article and the amount of weather jargon I threw in, it’s still a complicated and uncertain forecast, much like picking the race winner at a restrictor plate track, but that is my call (oh, and I think Kasey Kahne gets the win this weekend, while I’m making predictions).

Next weekend we head to the Track Too Tough to Tame in Darlington, South Carolina for night racing, and so far, so good from the weather.  There will be another storm system approaching the area that could make things interesting though, so be sure to check back in with me next week here at BeyondTheFlag.com.  Until then, here’s to the “Vortex Theory” defying physics (and all logic, really) and actually working this weekend!