Jesse Ferrell

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Controversial Tornado Coverage Dissected on YouTube

October 22, 2013; 10:47 AM

Two famous meteorologists bared their souls on last night's "WeatherBrains" program, discussing controversial tornado advice given by them to viewers during major twisters. The participants in the show agreed that this was the most interesting show of the last ten years. It's 160 minutes long, but you can watch it below:

The two stars of this episode were show regular James Spann, Chief Meteorologist for the ABC TV affiliate in Birmingham, AL and guest star Mike Morgan, Chief Meteorologist for KFOR in Oklahoma City. The discussion centered on controversial advice given to the public by TV meteorologists famous tornadoes in Birmingham and OKC. To start things out, James made a shocking admission (that was not secret, but not widely broadcast) at 00:33:42:

"I made a horrible mistake on April 27, 2011... nobody, nobody understands what it's like to be [on TV] for 5, 10, 12 hours at a time during an event like your May 31 or my April 27 where what you say can directly result in people living or dying. I believe that [mistake] was responsible for the death of Ashley Harrison." --James Spann

He said this mistake was caused by a "pixel displacement" in his television radar system that caused him to say the tornado was going down a particular road, when in reality it was not. He said that the vendor (which he wouldn't name) had apologized, and he said he won't make the mistake again of not confirming radar data on one system with another, which is great advice for all meteorologists.

Mike Morgan pointed out at 00:42:27that his directions to drive away from the Oklahoma City tornado were well spaced in time - over 40 minutes - from the so-called "I-35 Parking Lot" photo:

"41 minutes went by between my quote "Drive South" and this "parking lot I-35" folks that were southbound. I said that before the tornado performed a loop... no one in a car was killed by what I said." -- Mike Morgan.

Mike also pointed out that recent research disagrees on the survivability (versus fleeing): "Is [the survival rate of F4 & F5 tornadoes] it 1 % or 10%?" If the tornado hadn't lifted west of Yukon, Mike said, 1,550 people would have died, according to research by Josh Wurman. He also said "I think everybody owes it to themselves to go read Mike Smith's book "When the Sirens were Silent"... and look at exactly how the warning process worked in Joplin, Missouri." I have read that book, and I agree. Mike pointed out today on his blog that the ebook is only $2.99 and I reviewed it last year on this blog.

The last bomb to be dropped was when Mike stated at 01:18:16 that some of the anonymous offensive, vehement trolling comments that he received on his blog came from employees of the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, proving (I think) that no company or organization is troll-free.

And finally, both Mike and James agreed that television viewers prefer live video over radar, during intense tornado situations. "Radar looks like a bucket of spilled paint." So there's that.

Because of the very internet trolling that they mentioned, I know better than to throw out my opinions on this topic for public consumption, and I also don't feel I'm qualified to speak on these topics. Suffice to say that there were a lot of honest and productive things said in this video that gives me new respect for television meteorologists.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.