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Popular TV meteorologist fired after viral remarks on 'Code Red' controversy

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
June 14, 2019, 4:59:54 AM EDT

Joe Crain

WICS television meteorologist Joe Crain delivering a forecast on a "Code Red'" day. (Twitter photo/Joe Crain)

A popular television meteorologist is out of his job after sounding off about a "Code Red" controversy on the air last week, but he may have brought about some change in the station's policies on his way out. Joe Crain, who hadn't appeared on WICS NewsChannel 20 in Springfield, Illinois, since making the unscripted remarks on June 5, "is no longer with the station," Michael Padovano, a spokesperson, told AccuWeather in an email on Wednesday. Padovano confirmed to AccuWeather that Crain was let go from WICS.

Crain declined to comment when reached by AccuWeather and the station did not reply to messages left by AccuWeather seeking comment.

The removal of Crain's biography from the news station’s website was an ominous sign for fans following Crain's on-air remarks that were critical of a corporate weather-alert brand. Viewers have been outspoken about his absence from the newscast.

“If you want me back, there is only one way to get me to return to your [news] stations: bring back Joe Crain.”

“Joe Crain has been a part of WICS for many years. Bring him back. He’s kind, honest and a great meteorologist. We need this man back.”

“I grew up and spent 25 years in Springfield. I always tuned into Joe when severe weather and such is affecting my family and friends back home. This is upsetting, and I'll be finding a different source.”

These are just a few of a multitude of messages posted to an online petition showing support for Crain, who had been with the news station since 2004 — and there’s far more support where that came from. Local viewers on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere online haven’t been happy about the noticeable absence of Crain’s forecasts from their television screens, with some using the hashtag “#FreeJoeCrain” to express their dissatisfaction on social media.

A video posted to the WICS website Monday evening showed general manager Rick Lipps stating, “It is our policy to not comment on individual personnel matters and we will continue to adhere to that policy out of respect to Joe Crain.” But, in another ominous turn on Tuesday, WICS posted an employment ad for a morning meteorologist opening to Sinclair Broadcast Group's website.

John Crain support-AP Photo

A sign supporting Springfield meteorologist Joe Crain appears at Grab a Java, a drive-through coffee joint, on Monday, June 10, 2019 in Springfield, Ill. The central Illinois city is defending a popular meteorologist who has been absent from local television newscasts since he criticized a corporate weather-alert brand. (AP / John O'Connor)

Last Wednesday, Crain spoke out during one of his forecasts during a “Code Red” weather alert in place on the newscast, which is implemented during periods of severe weather. Crain explained to viewers that "Code Red" is a Sinclair Broadcast Group corporate initiative that “many of us [behind the scenes] have tried to dissuade for the last few months, to try something else that's less controversial to the viewers."

WICS meteorologists and those at other Sinclair Broadcast Group affiliates are encouraged to use the words Code Red or to announce weather alert days, and Crain said that corporate management forced him to engage in the practice, according to The Washington Post.

“We want you to know it's not us," Crain said in the viral announcement. “Code Red was created by likely a journalism school graduate. That being said, I'm a journalism school graduate," he acknowledged. He added, "A lot of people are not happy with this since we’ve implemented it. That’s evident by the thousands of comments on social media, letters to the editor and frequent calls to local talk-radio shows. We’ve heard you, and yes, we realize you have some strong and passionate views about it.” Watch his full remarks below.

Crain noted in the video that "Code Red" is not a perfect solution, because the all-inclusive code fails to recognize that “not all storms are created equal.” He compared the seemingly unpopular code to the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Severe Weather Outlook, which he said offers more of a scale of the types and severity of poor weather conditions viewers might expect in their area.

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“When you hear 'Code Red', you think, as they say, 'the feces is about to hit the fan,'” Crain said in the video. “We understand your concerns, and we want you to know that we take them very seriously.”

Following Crain’s critical comments, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s public relations officer, Ronn Torossian, told The Washington Post, “We’re glad they [issued a code red]. That afternoon there was significant storm damage in the area including trees falling on homes, downed power lines and hail storms. Thankfully, residents were adequately warned to prepare.”

In the wake of Crain’s comments came a wave of support from thousands of local viewers, many of whom wondered if and why he’d been fired for his on-air remarks.

Twitter screenshot

A number of area businesses also pulled advertising from WICS, according to The Associated Press, which reported that Illinois Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin also agreed with Crain, and that people should support him.

Despite Crain's fate at the station, he may have effected some change after all. In Lipps' televised address on Monday, he also told viewers, "We have come to understand that the words Code Red may no longer be fitting. As such, we are changing the name of our early warning alert to 'Weather Warn.' In addition, we will continue to work to more precisely define the specific geographic areas of greatest concern."

An online petition in support of Crain aiming for 25,000 signatures had gathered more than 16,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.

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