Having been a TV Meteorologist in many parts of the country, including the famed “Tornado Alley,” I know what it is like to have severe weather, especially tornadoes, approaching and then breaking into programming to broadcast the warnings issued by the National Weather Service. The way it has to be done is a bit more complicated than you might think.
The first question is where do the tornado sightings come from? The most obvious answer would be the National Weather Service. They will issue a bulletin if they spot a tornado or funnel cloud visually or on a radar screen. They also have trained volunteer observers (with training you could become one) who can call in a report. Then there are law enforcement personnel who may be the first to spy the twister and contact the National Weather Service office. Last, but not least, we have the general public who may see something and contact either the local authorities who will relay the report to the Weather Service and finally a citizen who calls the Weather Service to report what they think may be a tornado or that one is actually on the ground.
Once the National Weather Service (NWS) has determined the threat is real they will issue a weather bulletin which will be broadcast on their own local NWS Weather Radio alert system, and local broadcast stations (radio and TV), and on your local cable channels via the Emergency Alert System. You must remember though that there is a lag time between the actual sighting and the issuing of the bulletin depending on how many steps it took for the report to get to the Weather Service office and only then can it be disseminated to the public.
It is a system that works very well under the most difficult and dangerous situations. As the old saying goes you can’t control the situation around you, but only how you react to it. I know from painful personal experience how some viewers react when you interrupt a television program to broadcast a potentially live-saving bulletin. They should be glad you are looking out for your viewers, but in many cases they are upset because you are interrupting their favorite program for a bulletin that does not affect them directly. I remember being at work in the afternoon putting together my weather forecasts when the severe weather breaks out. I broke into programing to warn the people in the tornadoes path to take shelter immediately and even explained which were the safest places to go. Within minutes of issuing the Tornado Warning the telephone at my desk lit up with phone calls relayed to me by the front desk receptionist. The people were angry that I interrupted their “Soap Opera” at a critical moment when the information wasn’t for them.
I would explain that we can’t pick out the specific area where the twister is located and warn just the people in its path. Instead we have to tell everyone at the same time. After they unloaded their anger on me I would ask them a question. What if the tornado were headed for your neighborhood? Would you care about your “show” knowing your life is on the line? Would you feel sorry for the folks who missed just minutes of a TV show when that twister wasn’t aimed at them?
A May 30, 2019 article on USA.com written by Jorge L. Ortiz and titled ” Tornado warnings are meant to save lives. Why do some people roll their eyes?” had some very interesting content that relates to what I have written. This may seem complicated, but in his article Ortiz quotes the Cincinnati Enquirer saying they “reported, many area residents were more concerned with developments in the ‘Bachelorette’ reality show and lashed out via social media when Dayton TV station Fox 45 cut away to a weather update. Meteorologist Jamie Simpson said on the air their reaction was ‘pathetic'”.
Another incident was described concerning the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, Georgia. It was during the Masters Golf tournament being broadcast live as Tiger Woods was playing exceptionally well and about to win. The station broke in for a weather update and, quoting again, “Meteorologist Ella Dorsey said she received death threats as a result.” Can you imagine, threatening the meteorologist’s life over a televised golf tournament?
It seems to me that people need to get their priorities straight. When lives are at risk it is the job of local media, particularly the weather department personnel, to broadcast severe weather warnings (especially tornado warnings) issued by the National Weather Service. No television program or golf tournament is worth the possibility of needlessly losing even one life to a tornado just so other viewers not affected by the warning can watch TV in the safety of their home.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].