Monday, May 04, 2009

Long Form Severe Weather Coverage

I listened to the Paul Finebaum radio sports talk show this afternoon. He dedicated the whole program to a discussion on severe weather coverage. Many callers were against it and a few were for it. Brad Huffines, Chief meteorologist at WAAY also called in to the show. You can listen to his call here. Finebaum also linked to blog posts by Dr. Tim Coleman and Bill Murray about the tornado warning during the 1983 Iron Bowl college football game between Alabama and Auburn. Dr. Coleman's post has screen shots of the local broadcast of the game on Birmingham, Alabama's ABC affiliate. The screen shot shows that severe weather coverage at the time was limited to a crawl at the bottom of the screen and the words "Tornado Warning" in the upper right corner of the screen.

It was very frustrating listening to this show. So many of the callers were very selfish in their opinions and ignorant in their knowledge of weather. Paul Finebaum was also very inaccurate in many respects, including the fact that he did not know the meaning of a tornado warning. Dan Satterfield of WHNT and James Spann of ABC 33/40 were slammed by callers. Finebaum really disappointed me because whenever he mentioned James Spann by name he was complimentary of his "impeccable character" and that he had "earned" his reputation as the "best known weatherman in Alabama". Then he slammed him (not by name) for mentioning that his coworkers at the station needed to take cover. He said that was "the height of hypocrisy". He called him a hypocrite and a person of impeccable character at the same time. What is up with that? Is that hypocrisy?

James Spann has been dealing with this kind of criticism for a long time. In July of 2008 he wrote this comment:

"We do get huge ratings during tornado warning coverage. I won’t apologize for that; the simple fact is that people here demand and expect long form coverage during tornado warnings. To give you an example, at 2:00 a.m. (middle of the night) on Sunday May 11, ABC 33/40 had a 16 rating and 36 share, which was more than WBRC, WVTM, WIAT, WABM, and all other local stations combined. This was during long form tornado coverage, of course. To get those kind of numbers at that time of the day on a weekend is nothing more than incredible.

Our station started the aggressive long form coverage here in 1996, when we signed on the air, and most other stations came late to the party after the April 8, 1998 tornado. We are glad they joined us; more people will get the warning that way. With most households receiving over 500 channels now, if folks don’t want to watch weather coverage, they have plenty of options. So, call it storm porn or whatever you want, the show will go on. Both on TV, and on the Internet through this blog, our live stream, and social networking sites. People here expect it, and will continue to get it from our team at ABC 33/40. "

James also mentioned the high false alarm ration in tornado warnings. That is something that the NWS really needs to work on and I have heard that is one of the goals of the $10 million Project Vortex 2 that is now underway.

In the mean time, I ask the following question:

Should television stations always have long form severe weather coverage when there is a county in the DMA under a tornado warning or should they have a modified policy depending on the perceived nature of the threat?

I have a final parting comment. I hate the personal attacks against Dan Satterfield and James Spann. I do not know Dan personally but he has been very helpful and kind to me when I have asked him questions via email. This criticism of the motives of James Spann is bogus. None of us know what goes on in the hearts and minds of others but I know James and will publicly and privately tell anyone who will listen that he is sincere as they come and that his goal is to provide the public with the information they need to keep themselves safe. I think a lot of folks agree with me about James' commitment. I am glad he has thick skin.


tornadowarning said...

There are no comments because NO ONE CARES!! You weather nazis need to get over yourselves. Just because you get "excited"' by severe weather, doesn't mean everyone else does.

I'm GLAD Finebaum took on this topic. I hope he continues it for the rest of the week. As he put it, the weather people in this town have gotten away with too much for too long. People are tired of it and aren't going to stand for it any longer.

Charles Loring said...

Nice post Mike! :) This is a topic that gets me mad everytime I hear it. I always, ALWAYS ask, "Why can't people have enough respect for their neighbors and friends to hope they get out of this storm safely?" But I have come to find out that people just don't care about anyone else but themselves. I will say this and bash me all you want. If you feel that live severe weather coverage is bad and are an idiot! Plain and simple...if you have a problem with those comments. My blog is in my name, comment me their.

Anonymous said...

Something I have learned over the last year is that more and more people do not care about severe weather until they are in the path of the storm. Weather geeks become everybody's best friend then. The poster above obviously knows nothing about meteorology and probably has never lost anything or anyone nor been right behind a storm only to see the devastation left behind. (I HAVE!!)

So if you do not like long form severe weather coverage, I am sure you have your remote right there just reach over and change the channel or pop in a DVD. I have said it time and time again... just because it is NOT happening in YOUR backyard, does not mean it is not happening in someone else's in a nearby town. And don't go crying to the weather "nazi's" when a tornado plops down on your ignorant head and takes all your stuff. Because we tried to warn you.

Anonymous said...

Weather broadcasters can't win.

If they continue long-form coverage there will be criticism because most severe weather events cause minimal if any damage. On the other hand, if they return to the days of the low-screen crawl and we have another April 8-type event, they will be criticized for failing to properly warn the public.

Glad I'm not a local weather personality.

Anonymous said...

I'm a producer at a station in Atlanta; this weekend, during tornado coverage, all three of the stations carrying sports (CBS, ABC, NBC) went to a modified long-form/split-screen format, along with covering up breaks to provide information.

All three stations got tons of hate-mail from folks complaining about the severe weather coverage interrupting "their" golf/hockey/basketball.

There are folks who will always get upset with severe weather coverage -- until it happens to them. When the tree falls on their house, when the rains flood them out, when the tornado hits their street, then they'll care. Not until.

All four network affiliates here have a policy of going long-form when a tornado warning is in effect for the highly-populated areas of the DMA. As someone who grew up in the Midwest and had to deal with tornadoes as a daily fact of life, I appreciate it. Because while I didn't get hit yesterday, or today, Lord knows what tomorrow will bring. And if even one life is spared, or if one person's injuries avoided by that coverage, then it's worth it -- complainers be damned.

Anonymous said...

Great post Mike.

I didn't catch the PF show yesterday but I did hear him on the Opening Drive yesterday morning saying basically the same thing.

Unfortunately it is just one more sign of how selfish people are in our world today.

I couldn't help but laugh when I read the first comment. What exactly are the weather people getting away with? Saving lives? Yep, that's pretty despicable. It really is as simple as changing the channel if you don't like what's on.

I think sometimes we are a victim of our own technology. Advanced radars that can show you a velocity couplet and which street it is on are pretty amazing.

That same technology that everyone is complaining about because "we keep getting our favorite TV show interrupted to watch a 'potential' tornado track across 5 counties" is the same technology that might one day save your life because it gave you a 10 minute advance notice of an approaching EF-5 will also

I'll bet the families and victims of the Tri-State Tornado or people that were affected during the Super Outbreak would have gladly traded watching a race or a basketball game for a James Spann or a Dan Satterfield in their living room. For that matter, I'm sure they wished the radar systems available in that day were more advanced so they could see exactly what a storm looked like and where it was headed.

Wayfarer said...

Well Mike looks like you spoke the truth and some don't like it. As for the first poster, he will become debris one day when he and mother nature have a long overdue encounter because he was to busy having his nose stuck up a basketball game. I blame some of the television programs that glamorize and "hollywoodize" storm chasing. Its not like that in the real world or at least for the other 95% of us. I had the pleasure of driving over and chasing with you, John and Terry a few weeks ago. That was an honor to do so. I also commend the relationship you and everyone there in Alabama has with James Spann. I have been a chaser for 19 years and local media here in South Georgia treat us no where near that nice. (I have even had to send in video to a skeptical NWS to show I knew what I was looking at.) I agree with the genius in the first posting when he stated that not everyone gets excited about weather. But hey doofus, a lot fewer people get excited about your precious basketball game. Not taking to well to an attack on a friend here. Especially from someone who has to post hiding behind an anonymous name and doesn't have the testicular fortitude to post his real name. Do what you do Mike. You do it well and I look forward to our next chase. Hope to high heaven it's during the 7th game of the NBA finals..;-) Roll Tide!! Oh I'm sorry, does that mean i cant be a Tide fan now?? LOLOL!!

Mike Wilhelm said...

I really appreciate all of the positive comments and feedback.

I will post my actual opinion on this by 4:45 this afternoon. Thanks again.