"Terror, twisters & TV"

The Huntsville Times (AL) headline for today is "Terror, twisters & TV;" beneath the banner are three photos of our network affiliate meteorologists---Brad Huffines, Brad Travis, and Dan Satterfield. The story discusses the difference of opinions on wall-to-wall coverage of events such as the April 7 High Risk, which caused little damage in our broadcast market, unlike Nashville and other parts of Tennessee.

There is also a feature story on Dan Satterfield, originally from Tulsa, OK, who has been the most controversial of our mets here since he arrived in the mid 1990s and accelerated the 'weather war' between the affiliates.
This is also the market that launched Bob Baron on his quest for better prediction software--he was our NBC met.

I hope some of you will comment on these stories. Personally, while I'm no fan of artificial panic, I appreciate the good coverage severe weather gets in this market and am not offended when ball games, soap operas or other programs are preempted.

To view these stories,
1. Love Him Or Hate Him (the Dan Satterfield piece)
2. Public Service, Fear Mongering, Or Both

Click url below. You will be guided to one with the other listed under More News:

http://www.al.com/news/huntsvilletimes/ind...1190.xml&coll=1

Off the subject: I attended a AA baseball double-header today, and was treated to several Weather Trivia questions over the public address system, sponsored by the NWS. Nice idea.
 
I sometimes get bored with the continuous coverage, but I also find it necessary in saving lives. Some basketball fans complained when Katie Horner (in KC) did continuous coverage of tornadic storms because it interrupted their game. They claimed that if it had been a KU game, she would not have done this type of coverage; which is bull. I can't remember the exact date, but this was a day that several people died. I actually get peeved when the local stations are not covering the tornadic storms, but then again I am a weather freak. I think that if there are tor warned storms in the viewing area, the meteorlogists need to stay on until there is no more threat of danger. This helps to save lives.

Well I better get off because the storm is really picking up here. This has been my two cents.
 
I think it's critical that the major affiliates make it their duty to keep the public informed. I don't know about the rest of the members of this board, but when the first question that comes out of people's mouths when I tell them I am a meteorology major is "Are you going to be on TV?" lets me know that the TV mets are the first line of defense for the general public. After the events of May 3rd, I don't think there is a single logical person in Oklahoma who can really complain about networks cutting in when severe weather threatens the Metro OKC area. Not everyone has access to the Internet, knowledge of the proper warning and update locations, or NOAA weather radio to keep them up to date, but television is so universal that I am willing to accept the loss of the occasional game or television program.
 
By then, he has given warning after warning and relayed a weather spotter's report that an F-4 or F-5 tornado is on the ground around Airport Road in southeast Huntsville, site of the 1989 tornado.

The report from a HEMSI worker is wrong. No tornado has touched down in southeast Huntsville - or anywhere else in Madison County, as it turns out. [/b]

This brings up a good point for everyone -- be they TV meteorologists, Emergency Managers, NWS, whatever. Take what you hear with a grain of salt. If you don't see it, don't expect it to be the truth. If you do see it, put it into perspective.
 
I don't think wall-to-wall coverage is being referred to in a negative light (nor should it.) I think the problem there is wall-to-wall for non-deadly events. They even admitted to staying on air 30+ minutes AFTER the storms ended, just so the station could say "we kept covering when other outlets stopped."

If you don't see it, don't expect it to be the truth.[/b]

Not sure I understand that... Are you saying that most spotter / NWS reports / tornado warnings are to be ignored unless you are sitting under the cell and see the funnel? My guess is in this case he simply wanted to be first with the report, and didn't bother checking to see if that matched with reality. TV Mets using the word "warning" for something other than a NWS warning is downright dangerous and extremely stupid. We have many other ways of telling viewers we think there is a tornado than using the phrase "I am issuing a tornado warning."
 
Not sure I understand that... Are you saying that most spotter / NWS reports / tornado warnings are to be ignored unless you are sitting under the cell and see the funnel? My guess is in this case he simply wanted to be first with the report, and didn't bother checking to see if that matched with reality.
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I am saying this...

You've got Bobby Joe out in Podunk, Alabama, and he calls in...

"OOOOOOOH-WE! I'll tell you what, boy...it looks like we've got an F4 or F5 on the ground!"

Right off, I would consider that report suspect. We can assume that most of the general population isn't trained by SkyWarn or a college teaching meteorology, and most will certainly not be able to ascertain the strength of a tornado just by looking at it.

From a distance, couldn't you say that even this:

silhouettedsmokestack.jpg


could be misconstrued as a tornado by an unknowing eye?

-------------------------

I'm not saying that we should disregard all spotter reports unless we see them ourselves. I'm just saying that what you hear certainly isn't always the truth, so you have to be careful.
 
Gotcha - I would hope that before he went on air saying an F5 is wiping out part of the city it came from a (no longer) trusted source...
 
Almost every market has this small but very loud segment of viewers who whine and complain about their favorite shows or sports coverage being interrupted for severe weather warnings. In the Little Rock market, they complain loudest when the affiliates interrupt for tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings in the far corners of the state, even when the affiliates are carried by cable in those areas, and the storms are moving into the area. They also complain about the warning display and radar maps taking up too much of the screen. The problem, I think, is that some people either don't realize or care that watches and warnings still need to go out even if they don't immediately affect them personally. I think the real solution to this will be when EAS programable television sets become the norm, and allow for the tv set to alert only for the area(s) programmed by the viewer. Maybe if TV weather display software could be designed the way that NWR-SAME is, the tv sets could use a chip to only display the maps if the storm is affecting the viewer's own area. If this were possible, you can bet the perceived false alarms among the complainers would be eliminated.
 
Almost every market has this small but very loud segment of viewers who whine and complain about their favorite shows or sports coverage being interrupted for severe weather warnings.
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That's to be expected and is regularly ignored by us. But to stay on 30+ minutes AFTER the threat has ended, just so you can run a promo the next day saying "we stayed on the air longer" is more than ample reason to call and complain.

And the big issue with one of the TV mets represented is that he issues TORNADO WARNINGS. Our job is to pick up on possible tornado producing storms before the NWS, but using the same phrase as them is dead wrong and makes for much more confusion than good.
 
True, it is absolutely wrong to stay on just to make a promo, especially when there is no longer a threat.

As far as issuing ones own tornado warnings, Gary England is famous for doing that in Oklahoma City, and for being somewhat successful at it, which caused him a major conflict with the NWS. Was he wrong for doing so? Maybe. On the other hand, if there was a legitimate reason to do so, maybe he had something there. He's still on the air after almost 30 plus years and still doing his own warnings, even using the words Tornado Warning. That hasn't stopped the NWS in Norman from doing its job. Most folks don't seem to be confused by what he does either, they seem quite satisfied.

What's really dead wrong, is for TV mets to interrupt just because they have a red echo on radar, without checking NEXRAD products, or calling the local WFO to compare notes. That's where the public really gets confused and angry at the mets for crying wolf. If there's a legitimate reason to interrupt, there should be no problem or confusion.

Damon Poole,
Former TV Met Intern


That's to be expected and is regularly ignored by us. But to stay on 30+ minutes AFTER the threat has ended, just so you can run a promo the next day saying "we stayed on the air longer" is more than ample reason to call and complain.

And the big issue with one of the TV mets represented is that he issues TORNADO WARNINGS. Our job is to pick up on possible tornado producing storms before the NWS, but using the same phrase as them is dead wrong and makes for much more confusion than good.
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With so many people worried about the "terrorist threat" it' nice to see them more worried about a tornado threat, just another sign that spring is here. God I Love Spring!
 
That hasn't stopped the NWS in Norman from doing its job. Most folks don't seem to be confused by what he does either, they seem quite satisfied.[/b]

You don't think it causes confusion when Gary issues a Tornado Warning, but as people flip through stations or look for the bulletin online and see only a SVR (or even nothing) from NWS?

What's really dead wrong, is for TV mets to interrupt just because they have a red echo on radar, without checking NEXRAD products, or calling the local WFO to compare notes.[/b]

I'm not sure I understand the issue... Are you saying some mets break in just for heavy rain and call it something else? I rarely show NEXRAD products on-air, and I never call the WFO to ask their permission to break in ;> One advantage in our sector is that we can go on and explain specific concerns about a storm. For NWS either the light is on (warning issued) or off (no warning.) SPS products are starting to make headway, but that gets quite limited airplay (other than on TWC.)
 
I was watching the streaming coverage from Huntsville on April 7th, and have talked with a few friends in the area, and it appears there was mass hysteria (from the media, NWS, spotters....everybody) over a devestating tornado moving through Huntsville that never existed. I realize some mistakes can be made in the heat of battle, but I hope some people will take the lead in being more level-headed the next time around.
 
I've been observing the local markets in KC for quite a while now. Each Wx anchor here has a completely different approach to severe weather coverage - normally they have totally different 'takes' on a situation as well. I've learned which ones I'm interested in dealing with personally on any level, for several reasons.

I've learned that TV mets have an amazingly difficult balancing act. They have a marketing department (or "hype machine") driving them to play up events. They also have the science, which helps them to appreciate a much bigger picture than the public is capable of, and that includes anyone who works in their hype department. At the same time, they also have half the public demanding responsibility from them for miscalculations, and the other half who want them off-the-air completely when American Idol or some other ratings generator is on. If it were up to some, even the ticker and radar avatar would be gone from the bottom of the screen. Some anchors are naturally better at juggling one aspect of the scenario than another. Some are better scientists, others are better at marketing, and yet others are better with public relations. Depends on the person.

Here's one of the biggest things I've noticed with the general public in this neck of the woods ... they have NO CONCEPT of how severe weather works. They feel if a tornado warning is issued on a storm and that the local news folk interrupt their favorite show, then there had better be a tornado roaring through their neighborhood any moment. They feel if a violent, destructive tornado is roaring through Harrisonville, then ONLY the people in Harrisonville should have their TV shows interrupted, and somehow the local channels should be able to selectively target their viewing audience with tornado warnings. They can see extreme damage shots from Harrisonville the very next morning, but still feel just as hacked off that they missed The Apprentice. The real problem isn't so much with many of the anchors, it's with a public who care more about selfish TV show gratification than the lives of their neighbors. People see what they want to see - which often amounts to a very narrow viewpoint of their own life. That being said, some anchors make better judgment calls than others when dealing with all this. I'm glad it's their job and not mine.

This has become a huge issue up here this year because every other night it seems like there has been a tornado warning somewhere in the viewing area. All of our local stations are owned by large conglomerates on the coasts who end up having the most say in what ultimately goes on the air and what doesn't, and where to funnel the money for severe weather coverage.
 
I was watching the streaming coverage from Huntsville on April 7th, and have talked with a few friends in the area, and it appears there was mass hysteria (from the media, NWS, spotters....everybody) over a devestating tornado moving through Huntsville that never existed. I realize some mistakes can be made in the heat of battle, but I hope some people will take the lead in being more level-headed the next time around.
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I was flipping channels between two of the three affiliates (and occasionally the third), and I honestly can't recall any on-air overhyping of the storm in question. The couplet and other radar signatures were definitely in place; hail of various sizes was falling, sometimes in copious quantaties (which is not the norm here); and we had been inundated with tornado warnings all day, amplified by the news coming out of Nashville.

Having chased earlier in the day, I can understand how spotters might have had difficulty---the visual characteristics were rapidly cycling and even in daylight offered conflicting evidence. I did hear the HEMSI report of a tornado but don't remember it being labeled as F-5 at the time, though, and think that none of our mets would report as verbatim something that requires a daylight damage survey to verify.

Mostly, what I saw during the 'devastating tornado' period was the description of the radar sigs, and the mets saying "it's very possible that a large and destructive tornado is on the ground right now," which, indeed, it was. The NWS radio alarms made no distinction between this cell and several others that had already passed in their broadcast warnings.

So--I would question the concept of mass hysteria in the media and the NWS during this event.

It is also important to remember that the November 1989 tornado which impacted HSV at rush hour and killed 24 people arrived without timely warnings, leaving many here with a built-in wariness.
 
"They have a marketing department (or "hype machine") driving them to play up events."

I don't know that I have ever heard of a station's marketing department request the weather side to overplay an event. Usually the way it comes out is the news side doesn't pay attention to our forecasts, so the toss is "big tornado day possible?" and we have to figure out how to tone that down without making the anchor look ridiculous.

"I did hear the HEMSI report of a tornado but don't remember it being labeled as F-5 at the time, though, and think that none of our mets would report as verbatim something that requires a daylight damage survey to verify."

One of the TV mets did state that based on radar signatures and the spotter report it likely was doing F4-F5 damage. I will allow your imagination to guess which one.
 
Yep, rdale, I heard that statement too. There were numerous assertions that a large/violent tornado WAS underway. Something in the system was broken that night.
 
One of the TV mets did state that based on radar signatures and the spotter report it likely was doing F4-F5 damage. I will allow your imagination to guess which one.
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No imagination required. It's the same one who was suggested to be 'honored' a few years back by a few little decorative and hangable wooden placques with a cotton boll on them and a legend below reading:

"____ _________ WALL CLOUD"

I was watching another met during most of that cell and must have missed it--surely, a serious gaffe by any estimate.

I am in full agreement with the NWS being the only source for tornado warnings. I do appreciate those on tv who say things like "it's probably only a short time before a warning will be issued for this cell," giving us a good heads-up and yet leaving the offical work to the Service.
 
I do appreciate those on tv who say things like "it's probably only a short time before a warning will be issued for this cell"
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I don't agree with that... What if the NWS doesn't issue a warning? Then you look like you don't know what you are doing. Just say what you think - "if I lived in xxxtown I would be taking cover from this storm, even though there is no warning from the weather service." The ball stays in your court - if they don't issue a warning you can still keep viewers updated without continually checking in and saying "they might issue a warning soon!" Viewers don't care if they are going to be issuing a warning "soon"...
 
England has developed a reputation of being right over many years. If he legitimately sees a dangerous storm that has a high tornadic potential, he actually calls spotters and law enforcement in the areas and tries to confirm what's going on. He goes on, only when he has ground truth confirmation, sometimes from multiple sources, including the NWS, of what's actually going on. That's the difference. Does that mean he doesn't make mistakes? No, but when England is on the air, there usually is very little confusion. When he interrupts, he has a reason.

The reason for calling the WFO is not to ask permission, it's a reality check. It's to coordinate, and to make sure that what you see and potentially show is legit, and not just a glitch on the radar screen. That's the issue. There is nothing wrong with going on and talking about a storm you're concerned about, but make sure you've actually got something before you cut in. That will stop a lot of complaints before they start. It also rings true for all-clear cut ins. A Little Rock station once had a TV Met tell viewers to ignore sirens, and come out of shelter, even though there was still a valid Tornado Warning in effect. Needless to say, he's no longer on TV.

Damon Poole


You don't think it causes confusion when Gary issues a Tornado Warning, but as people flip through stations or look for the bulletin online and see only a SVR (or even nothing) from NWS?
I'm not sure I understand the issue... Are you saying some mets break in just for heavy rain and call it something else? I rarely show NEXRAD products on-air, and I never call the WFO to ask their permission to break in ;> One advantage in our sector is that we can go on and explain specific concerns about a storm. For NWS either the light is on (warning issued) or off (no warning.) SPS products are starting to make headway, but that gets quite limited airplay (other than on TWC.)
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