25 January 2012

Alabama Meteorologist Sets ABC News Straight On Warnings

Posted by Dan Satterfield


I posted this image of the tornadic storm entering Jefferson County on my Facebook early Monday. Meteorologists all over North Alabama were warning on these storms. ABC News said the storm hit "without warning". Nothing could be further from the truth.

James Spann is the lead meteorologist for the ABC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama and heard something that disturbed him greatly on the ABC national newscast Monday. The story was on the deadly tornado that struck the Birmingham metro area earlier that morning and Diane Sawyer’s script had the words “struck without warning”. I saw that broadcast myself and cringed, but James Spann did something about it.

He contacted ABC and informed them that the storms did indeed have warning and furthermore those warnings likely kept the death toll MUCH lower. ABC did another story on it today, and interviewed James as well. You can see it here. James also wrote this (reprinted with his permission) on his blog about the incident:

James Spann on the air early Monday as a deadly tornado moved through the metro area of Birmingham.

*There was no apology, or mention of the botched story yesterday when Diane Sawyer said the pre-dawn tornadoes Monday were a “surprise” with “no warning”. A little odd how you just go from that one day, to a story on how good the warning process was the next day. But, I am not a journalist and maybe that is just the way you do it. Seems strange. I would imagine Diane actually didn’t write that copy, but she will probably think twice about fact checking on lead story intros.

*We have learned we can make a difference. The storm on social media was noticed immediately at ABC News, and they responded. Word got out to the masses that the warnings were indeed good early Monday, and you can’t rely on outdoor warning sirens.

*A special thanks to everybody who communicated with ABC News through social media, email, or phone calls on our behalf. My frustration is with the situation yesterday is shared by ALL of those hard-working people involved in the warning process. The National Weather Service, the EM community (emergency managers), and broadcast meteorologists. I felt that these people were devalued and insulted yesterday.

I agree wholeheartedly with what he wrote. One of my closest friends James Paul Dice works for WBRC, the Fox station in Birmingham, and I worked for James Spann 3 years there, and count him as a good friend. These folks, and the meteorologists at the NWS in Birmingham (and those at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman who issued the watch) do indeed deserve better. ABC News did a very good story today and it was completely accurate.

Hopefully, some young producers and journalists out there will remember this in the future. I bet there is a news writer at ABC in New York that will, and kudos to James Spann for calling then out on it.