The horror families
go through after losing a loved one prematurely to a twister like what happened
Friday HAS to be one of the most emotionally draining experience for a human
being to endur. I can't imagine finding
the body of an 15 month old as the sun is shining the following
day. My jaw is still on the floor.
After tragic weather,
I often look back at the days and hours leading up to event(s) to see if people
were warned in a timely manner with appropriate information necessary to make
the right decisions to stay out of harm’s way. I don't know the circumstances
of these deaths. I’m not here to judge
the specifics. Not enough information is known as I write this. Yet I can't
help but think that some of these deaths could have been prevented if 1), the
public knew the proper terminology that describes severe weather alerts, 2) the
public took the severe weather risks more seriously.
Let's first address
storm alert terminology:
WATCH means that conditions are FAVORABLE for severe weather. This does not
mean that there is a severe storm currently.
WARNING means that a severe thunderstorm is occurring or is imminent based on
doppler radar information. A severe thunderstorm becomes "severe"
after it meets one of two criteria. Hail that is dime size, 0.75 inches in
diameter or larger, and/or wind gusts to 58 mph or more.
TORNADO WATCH means
that the potential exists for some of the severe thunderstorms to produce a
TORNADO WARNING means
that either a tornaado is occurring (on the ground) or the tornado rotation is
detected on doppler radar. You should take cover immediately.
All severe storm
watches are issued by THE STORM PREDICTION CENTER in Norman, Oklahoma. All warnings are issued by the respective
National Weather Service office covering the specific area. Northeastern Ohio is
covered by the NWS office at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.
Friday morning before
sunrise, the SPC issued a "moderate risk" then expanded the risk area
and upped it to "high risk" which only happens maybe once a
The warnings were out
there early on. They were on television, the internet, Facebook and Twitter.
Yet people died.
What can we do?
I think the answer is twofold.
First, educate yourself on the differences between a “watch” and a “warning”!
This thing called GOOGLE is great. Use it and look up the difference. I just
typed in "watch and warning difference". The 5th entry in the list is
what you want. I screen captured it so you can see two things: The first is the
entry that explains the difference. The second is how long it took me to find
the answer circled in red at the top. 0.19 seconds! We might not have lots of time in our busy
lives but we have 0.19 seconds.
If you don't have
internet access, talk to your kids. I would bet a nice dinner that your kids
know the difference if you don't. This difference is taught in grade school
science classes as early as 1st grade in some school programs. It bothers me
that many adults have no idea what the difference is between a WATCH and a
WARNING. Most third graders know the difference. An adult has ABSOLUTELY no excuse.
Your Life; your family’s life is worth your time and effort.
Yet there exists this
mentality that quickly diminishes the severity of these warnings. Maybe it is denial. People think that it
won't happen to them. Maybe people today are inundated by information so much
so that the "true, lifesaving" information gets lost or watered down
in the mix. Just scanning the comments on Facebook and twitter after weather
events shows how much negativity the public has toward these warnings during
The meteorologists in
the areas hit by the tornado Friday did an exceptional job in getting the
necessary information out to their viewers. This saved lives! Facebook and Twitter were lit up
with information from credible sources on the tornadoes on ground. Hats off
to you all. Severe weather coverage on LIVE tv is a lot harder than it looks.
The bigger question
we need to address long term is how do we change the public’s perception of
severe weather. A big step in the right direction would be for some television
stations to rethink their coverage philosophy. I am lucky enough to work at a
station where we DO NOT believe in breaking into a television show unless the
weather situation ABSOLUTELY warrants it.
If a TORNADO WARNING is issued, we go LIVE. No questions asked. Other stations feel the need to "break
into programming" during any garden-variety thunderstorm. This "crying
wolf" coverage creates a false sense of security. So when a real event does occur, people think
"no big deal. It won't happen here" and continue with their afternoon
or evening activities. Television stations
cannot continue to cry wolf! They need to remember that their primary objective
is to INFORM THE PUBLIC WITH QUALITY, SEVERE WEATHER INFORMATION as its defined
by the National Weather Service and SPC not by management!
Viewers need to WANT
TO BELIEVE what they are hearing yet they’re conditioned to doubt that very
same information. Television stations
need to remember this and focus on their primary objective. That is to INFORM
THE PUBLIC WITH QUALITY, WEATHER SEVERE INFORMATION. No over hyping and no "crying wolf".
Television stations are a conduit of information. Information is power. If that
power is used incorrectly, the harm to the public can be irreparable. I just hope the damage isn't as great as I
fear it is.