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Alabama Meteorologist Criticizes Diane Sawyer Over Tornado Warning Claims

In ABC, Alabama, Birmingham, Social Media, Weather on January 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm

James Spann (Courtesy: WBMA)

Diane Sawyer, from her Monday (Jan. 23) broadcast

Chief Meteorologist James Spann, who works for ABC affiliate WBMA in Birmingham, Ala., isn’t too thrilled with Diane Sawyer.

It’s because of a claim she made on a Monday broadcast of “World News Tonight,” saying those tornadoes which came through the state in the wee hours of the morning “took the South by surprise, no warning.”

After seeing that broadcast, Spann not only captured the video of the broadcast and uploaded it to YouTube under the TV station’s account (barring copyright infringement, I hope), he lashed out against her on his blog.

From Spann’s blog entry:

NO WARNING? Get a clue. This event was forecast days in advance, and the average lead times for the entire event were 20 to 30 minutes. That is plenty of time to get to a safe place.

We were on the air non-stop from about midnight until almost 8 a.m. It has been our policy at ABC 33/40 to provide long form, uninterrupted severe weather coverage if ANY county in our market goes under a tornado warning.

Spann posted his email address there and asked Sawyer to debate him on the issue. He even tweeted about it.

Shortly after this story was posted on several other websites devoted to local news media updates (like TVSpy), a statement was issued by an ABC spokesperson, indicating the “surprise” referred to what many families felt because they were asleep when the tornado hit “in the middle of the night.”

“‘World News’ will cover the latest on the aftermath of the tornadoes [Tuesday] night and will clarify the warning and advance forecasts given,” the spokesperson said.

Spann then responded on his blog again after watching Tuesday night’s broadcast with Sawyer, saying again that details were overlooked, like the date of that immense (Spann called it “generational”) tornado outbreak. ABC News said it took place April 11; it actually happened on April 27, 2011.

And then there’s this, from Tuesday’s blog entry:

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.

Spann said he felt the National Weather Service, fellow broadcast meteorologists and members of the emergency management team were “devalued and insulted” Monday from the coverage.

What do you think?


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