A Plea to the National Media - WSFA Weather

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Steve Divine

This is spot-on. I've linked to it on Twitter and FB. I've voiced similar, if not the same, frustrations at times on-air. Most of the time we let it slide, giving our "big" brothers and sisters at the national level the benefit of a doubt. They keep making the same mistakes, even after being shown the errors, and one begins to wonder....

KCBD TV (Raycom), Lubbock

Greg Stumpf

Very nice, but your characterization of the differences between a tornado and funnel cloud are wrong. Instead, read this: http://www.flame.org/~cdoswell/atornado/atornado.html


I think the thing is so much of the media don't really care about the facts. It's more about ratings than anything. In the Cincinnati metro area I know we have people in the media that we call "weather terrorist" who try with all their might to scare the listeners/viewers into tuning in to see the latest weather updates. When we have flurries it is like Armageddon.

Stu Ostro

I agree with most of these, but in regard to #1, a tornado circulation *can* be in contact with the ground even if the visible funnel cloud is not yet.

One other note ... while a tornado outbreak in Kansas in April or Alabama in January is indeed not unusual, there have been events in recent years (including this one) which are anomalous for their magnitude so far north during the cool season (winter and late autumn).

Josh Johnson

Stu, thanks for your feedback - yes, I'm aware that a tornado circulation can be in contact with the ground, even if the condensation funnel is not. My point was that "funnel cloud" and "tornado" are NOT synonyms, as they are often used interchangeably in the national news media.

Greg, I love and respect Chuck, but good luck getting the national media types to read, much less comprehend what he wrote in that link. If we can get them to comprehend the AMS definitions that I based my characterization upon, I think we've succeeded.

Tornado: A small mass of air that whirls rapidly about an almost vertical axis; made visible by clouds and by dust and debris sucked into the system.

Funnel cloud: A tornadic circulation extending below cloud base but not reaching the ground; made visible by a cone-shaped cloud.

A Facebook User

This is an excellent post. There is so much hype by many media outlets about how the weather is so much worse than in years past. My Mother is 92 years old and she can vividly remember weather just like this, and can sometimes remember the year. Even though she was small she can remember the tornado that killed a cousin in Alabama in 1929. When we talk about the tornadoes from 2011 and now 2012, she talks about 1942 in Alabama. She will say "This is just like the weather in 1942, and your Dad and I had only been married a year." The media fails to compare the past to the present, but instead blames the present on "climate change." The blaming on climate change is killing our wallets. The government is in my bathroom, restricting the water from my shower, and restricting how much water I can use to flush my commode. Sometimes I have to shower twice, and lord help me if I get something on me that must be washed off quickly, there is not enough flow! The FDA has taken away my inhalers that worked for my asthma, by taking away the propellant that moved the medication to my lungs. Now I am forced to either go to the ER for a $500 visit or use a nebulizer with more expensive medication for severe attacks. My asthma is not caused by "climate change" either. It is documented in my family for generations, since before the civil war!
Thank you for this most imformative information.


Reason 1: Ratings, Reason 2: Ratings, Reason 3: Ratings, Reason 4 Politics, the national media is a joke and has been for years now... Lets support our local guys who practice objective reporting!!


This is pretty spot on. However, its not always the national guys who get it wrong...the locals do too. My favorite moment from Friday (when the tornado was hopscotching across Norman) was the comment by the guys on FM 93.3 who said that if the Tornado were to hit the National Weather Center office in Norman, then there would be no tornado warnings or severe weather coverage period.

A Facebook User

Stu, Anomalous? yes. Unprecedented? no.


Excellent post, and wanted to also bring up problem with too many chasers out on the road during these events. This is the first time I have heard spotters complain about chasers, and there were repeated complaints from different locations in different states. The complaints were from local trained spotters who could not get to locations they had be directed to in their home area due to either speeding chasers, or large numbers of their vehicles. There were speeds of 70 to 90 mph reported, with chasers in a line, passing citizens. IMHO some are not officially trained spotters, and are not reporting to anyone,they are just trying to get a video to sell for $$ to media outlets. This plays into the media frenzy. Some untrained chasers may be trying to pass fake videos, etc, but they are a concern for local spotter's safety and for the safety of private citizens trying to get to shelters. I am hopeful that the real trained chasers, who are taping and reporting to NWS, etc, will police their own, they need to before their reputations are in question. Non-trained people in any of these roles is a recipe for an accident.
Regarding one fake Tornado picture that made the rounds x two storms now, I was able to trace back to a felon who was actually in prison, and was not on the ground taking pictures. His name and the fake picture, appeared on a local TV station in SC. I was able to make a screenshot and traced his twitter account. TV reporters and all who broadcast live need to verify information or trust and know their source of information before putting it out there. Thanks for a great post!

Gerald L. Hall

Diane Sawyer isn't a journalist, she's a talking head for an entertainment company who's only concern is her ratings.


I like this post, It said it all.

Greg Stumpf

I hate to pick nits, because the remainder of your article hits it out of the park. Really!

But, "Funnel cloud: A tornadic circulation extending below cloud base but not reaching the ground" is just plain incorrect. In order to go from your 3-run homer to a grand slam, we need to stop teaching *everyone* this. There really is no such thing as a tornadic circulation aloft not touching the ground. A funnel cloud is merely an accessory to a tornadic vortex - it is caused by condensation of water vapor into cloud droplets and has NOTHING to do with winds aloft or descending toward the ground.

Dawn Epic

Sigh. I'm no weather expert; I just so happened to stumble here. You seem to have anger towards the media. They aren't perfect. They have to report on all topics, not just weather.

Having them saying that there wasn't much of a warning or over reporting the number of systems is just a way to make the public that more cautious next time bad weather is around. Sure they do it for views -- but if you look at it in a positive light it could help people.

It's not weird that it's in April... but it's "weird" that 12 tornadoes stuck around my area in a couple of hours. Weird meaning that it doesn't happen every day.

I've never heard any news station ever call a funnel cloud a tornado. They are simply reporting them because that system could be close to brewing one.

You need a hug.

Josh Johnson

Hey Greg - thanks for the kind words and for your input. I think your battle is with the AMS Glossary, where I copied that definition. My point was to simply point out that tornadoes and funnel clouds are NOT the same. On that, I think we can all agree.

Hey Dawn - I have zero anger or hate of any kind towards the media. I work in the media and know the challenges they face on reporting a myriad of stories - but, I also know that it's not too much to ask to get the basic facts of a story correct.

Butchering the facts of the story is NOT the way to make the public more cautious - it just makes us all look stupid and discredits the entire severe weather warning process.

I get plenty of hugs, but thanks for your concern.

BIll Meck

Josh...a very well written piece and one that expresses the concerns and frustrations we all have.

I'm amazed at most everyone nit picking on a definition...that's not the gist of this essay.

For those thinking there is something anomalous about recent tornadoes, don't forget folks that one of the worst tornado events ever was a cool season event pretty far north...the Tri-State tornado in March 1925...just pointing out some historical perspective.

Thanks again for a wonderful piece Josh.

A Facebook User

All very good points. Warnings are only as good as the people who act on them. We all saw with Katrina that even a couple days of warnings does not mean people will act on them!

Howard D.

Agreed. There seems to be a lot of anger or pent up frustration, which is fine, but do not blame it on "the media". Who the heck is the media? Major networks? Cable news? Radio? Internet? Everyone except for the author? Many have pointed out errors in here already, but as for the "Spring" statement, I find that a little odd. Coming from tornado alley myself, this weather is "weird". This many tornadoes, this early on, for this many years in a row is not common. Weird would be something not common that seems to not have a good explanation, hence the statement that the current weather is weird. The extreme highs, lows, droughts, etc for the past few years have been absolutely incredible. To claim they are not that big of a deal, and it is just "spring" is minimizing the extremes that have been taking place. Mr. Johnson, while looking at your information I was somewhat confused, did you receive your meteorology degree at University of South Alabama or did you leave while pursuing it?

Howard D.

BTW, last question was not being grumpy or anything, actually curious because bio did not explain well.

Josh Johnson

Howard - I was pretty clear in saying that I (the author) make mistakes daily. There was no anger, hate or self-righteousness in my post, I simply wanted to voice some frustrations about repeated and egregious errors that occur when (primarily) national television networks report on severe weather. The local TV stations, including the one I work for, have made similar mistakes. We've all got to get better.

Errors? Stu and Greg pointed out their observations about the difference between a funnel cloud and a tornado, but you'll note that I didn't seek to scientifically define that difference. I just wanted to simply note that the two are different. I stand by what I wrote as it was written, and I don't believe that Stu or Greg's observations discredit anything I wrote.

As far as your thoughts on the extremes, there have certainly been some lately. The 27 April outbreak last year, a very warm winter with many records broken, etc. No doubt about that. My point is that tornadoes happening in Spring in the Plains and Southeast is not out of the ordinary. Check this out: http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/images/tornado/clim/apr-avg-torn1991-2010.gif You'll see there that Kansas (#2) and Oklahoma (#3) average double digit tornadoes during the month of April...so, it shouldn't completely surprise us when they have a big tornado outbreak in April.

I graduated on-campus from Mississippi State University in 2004 and went to pursue more education (specifically a double major in civil eng. and meteorology) at South Alabama. Got there and realized that my real passion was doing weather on TV, and I was offered a chief meteorologist position and left USA to go to work. Great school with great professors.

Jim Clarke

Great article Josh. This is a battle that has been 'fought' between weather departments and newsrooms for decades. Most of the news producers I worked with with were only interested in superlatives. Hence, they would tease the weather on Thursday with: "Today was the hottest day since Tuesday."

Keep up the good fight.

I have the sense that Howard D. is reading too much global warming hype. The weather over the last couple of years is fairly typical for extended La Nina patterns like we have seen over the last few years. The only thing unusual about tornadoes recently is that several of the stronger ones plowed through the heart of population centers, causing terrible damage and death. This was very unfortunate, but not weird.

Here is a link to the number of EF3-EF5 tornadoes in the US per year from 1950 to 2011:


2011 was a bad year, but just the 6th busiest in the last 61 years. The busier years were in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. The graph shows that violent tornadoes have been trending down since the early 70s. The string of unusually quiet years from 2000-2007 and 2009, were actually more 'weird' than the more recent years, yet I do not recall anybody thinking that something was wrong with the weather when it was relatively quiet.

Uncle Louie

If you think the media, national, local, internet get tornadoes and sever weather wrong, they are paragons of exactitude compared to their reporting of wildland fire.

Quincy Vagell

Hey Josh, great insight. Would you mind if I published this story on WTNH-TV's WXedge.com website, with proper sourcing and credit to you, of course?


Awesome job buddy I think it's weird these people can't understand what your trying to say LOL


I'm asking this as a serious question, so please don't think I'm trying to troll.

How do journalists know that the data on the SPC storm reports page doesn't correlate to an exact number of tornados? Is it possible that at least part of the problem comes from us and how we communicate?

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