Why TV meteorologists interrupt shows during a tornado warning

What is an annoyance to some could be life-saving for others

By Chris Michaels - Meteorologist

ROANOKE, Va. - Several weeks ago, a meteorologist in Atlanta reportedly received death threats for interrupting The Masters for tornado warnings, News 6 partner WSLS-TV reported.

The station, CBS46, was showing both golf and the warnings in a split-screen format.

Multiple tornadoes touched down that day in the Atlanta area.

As we have said in the past, interrupting regularly scheduled broadcasts, regardless of what's being shown, for tornado warnings is required of broadcast meteorologists, per FCC regulations.

After the April 19 Franklin County tornado, Steve Keighton from the National Weather Service in Blacksburg said that he talked with some people in Franklin County and it was because of a TV broadcast they learned they were in the path of the tornado.

From what he was told, Keighton feels that those broadcasts on April 19 may have saved lives.

Does this practice actually save lives? Is it the best way for us to communicate the threat of a tornado?

For that, we reached out to Dr. Laura Myers at the University of Alabama. She is the director of the Center for Advanced Public Safety and has researched this very topic.

When it comes to the anger directed at a broadcast meteorologist, Myers said, "The real issue is how sensitized is your community to the fact that these things happen. If you're not familiar with it, or not used to it, then it's going to be more aggravating."

Despite the aggravation from what Myers said is a small percentage of the population, her research has shown that people still turn on the TV for updates when they're under a tornado warning.

Myers said the main two things people want to know are location and timing.

Where is the storm now, where is it going and when is it going to get there?

That's where an app on your smartphone can fall short, leaving you to guess where the worst part of the storm is. That lack of information can lead to potentially dangerous decision-making.

Meteorologists are trained to detect where the worst part of the storm is and, by understanding the dynamics of any complex storm, can tell you where it is heading with a fair amount of precision.

Rather than relying upon a TV broadcast, others claim that a tornado siren is the best way to get a tornado alert. 

"Those were build for outdoor warnings. They're not going to penetrate walls. You're not going to hear them at night," said Myers, who also researched this topic.

Regardless, it is always good to have multiple ways to get warnings.

Outside of the News 6 Pinpoint Weather App, you can always invest in a NOAA Weather Radio. That way, should you not have a television on, you will still receive the alert. Once you get the alert, your best course of action is to tune into News 6 for the latest track of the storm.

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