Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Livesaving Broadcasts

In Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather one of my favorite chapters to write was "The Day TV Weather Grew Up" where I tell the story of the June 8, 1974, tornado outbreak and how it was covered. It was the first time a tornado was broadcast live on television.
Steve Tegtmeier's photo of the formative stage of the June 8, 1974, tornado we broadcast.
We received 75 cards and letters telling us, "you saved our lives!" There was also an editorial cartoon pertaining to our groundbreaking coverage along with a Letter to the Editor. The reaction was overwhelming and humbling.

The Frank Magid Company, the largest company of television news consultants, came to Oklahoma City to interview us and, within literally months, weather radars, real meteorologists, and much improved storm coverage spread across the U.S.

Fast forward to the present. Below is a video put together by the Universities and Oklahoma and Alabama pertaining to the role played by television and radio meteorologists during the 2011 tornado outbreaks. It is well done and worth watching. Broadcast meteorology does not get the credit it deserves for the lives it saves.

The live broadcast of tornadoes is now routine in many markets. The TV meteorologists at KSNF TV in Joplin continued on the air even as their lives were in danger. In some cases, meteorologists worked literally 24 consecutive hours.

It looks like tornadoes are possible in the southern Plains the next few days. The 2012 tornado season began more than a week ago.  If you appreciate the work done by your local television meteorologist, drop them a note in the mail or send them an email. I know they'll appreciate it.

Congratulations to the meteorologists for all of the great work done in 2011! Good luck this tornado season. 


  1. How true about TV coverage. One thing that sticks in my mind about the Greensburg tornado was Dave Freeman from Ch. 3 (NBC) in Wichita thinking about it being Friday night, and that kids might be home while the parents were out for the night. He became very specific talking to kids about what he wanted them to do and where to go in the house, in very simple but firm words. All the Wichita stations did a great job along with the NWS. I would hate to think what the death toll could have been on this. As a firefighter/EMT for numerous years, I always wonder how many people meteorologist have actually save over the year. THANKS EVERYONE!

    Mike B.

  2. Based on the research I discuss in "Warnings," there is very good evidence the death toll in Greensburg would have been 242 had there been no warnings. So, meteorology saved 231 lives that horrible night.

    Thank you for the comment.

  3. I can still hear Bill Kurtis' voice on our tiny little AM (before there was FM) radio saying "For God's Sake,take cover" as the June 8 1966 Topeka EF-5 tornado headed our way..and I was only 4 yrs old! You are right, in my book TV/Radio Meteorologists are superheros and I let our local guys & gals know that every summer:)

  4. Dave together with Mike Umschied's TE saved our lives in Greensburg. As the fifth anniversary comes around, we feel a little ansty, but we are grateful for the progress forecasting has made in the last five years.
    Glad the disaster we experienced has helped.
    Jeff B.

  5. Thanks much for the comment, Jeff!

  6. Mike,
    The St. Louis Fox station will be airing a special tonight on the Lambert Good Friday Tornado. Maybe you could find a way to view it.,0,7946630.story

  7. Thanks. I just went to the link. I'll try to watch if it is streamed or catch a replay if they post it.

  8. "there is very good evidence the death toll in Greensburg would have been 242 had there been no warnings."

    If I remember correctly (I borrowed "Warnings" from the local library about a year ago), you quote the local sheriff as saying that he asked to have a refrigerated truck and a large quantity of body bags ready to handle more than 100 dead, because he initially thought the death toll in Greensburg WOULD be that bad.

    Which raises the question of just how bad the Alabama and Joplin death tolls would have been in the absence of ANY warnings -- probably, I'm guessing, equal to or worse than the Tri-State Tornado (almost 700 dead) in both cases.

    Of course, as you have stated before, lack of ability to receive warnings due to power outages (caused by storms earlier in the day) may be exactly the reason the April 27 outbreak death toll was so high. Still, many other people did receive warnings that saved their lives.



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