WBMA Meteorologist on Tornado Sirens: ‘The Time Has Come to Take Them Down’

By Merrill Knox 

In the aftermath of a tornado outbreak that killed more than 300 people this spring, veteran meteorologist James Spann is calling for an overhaul of the NWS tornado warning system — and a new commitment to weather coverage across local regions.

In a post on ABC 33/40‘s weather blog, Spann writes that tornado sirens, which have an 80-90 percent false alarm ratio, are outdated and overused. “Getting these kind of warnings over and over and over again totally create an ocean of people that won’t be paying attention when a real tornado emergency is in progress,” he writes. “The cry wolf syndrome is very real, and very dangerous.”

Spann also says local stations must commit to bringing audiences information valuable to their safety. “When there is a genuine tornado emergency, TV stations must have the guts to blow off regular programming and go with wall to wall weather coverage,” he writes. “I was appalled to see a TV station in a top ten market opting to air the season finale with ‘Dancing With The Stars’ when a tornado warning was up for the two major counties in the metro area this spring. No guts, no glory.”

Spann gained national attention in April for his detailed weather reporting, supplemented by social media updates, as a tornado system ripped through Alabama. He has been with the Birmingham ABC affiliate, which is in the heart of “Tornado Alley,” since 1996. Spann was among the first weather anchors to earn “Certified Broadcast Meteorologist” status from the American Meteorological Society, a feat which requires an evaluation of on-air work for technical and informational value.