James Spann blasts number of false tornado warnings
story by Thomas Spencer at The Birmingham News.
"I firmly believe apathy and complacency due to a high false alarm ratio over the years led to inaction in many cases that could have cost lives," Spann wrote in a wide-ranging blog post that has generated debate among weather watchers and fellow meteorologists.
In the post, the ABC 33/40 meteorologist criticizes what he considers a high false alarm rate by the National Weather Service in issuing tornado warnings, questions the utility of the siren alert system, and raises questions about practices in TV broadcasting.
In an interview, Spann said he didn't intend to place blame, and effusively praised the NWS's performance on April 27. But Spann said he believes the issues need to be aired.
"There is no reason that so many people had to die that day. I am trying to stimulate discussion," Spann said.
With the advent of Doppler radar and other technological advances, the NWS has been driving up the number of tornadoes it detects and warns for, particularly weaker tornadoes.
According to an analysis by meteorologist Tim Coleman, a researcher at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, tornado warnings from a group of NWS offices in the Southeast averaged fewer than 100 warnings a year in the late 1980s, but in recent years the average has risen to almost 800.
At the same time, the NWS has made only a modest improvement in its rate of false alarms, according to the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman, Okla.