Why we interrupt programming for severe weather

Weather Blog

Today a severe thunderstorm tracked across Fulton, Mason, Tazewell, Logan and McLean Counties. The storm produced significant wind damage and tennis ball size hail across Fulton and Tazewell Counties and eventually produced a tornado near Emden. Numerous trees were blown down and crops were leveled by the wind. Buildings in Manito were significantly damaged due to wind driven hail and severe wind gusts.

Make no mistake…tornado or not, this was a life-threatening storm. Wind driven tennis ball size hail can kill a person. I applaud Meteorologist Zach Hatcher and Meteorologist Molly Naslund for their dedication and hard work in providing life saving weather information to our community.

As long as there is an immediate threat to the life of people in our viewing area, not matter how small the communities impacted are, we will continue to provide life saving weather information.

Here are answers to the questions we are often asked when we interrupt programming…

Why do you interrupt our programming in Peoria for a storm that is an hour away?

Broadcast TV stations broadcast a signal across a large area. This signal is picked up by your antennas (or the antennas of your cable and satellite provider) and re-transmitted into your home. There is no way to split this signal up and send it only to the areas impacted. So, when we have to cut in, everyone in our broadcast area sees it. Perhaps one day the technology will come along and these signals can be split, but not now.

Every life is important. No matter the size of the community, from Dwight to Bellflower to Table Grove to Woodhull to Peru/La Salle and everyone in between; your safety is our number one priority.

Why don’t you just cut in for a short update and quickly get off the TV?

It’s important to understand that many people are not watching TV when warnings are issued. They often hear the warnings through a weather radio, their phone, or social media and immediately turn on the TV for additional updates. If we do a brief update when the warning is issued, someone tuning in late would have missed the information they needed to hear. Because of this, we often repeat information as needed to inform those who may be tuning in for the first time. Once we are confident the threat has ended we will return to programming.

Can you just split the screen and show both?

Yes we can but it’s a work in progress. At this time our capabilities are limited and when we split the screen, the programming covers up important weather information. This is something I think we can improve and I hope to have it solved sooner than later.

Why don’t you just use the crawl for information?

The crawl is indeed a useful tool and does provide important information. However, it only updates with new information (location, speed and impacts) when the NWS updates the warnings. Typically this is about once every 10-15 minutes. A storm moving 30-50 mph can cover a lot of ground in that time frame.

As experienced meteorologists, we are able to provide minute by minute updates. The radar we show during our cut-ins updates every 1-2 minutes during severe weather and we can often see the development of a tornado in almost real time. This means we can call out the names of the communities that are likely to be impacted (sometimes even calling out a certain intersection). We can also give the all clear as a storm moves away from an area.

Why not wait until a tornado actually develops before cutting in?

Once the tornado develops it’s already too late. Our goal is to give people as much time as possible to seek shelter. Not everyone has a shelter readily available and some may need to travel to a safer location. If we wait until the tornado touches down, someone watching our channel may be seriously hurt or killed if the tornado develops on top of them.

This afternoon, I was able to identify an area of tightening rotation west of Emden 12 minutes before the tornado was reported. That rotation was then verified by storm spotters who reported a rapidly rotating wall cloud. That was 12 more minutes the Emden community had to seek shelter, than if we had we waited for the tornado to touch down.

Why not just livestream on Facebook and ciproud.com?

Not everyone has access to the internet or the ability to stream. While we do use these tools, it’s just an additional way to reach people who may be in danger. We can reach more people over the air but we use our online streaming tools to compliment our on-air storm coverage. We often find that people turn to our live streams once they lose power or signal from a storm.

As we did on Friday, when tornado warnings were not in effect, we referred people to our online continuous coverage as to limit the interruptions to programming. However, when tornado warnings are issued and there is a greater risk to peoples lives, we will do continuous coverage until the threat ends.

We can receive warnings and track severe weather through our phones, there’s no reason for coverage on TV.

Cell phones should be used as a secondary source for warning information. When you receive a push alert for a tornado warnings those warnings often come late. Thousands of people are signed up to receive these push alerts which means thousands of push alerts are being sent through cell phone towers. This creates a bottleneck in the flow of information through the tower and can result in the warnings arriving late. We saw this happen on Friday when parts of Peoria county received a push alert for a tornado warning 30 minutes after the warning was issued.

I hope these answers help and we thank you for your understanding.

Chris Yates
Chief Meteorologist WMBD/WYZZ

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