Those TV weather warnings are nothing more than a distraction

Those TV weather warnings are nothing more than a distraction

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m just about fed up with weather warnings. Ever since the Nashville tornado back in ‘98, just about every storm makes the news. If it’s not a weathercaster breaking into the regularly scheduled programming, it’s a message scrolling across the TV screen, or an urgent announcement squawking over the radio.

Just last Sunday, while I was minding my own business, watching the Little League World Series, one-third of my TV screen got gobbled up by a flashing message alerting me that there was a hard rain falling in Waverly. Seriously now, who needed to know this? The folks in Waverly? No, they can just look out the window, and they’ll be able to tell when it’s about to rain, when it’s actually raining, and when the rain is over.

These days, every decent TV station has a Doppler radar, which can pinpoint heavy rain and wind right down to the quarter-acre. If you watch enough TV, you’ll eventually see your very own yard on the weather radar.

I’ve heard it said that the fancy radar will save lives and property, because people will know storms are coming, and they’ll take cover. Well, let’s think back to Tornado Day, April 16, 1998. As I recall, the tornado first touched down a stone’s throw from Channel 4’s studio, on Knob Hill. I wonder, did anybody at Channel 4 have time to jump under a desk? If they had time, did they jump? Or did they just go on about their business?

Once the tornado got going, it ran right over Channel 5. We know what happened there. Photojournalists hung out of windows and doors and took pictures of deadly flying debris.

I don’t think we should expect regular citizens to do any different. I’m an unusually cautious man, but if I knew a tornado was coming right down my street, I’d be thinking about ways to watch that sumbitch. I might just go out in my front yard, lash myself to the big pin oak tree, and try my luck.

I would not be alone. By now, I think every televiewing American has seen at least one close-up amateur tornado video, complete with the sound of the videographer’s wife begging and screaming at him to get back in the house.

I’ve seen several of these videos, but I’ve yet to see one that ends with the cameraman getting smashed by a flying cow or getting sucked up to Oz. Clearly, a person can get pretty close to some seriously bad weather and live to tell the tale.

Still, in the last few years, I don’t know how many times my TV has told me that there’s a big storm headed my way, and if I’m smart, I’ll take shelter in my basement. My rule is, I’ll head for the basement when I see flying debris and hear something that sounds like a jet taking off. Most of the time, when the warning comes, it’s not even raining hard. Sometimes, it’s all blue skies outside.

Understand, I’m all in favor of using fancy gizmos and gadgets to save lives and property. I’m just opposed to false alarms and the effect they have on people’s adrenal glands. A few weeks back, a nervous parent called a local school, saying that everybody in her building had been sent to the basement, to get out of the way of a storm. She wanted to know if her child was in a safe place. Well, there was no storm warning at the school and no storm nearby. Even so, that mother wanted her kid herded into a stairwell, and she wanted her herded right then. Imagine if somebody had done it: “Uh, sweetie, your mom heard on TV that there’s a storm coming, so she wants us to take you to the basement, m’kay?” I can’t think of many better ways to make a kid run away with the circus.

I say all these warnings have got us thinking too much about trouble that’s not on the way, and even if it were, there’s nothing much we could do about it.

Near Sumter, S.C., there’s Shaw Air Force Base. They fly fighter jets there. Around the base, along the roads, there are signs that say, “Watch for Low-Flying Aircraft.” When I saw the signs, my first thought was, “OK, if I see one, what am I supposed to do?” My answer to myself was, “Nothing you can do, bubba.”

If one of Shaw’s F-16s comes whizzing at me, it’s not as if I can yield to it, honk at it, avoid it, or report it to the authorities. If a fighter jet plane has my name on it, well, it’s just going to get me.

Same thing with a tornado, or lightning, or pretty much any bad, fast-acting trouble. Might as well just continue on as usual and hope for the best.

Visit Walter Jowers’ Web site at, or e-mail him at


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