Weather Idiots

What’s with local stations pre-empting broadcasts of network shows to give me weather reports? I sort of understood it when I lived in Alabama and we had a heavy tornado season, but even then I thought it was assinine. Let me know if there are any new developments but don’t turn the tornado report into a two-hour program wherein you send your idiot junior woodchuck “meterologist” outside to get his hair blown around interviewing morons who are outside in bad weather. Also, I really don’t want to look at your blasted Doppler Super Duper Weather Radar XVIII Mark A9A. Why don’t you interpret the data and get back to me when you’re done? You’re the one that took the two week training course.

The idiots running the DC CBS affiliate have this week ruined the only two (non-NFL football) shows I watch on that network with thunderstorm warnings. It’s raining? What precisely am I supposed to do with the information? For one thing, I already know it’s raining. For another, if I’m inside watching television, I’m probably reasonably safe from lightning strikes whereas, conversely, if I’m in a location where I’m in significant danger of being struck by lightning, I’m unlikely to be watching television.

The phenomenon is even worse when watching the program via TiVo delay, when the offending weather event is over.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I hear you: my dad worked at Entertainment Tonight for like 23 years, and on his last day they showed his retirement party on-air. Except that CBS in DC pre-empted to cover some minor thunderstorm.

    The media isn’t liberal, it’s just stupid.

  2. Boyd says:

    Lemme guess, James, you’re a little pissed. Right?

    It was a significant weather event, by the way. While we were well past it here in Loudoun County, folks living in southeastern Prince Georges County, Charles County and Calvert County were under a Tornado Watch. To put it in context, a couple of years ago, a tornado ripped through Charles County, with lots of damage and several deaths. Folks in that area are a little sensitive about weather events that might kill them.

    As a side note, the area Skywarn Amateur Radio network had been active for several hours, and continued to receive reports of severe weather throughout the period of preemption (9:00-9:30 EDT). Hey, at least they didn’t preempt American Idol, right? You did Tivo AI, right?

    Context is oh so important.

  3. Mark Hasty says:

    Providing severe weather info is one of the ‘community service’ requirements of a station’s broadcasting license. Of course, providing unending team coverage of a Severe Drizzle Advisory isn’t mandated. So why do they do it? Because it gets ratings.

  4. Sam says:

    The digital “HD” broadcast from WUSA was showing the network feed, while the network feed was getting replaced and mangled on the analog broadcast.

    WJLA (ABC) divides their digital channel bandwidth into two subchannels–subchannel 1 is the network feed and subchannel 2 is weather radar (except when they screw up and end up broadcasting a frame from an Appleby’s commercial for over an hour… like they did during the recent broadcast of “Unbreakable”. WJLA seems to screw up on their digital broadcasts quite a bit.)

  5. Kate says:

    Yes, that was an uncharacteristic rant.

    It’s not the weather, is it James?

  6. James Joyner says:


    A tornado watch is pretty much nothing. It just means conditions are “favorable” for a tornado. In Alabama, we called that “summer.” If it’s a tornado warning, then I want to know about it. But even then, a little icon at the bottom of the screen, scrolling text every once in a while, or even a very brief interruption is enough to convey the info. 25 consecutive minutes of coverage, pre-empting the programming, simply isn’t warranted unless there’s actual tornado activity causing significant threat to people’s lives. Otherwise, it’s not only annoying it’s crying Wolf.

  7. Fredrik Nyman says:

    Yesterday during the ’24’ finale, WTTG (Fox 5 DC) ran big text bars along the left and bottom edges of the screen, displaying useless information such as “severe thunderstorm alert” in the bars. The broadcast was displayed in reduced size in the remaining portion of the screen.

    Fun fact: when stations screw with the video signal like that, the closed captioning data gets lost.

    I’m sure hearing-impaired and other viewers who depend on the closed captioning were rather unhappy to miss the dialogue for half the show, especially for this.

  8. Boyd says:

    I see your point, James, but (merely playing devil’s advocate) there were tornado warnings for Prince Georges and Calvert counties last evening, and the weather folks got the clearest indication that you can get from radar that there was tornadic activity in those storms (there were two different ones that converged over southern PG County).

    Add to that the fact that folks are a mite sensitive, especially in Southern Maryland since the La Plata disaster in 2002, when there’s the possibility of a tornado touching down. They don’t happen as often around here, but they do tend to be more destructive than in other places around the country.

    Sorry, the debate team fought it’s way to the top of my consciousness. I’m better now, thank you.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Man, they don’t even have trailer parks here! How much damage could a tornado do?

  10. Boyd says:

    Man, they don’t even have trailer parks here!

    They hide them well. You just don’t go where they are. And that’s probably a good thing.

    How much damage could a tornado do?

    Plenty of damage:

    La Plata tornado, April 28, 2002
    Tornadoes in Virigina, DC and Maryland on Sept 24, 2001

  11. James Joyner says:

    Yeah, I vaguely remember that storm now. The one was so close to 9/11 that I didn’t pay much attention and, really, minor catastrophes elsewhere (I didn’t move here until 8/02) tend not to interest me all that much.

    I figured they must have banned trailers up here; I don’t think I’ve seen one. In much of the Deep South, there are no zoning laws, so you can literally have a trailer across the street from a mansion.

  12. McGehee says:

    The Weather Channel was covering the DC-area weather pretty intensively last night. But I didn’t see whether they dispatched Mike Seidel or — more ominously — Jim Cantore.

    James, you have to understand, the DC area reacts to these kinds of weather events the way Alabama would react to a snowstorm.

  13. Boyd says:

    It seems to me that DC also reacts to snowstorms the way the Alabama does, only with less justification and greater frequency.

    “ABANDON YOUR CARS NOW (preferably on the Capital Beltway, I-95 or I-66)!!! THE FORECAST CALLS FOR SNOW FLURRIES IN A COUPLE OF DAYS!!!”

  14. jen says:

    When the tornado warning was in effect for Loudoun County, I turned to the Weather channel to see if they were covering it and to check the radar so that I could see where in the county the heaviest of the storm was (it’s a large area). Local alerts overrode the audio of the Weather channel! For an hour, some lady’s recorded voice warned of imminent danger.

    Interestingly, channel 8 had good coverage of the storm and I was able to see that my area of Loudoun wasn’t affected. We got barely a sprinkle.

  15. Boyd says:

    I guess the preemptions didn’t bother me so much because I’m very weather-oriented, and when weather events happen I’m usually watching them evolve from my computer and on the local Amateur Radio Skywarn net.

    I just love watching red blobs move across the map!

  16. McGehee says:

    Skywarn. With storm season approaching here in Georgia I’m glad we seem once again to have a working radio in the house. Last May we had a tornado warning in our county and our local net was going strong.

    Nothing of significance happened at my house of course (nothing ever does), but a few short miles away some microburst winds knocked down a bunch of trees and damaged houses.

    I’d hate to have to hunker down for another storm like that, but without my ham radio.