11:30 p.m. update: We received the following clarification from an ABC News spokesperson earlier today: “The report that aired Monday was referring to the fact that many families were surprised because they were asleep when the tornado hit in the middle of the night.” In a segment this evening, ABC World News made clear the warnings for the tornado outbreak “came early”
From earlier: At least 25 tornadoes ripped through five states in the South Sunday into early Monday, destroying homes and killing two people while injuring more than 100 in Alabama.
In an example of irresponsible reporting, ABC’s Diane Sawyer claimed the tornadoes touched down with “no warning.”
In reality, tornado watches were in effect for hours in all the regions where the twisters hit (including a “particularly dangerous situation” watch in eastern Arkansas, northern Mississippi and western Tennessee). And warnings were issued 20-30 minutes in advance of individual tornadoes (source: AlabamaWx.com). [2:50 p.m. update: average warning lead time was 34.4 minutes according to NOAA tweet].
Keep reading for the video of the flawed report and commentary...
ABC video coverage of the January 23 and 24 tornado outbreak.
AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Smith, author of “Warnings,” blogged about the consequences of such poor reporting:
Meteorologists really face an uphill battle: The media keeps inaccurately telling people that storm after storm occurs without warning.
The public, who -- outside of the affected area -- doesn’t know better, assumes the media reporting is correct.
So, when a tornado warning affects them, they don’t act on it. Why should they?! The warnings are no good!
Aerial footage of the damage in Jefferson county Alabama from what was classified as an EF-3 tornado (from ABC33/40)
ABC has an obligation to correct the record here. It could easily accomplish this by doing an in-depth story on how good tornado forecasting has become, and describe the lead times that were provided by the National Weather Service (NWS) in last spring’s historic outbreaks as well as Monday morning’s tragic outbreak. The watches and warnings no doubt saved countless lives and might have saved more if they were better understood.
While not perfect, the public needs to know that the tornado watches and warnings provided by the NWS are timely, accurate, and to be taken seriously.