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Posted at 02:30 PM ET, 06/05/2012

Was the June 1 severe thunderstorm outbreak overhyped?


Areas placed under slight and moderate risk of severe thunderstorms by the National Weather Service and actual storm (damaging wind, large hail and tornado) reports superimposed. (NWS)
No doubt, there was plenty of build-up and extensive coverage of the June 1 severe weather event in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore region. At least one commentator thought it was too much. DCRTV media critic Dave Hughes writes:

Oh that nutty Washington Post. The paper’s website goes completely over the top with hype for Friday’s storms - tornadoes, hail, high winds, dark clouds, “deadly lightning,” flash floods. But Saturday’s print Post doesn’t even put the “big weather story,” which caused almost no damage in the metro area, on the front page. Does the DC area media go completely nuts when spring storms threaten?

In his video discussion, he zeroes in on CWG’s coverage and ridicules our calls to “take cover” during tornado warnings.

Video of media critic Dave Hughes ranting about CWG’s storm coverage.

In my opinion, he raises some good points about how false alarms can backfire. Maybe the National Weather Service is too liberal in issuing some warnings and/or its criteria for warnings are not strict enough (this is an issue that deserves a separate discussion). Too many warnings too often without obvious impacts can result in public complacency.

And Hughes is right when he recalls past severe thunderstorm outbreaks which had a much bigger impact than Friday’s.

But the ingredients in place for severe weather Friday did merit some alarm. And Hughes goes overboard in criticizing us for simply reporting severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service.

At least 9 tornadoes were confirmed in the region (including one which injured two people in Harford county and one on the ground at BWI airport!) and there were more than 55 wind damage and 28 flash flooding reports. Granted, the damage mainly consisted of downed trees, but many of the warnings were validated.

It’s a fine line between thunderstorms/tornadoes that do minor damage and those which are highly destructive.

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to forecast the intensity of tornadoes as they’re forming - so it’s our responsiblity to tell people to seek shelter. What would Hughes do - tell people to go about their business as usual during tornado warnings?

Friday’s severe weather set up was potentially dangerous. Until we can better predict tornado intensity and which thunderstorms will spawn the most dangerous tornadoes - we’re forced to err on the side of caution. It really isn’t about hype.

What do you think?

Related link: Scientists try to figure out what makes some storms spawn deadly tornadoes

By  |  02:30 PM ET, 06/05/2012

 
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