Joe Crain, the popular on-camera meteorologist who defied station management on live television, is out a job. But the rebellious Springfield, Ill., weatherman has many people fighting for him.
Crain has been the subject of a digital firestorm since June 5, when he took to the airwaves to voice disdain for the “code red” days that he alleged management forced him to issue — even when the weather wasn’t extraordinarily severe.
“When you hear ‘code red,’ you think, ‘The feces is about to hit the fan,’” relayed Crain as the cameras rolled.
The weather alerts, which Crain argued interfered with effective messaging and created unnecessary hype, had elicited “thousands of comments … and frequent calls” from outraged viewers.
After publicly airing his displeasure with the alerts on live television, the beloved meteorologist was not again seen on the station. His bio disappeared from the station’s site, and the Sinclair Broadcast Group posted a position description for his job a few days later.
It’s been more than a week since the familiar face was last seen on Illinois television sets, yet public outrage continues to mount, as viewers double down on their efforts to bring Crain back.
A Facebook page titled “Supporters of Meteorologist Joe Crain” has nearly 15,000 likes, while more than 1,800 are “interested” in a “Farmer’s Market Rally to Support Joe Crain” slated for Thursday evening.
Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, spent his time in office fighting against manufactured weather alerts vastly different from the official advisories and warnings issued by the National Weather Service.
“I am strongly opposed to ad hoc or random weather declarations and warnings. It sows confusion with the public,” explained Shepherd. “During my tenure as president of AMS, one of my goals was to nudge the weather community towards consistency in messaging.”
WICS NewsChannel 20, the station that booted Crain for his remarks, issued a statement Tuesday defending its alert system.
“We have worked hard to gain the trust of our viewers over the years,” said Rick Lipps, general manager at WICS. “One reason is that, to the maximum extent possible, we provide early warning of severe weather. … Code red alerts were developed because we believe they enhance the community’s preparedness for severe weather.”
Lipps went on to argue that a “code red” could be “potentially lifesaving information,” but admitted that the words “code red … may no longer be fitting.” The station plans to continue issuing its own weather alerts, rebranding them instead as “weather warn.”
Crain has remained silent in the wake of the fateful June 5 forecast per the advice of his attorney. But that doesn’t mean others haven’t spoken for him.
In his Wednesday broadcast, Stephen Colbert opened a segment by saying, “I’m sorry to say I have some troubling news. Not all is well in the world of weather.”
“[WICS] was told by their corporate owners that every time there was any bad weather — anything from a tornado to light drizzle — they had to announce it to their viewers with the graphic ‘code red,’” explained Colbert. “The theory … is that it’s exciting, it’s grabbing, and that more people will keep watching if you scare them.”
The crowd remained silent. But then Colbert pivoted, saying, “Enter our hero, WICS meteorologist Joe Crain. Crain heard the calls of the people.” The audience erupted into cheers.
“With Joe Crain gone, the problem of scaring viewers isn’t getting any easier,” said Colbert, as the screen flipped to a graphic reading “Storm Team Death Cast.” The audience laughed and applauded.
“Looks like we have light rain, so pack an umbrella and make your peace with God,” boomed the caricature weatherman, named “Trip Dippler.” “We’ve got an Apocalypse Advisory.”
It’s not just late-night hosts using their platform to support Crain.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) described Crain as “reliable,” saying, “He said something that was obvious,” according to the State Journal-Register. “[WICS and Sinclair Broadcasting Group were] overstating the danger to our community … and they want to blame it on him.”
The newspaper also reports that several businesses have pulled advertising from WICS.
A petition to reinstate Crain as WICS’s morning meteorologist has gathered more than 16.000 signatures, but the effectiveness remains to be seen.
The forecast for Crain is looking rather uncertain.