After the interruption, no tornado formed. It’s the latest incident that’s led viewers to question when and how news stations should interrupt during popular programming.
Houston’s local CBS affiliate, KHOU, interrupted the national game feed for nearly half an hour, causing many to miss the game’s thrilling conclusion. KHOU meteorologist Tim Pandajis cut into the game to inform local audiences about severe weather which featured a tornado warning around Houston. Many fans criticized the station for the disruption, questioning why the station could not use a picture-in-picture display, a split screen or a warning banner across the bottom so that viewers could continue to watch the game.
The Lions’ Thanksgiving curse continued, and the Bills took home the win with a 28-25 score after a field goal in the last seven seconds of the game. This is the second time that the Bills have won in Detroit this week.
Pandajis responded on Twitter after fans aired their frustration.
“My apologies folks but I have a responsibility to get on the air and stay on the air through the duration of a tornado warning,” Pandajis said.
My apologies folks but I have a responsibility to get on the air and stay on the air through the duration of a tornado warning.— Tim Pandajis (@TimPandajisKHOU) November 24, 2022
Josh Johnson, chief meteorologist at a local NBC affiliate in Alabama, said decisions to cut into high-value programs are “not made lightly.”
“But when we’ve seen the damage these storms do, when we’ve gone and stood with the people affected and shared in their grief when they lose loved ones, the decision and path forward is simple,” Johnson said. “When weather is life or death, the game can and will wait.”
Twister season in Texas peaks during the early spring and spans into the early summer months, but it isn’t uncommon to see tornadoes throughout the year.
Some viewers questioned the station’s decision to interrupt the Turkey Day football game when other stations didn’t interrupt the World Cup. During the World Cup matchup between Brazil and Serbia earlier that day, other local stations in Houston ran a warning banner at the bottom and small map in the corner without interrupting the game.
“Local television stations can avoid situations like this by being proactive,” Tim Heller, a retired meteorologist from a local ABC affiliate in Houston, told The Washington Post. “Reserve cutting into popular programming until truly life-threatening weather develops, like a tornado on the ground.”
Heller said he learned this lesson early in his 35-year career, once frustrating fans after cutting into an episode of ABC’s long-running soap “General Hospital.” He tried to use the split-screen option whenever possible so that viewers could continue watching their program on one side while he gave a quick weather update on the other.
“Run a crawl across the bottom of the TV screen to describe the situation and give viewers the option of tuning into the online coverage,” Heller said.
This isn’t the first time meteorologists have been criticized for interrupting major sporting events.
During a contentious 2017 March Madness matchup between Kentucky and North Carolina, a local CBS affiliate in Ohio interrupted the broadcast in the last minutes of a nearly tied game.
Like Thursday, that game was interrupted during a crucial moment for a tornado warning. But due to technical difficulties, viewers were shown a blank screen. The station ultimately apologized for the cut-in but reminded viewers that people’s lives were in danger.
Stations have also been criticized for not cutting in to warn people about imminent threats.
In 2019, a Dallas television station apologized to viewers after choosing to air the tense game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles instead of breaking in to warn about a powerful tornado tearing through the city.
Thousands of locals scrambled to news stations for information and got nothing. The station didn’t break into the football broadcast until eight minutes after the tornado had touched down.
“There is no easy middle-ground solution,” Johnson said, “because no one wants to watch a game or weather coverage in a small box.”