Oklahoma in the springtime is all about the weather. After the devastating tornadoes of 2013, it’s been a relief to see spring come sauntering gently in this year. But all is not calm in the world of weather forecasters. Far from it. This year, for the first time I can remember, a number of forecasters are taking each other on, calling each other out, and actively disputing one another’s analyses of the weather data.
For viewers in Oklahoma, figuring out what the weather is going to do is tricky enough without the meteorologists arguing about every storm system that moves in from the west. We know that forecasting the weather comes with a level of uncertainty. We know that meteorologists often err on the side of caution when severe weather is likely. And yes, we know the whole thing is as much about ratings as it is about saving lives.
On April 22, meteorologist Jon Slater, from Oklahoma City, made the following statement on his Facebook page regarding a severe storm system expected to arrive on the 26th: “I’m not sure why some media outlets are presenting a moderate risk when the officially (sic) risk is slight. This only causes confusion and confusion is NOT what we want to present as a weather community.”
He’s right. The last thing we want is confusion. Lives were endangered in last year’s tornado outbreak when another meteorologist, Mike Morgan, urged viewers to get in their cars and go south, leading to gridlocked highways and people stuck in the open with a massive tornado bearing down. Yes, that tornado took an odd turn to the south and behaved in ways even seasoned storm chasers could not predict, but the panic and confusion in the city made things worse than they had to be.
Later in the week, Aaron Tuttle, another meteorologist from Oklahoma City, and the storm chasers who run Weather Watch Oklahoma dismissed other local forecasters’ predictions that we would likely see a large tornado outbreak over the weekend as a lot of hype. Tuttle posted a message on the 24th, stating, “I warned you about paying too much attention to all the nonsense going around. I really hate that. Nothing I can do about it though.I warned you about paying too much attention to all the nonsense going around. I really hate that. Nothing I can do about it though.I warned you about paying too much attention to all the nonsense going around. I really hate that. Nothing I can do about it though.”
Weather Watch Oklahoma’s page contained this message on the 26th, when it was apparent that atmospheric conditions were preventing much of the severe weather that had been predicted all week long: “And this is WHY it’s important not to blow things out of proportion.. Everything can look great then the real time DAY OF data comes in and here you go.”
Since these meteorologists are not tied to a local news station, they are free to deliver their thoughts with a lot more snark than the network affiliated meteorologists in the area might. But even though they got it right this time, and the storm system fizzled out, what happens the first time one of them accuses the other forecasters of hype and true disaster strikes?
A voice we can trust
Maybe all this has something to do with the fact that Gary England recently retired after 41 years of literally saving Oklahoma lives. He’s been revered as a veritable weather god for most of my life. He was the one I watched on May 3, 1999. He was the one I watched in the spring of 2013. He’s the one I’d be watching today if he was still on the air.
But he’s not. And for the first time in decades, there is a space open at the top of Oklahoma’s weather forecasting hierarchy. Which meteorologist will turn out to be the voice we can trust? I guess only time will tell.
More by Tavia:
Turn a 5 Gallon Bucket into a Tornado Survival Kit for Under $50
Will New Tornado Warnings Save Lives?
Arranging Shelter Ahead of the Storms