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When it hits your house: a TV meteorologist's worst nightmare: Bradon's Barometer

Chief Meteorologist James Spann is a broadcast weather giant. A tornado hit his house. He stayed on the air.
Credit: WPMT FOX43

Usually I'll take time in the blog to educate my readers on weather topics, prepare you for a certain season or just simply tell you how things work in a helpful, on-brand sarcastic way.

This week, I just can't do that.

And it's not because of the nationwide internet outage of the National Weather Service earlier this week that caused several vital products of our friends at the NWS to go down for hours. You may have read about that. Here's a link if not. No, that's for another blog down the road.

It's because I watched a weather icon simply do his job.

Credit: Chief Meteorologist Bradon Long
Bradon storm chasing in Oklahoma circa 2014.

You see, growing up in rural northwestern Oklahoma, weather was entertainment to me. It's a completely different animal living in the Great Plains or the southern states, where tornado season is just a fact of life. You have a day or two warning, sometimes more, sometimes less, that SOMETHING might happen. You have minutes when a tornado is on the ground and headed for your house--maybe more, maybe less.

Credit: Chief Meteorologist Bradon Long
A tornado Bradon witnessed in May 2015 in Oklahoma.

And it was my dream growing up to predict tornadoes and warn the public about them. While tornado season isn't particularly violent this far north in Pennsylvania, we do get our share every now and then.

But in Alabama, especially in the last decade, tornado season is seemingly an everyday thing. 

And on March 25th, particularly bad.

Credit: Storm Prediction Center
The severe thunderstorm outlook on March 25th, 2021.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a "high risk," or level 5/5 for portions of the south that day. Television meteorologists, both from our sister stations there and other companies, readied for the day. As a meteorologist, those days are what you go to school for. They're what define you. They're what you live for.

And together with meteorologists across the country not involved in that severe weather risk, we watched to see how Chief Meteorologist James Spann in Birmingham would handle it. 

Spann is a weather icon in his own right, and for brevity sake I won't go into his legacy. But, a first happened on March 25th, 2021 -- and it's our worst nightmare.

He wasn't just watching another tornado warning. This massive tornado that we could easily see was on the ground based on radar and velocity data took aim at his house. 

His wife was home. Spann was on television.

Credit: ABC 33/40
Spann in action on March 25th, 2021.

The tornado entered a stage known as a "Tornado Emergency." It's the highest warning of a tornado that the National Weather Service can issue. 

I watched, live around 2:00PM that day on Facebook, as Spann stepped off screen for mere minutes. He told Meteorologist Taylor Sarallo, "I'll let you take it for just a second. Let me check on some folks here real quick."

You can watch an uploaded version of that live stream here. That quote is at 2:14:47.

Just imagine that fear for a second. Your job is to warn the public about tornadoes. You've done it a million times. But now, your closest loved one is in the path. Your wife, your property and your entire life. And you can't do anything except keep doing your job and briefly check in.

Luckily, his wife was okay. The house, not so much. He returned to camera: 

"The reason I had to step out, we’ve had major damage at my house. I had to be sure my wife is OK. But the tornado came right through there. It’s not good. It’s bad." 

Spann later tweeted pictures showing trees down on his roof and around his home, but the structure still intact.

It wasn't the same story for everybody in Central Alabama that day. At least five people died across the Birmingham television market. Millions of dollars in damage. 

It's a stark reality for meteorologists all across the country, including the FOX43 weather team. Our job is to keep you safe all year long: snow, sleet, tornadoes and more. It's our passion and our life's work. But there's a fear that comes with it. We're impacted by what happens just as much as you are. We're members of your community. We have loved ones around you where you live. And while severe weather is happening, we're at work doing our best for you and our families.

We're all family in that way. We love our viewers, each and every one. We care about you. It's not just our job, it's our privilege.

So, as always, here's a reminder: know how to get severe weather alerts for where you live. The best ways to do that are to own a NOAA weather radio and download the FOX43 app. Allow it to access your location so you can receive severe weather push alerts directly to where you are in the moment. While we don't see all the severe weather other states do each and every day, we have our moments. Stay safe, and let us keep you Weather Smart.

Until next time,

-Chief Meteorologist Bradon Long

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