column written by Art Vuolo, Jr.
My mother is convinced that I was killed by a tornado in a former life because of my extreme fear of these Mother Nature Monsters. As a kid, I was terrified by the twister scene in "The Wizard of Oz." After seeing hundreds of tornadoes on film and videotape on TV, mostly thanks to The Weather Channel, I have become a bit more desensitized about these storms, but honestly I am still not fond of tornadoes.
Next month will mark 23 years since the last tornado touched down in Novi, where I live. In fact it hit (imagine this) a mobile home park between Novi and Meadowbrook Roads on Father's Day, June 21, 1987. It killed one person, injured 6, caused 1.7 million dollars in damage and left 138 people homeless...and that was in 1987. Back then there was no Fox Run retirement center, no Wexford apartments and no Maples of Novi. Anyone over the age of 45 can surely remember the tornado that on March 20, 1976 ripped through the intersection of Maple and Orchard Lake Roads in West Bloomfield. Imagine if that happened today!
When severe weather threatens, we have two radio stations which will probably be your best source of information to keep you safe when the skies grow dark. Both WJR-AM (760) and WWJ-AM (950) are well equipped to keep you well ahead of the storm. Thus far, this has been a bad year for tornadoes and we, in southeast Michigan, need to be especially aware from now through mid-July. With the exception of the West Bloomfield twister, this part of Michigan is most susceptible to tornadic conditions in June and July. Keep fresh batteries in a portable radio and buy a NOAA weather radio.
The most recent outbreak in Oklahoma is not something I can address, but it is time to jump on (what is often referred to as) repeater radio during one of the worst tornado seasons in years. A couple of weeks ago when floods and tornadoes were rapidly moving across Middle Tennessee, I picked up my Blackberry to tune in WREC News-Talk 600 in Memphis. After wading through Fox sports and news reports from the network...I felt surely they would be wall-to-wall with coverage as the water was rising and tornado warnings (not watches) were up for downtown Memphis. Here's what I got.... "as you can see by this large red area..." and I thought good God all they're doing is running audio from WMC-TV. How irresponsible is that? Then at 11 pm CDT they aired an AM Coast-to-Coast show with Art Bell...yikes! So, a bit disgusted, and knowing the storms were moving east toward Nashville, I went to WLAC News-Talk 1510. I have far more friends in Music City, and wanted to know what was heading their way.
WLAC was also running lots of Fox network crap I couldn't care less about and then at just after 11 pm CDT they "proudly presented" an encore (repeat) from the Premiere Radio Network of the Art Bell show from February, 1998. Middle Tennessee was on the brink of disaster and 50,000 watt WLAC was running a 12 year old repeat of a flying saucer show. We learned later that Clear Channel was doing lots of local news throughout the day, but management called off local coverage after 9 pm that Saturday night. Interestingly that's exactly when things were ramping up to a flood of epic proportions in Nashville. Equally interesting, the date on that Saturday was May 1st...also known as MAY DAY...the well-known call for help in an emergency. WLAC, and all five of the Clear Channel Nashville stations, worked together to help raise money for flood victims. This was an admirable effort, but it was not until the following Tuesday when the multi-station radiothon got underway, which was much too late for those directly in harm's way.
When mother nature goes on a rampage, and it's the weekend God help us all because most stations have limited personnel in their building after 5 pm on Fridays. It's like the old joke about "don't get sick on a Wednesday, because that's when all the doctor's take off for the golf course." Well, serving the audience with potentially life-saving information in times of impending severe weather is no joke. It's what radio stations are supposed to do. Sadly, and it's often blamed on lack of budgets, most stations today do not have enough staff to keep us well informed. So strap yourself in folks...this spring could be a ride down a bumpy road. Personally I'm praying for a safe season from tornadoes and powerful wind storms.
Oh yeah....by the way, even though it will not directly affect us, the Weather Channel is now predicting one of the worst Hurricane seasons ever. The late Gilda Radner (a Michigan native) was right, "It's always something."