What happened in Florida while most of America slept was a tragedy. A meteorological monster rolled through Central Florida overnight, and in the perverse way of these giant storms, chose to touch down in some spots while skipping over others. It made the difference between living and dying, and between standing structures and spots where the Earth was swept clean.
During the preparation for a network special report today, I made a decision that was rooted in my experience as a rookie reporter in Kansas. While living in tornado alley, I saw a lot of twisters. Up close. Some in the daylight, and at least one adjacent to where I was driving in Neosho, Mo., in the dark of night... illuminated only by arcing wires and the occasional flash of lightning. But there's an odd rule that governs the coverage of tornadoes: they're not to be called tornadoes by the news media until the National Weather Service declares them as such. It's a technicality, and a maddening one to be sure. Any storm veteran knows the damage that circular winds leave behind as opposed to flat, straight winds. When you see a twister churning through town, and later arrive in that town to find 150 witnesses and victims, it makes little sense not to label what just happened a "tornado."
And so, invoking Kansas rules, today at a few minutes before 2 p.m. Eastern time, our viewers heard that what happened in Florida was the result of "at least one tornado." It's a risk I was willing to take. Our hearts go out to the people who survived, and our coverage teams are in position and ready to tell the story. What happened last night makes its own strong case to buy a NOAA Weather Radio, no matter where you live, with an alert function (especially in towns without sirens) that is triggered when a warning is issued. When we left this building last night, only a "watch" had been posted, covering a finite area, until 10 p.m. last night. I was moved by something to check on the progress of the weather system all night long (last night I wrote of the 20-degree temperature disparity on either side of the violent front) and we now know what happened.
Elsewhere in the news, of all things: climate change. We'll have our own report on the long-awaited report just out today. We'll cover war spending, the intelligence estimate for Iraq, we'll have our Friday night "Making a Difference" segment -- and we'll try to end on a light note. It has to do with a television alternative to the hype of the Super Bowl. I'll say.
Next week, after our Monday broadcast from New York, we'll be heading back to New Orleans for our Tuesday coverage -- to check back in on the recovery and key-in on specific aspects of it.
We hope you can join us for our Friday Night broadcast, and have a great weekend.