CBS News Just Can't Figure Out How to Report on Tornadoes
CBS News continued its tortured and factually-adjacent track record of reporting on tornadoes today, tweeting out a picture of an ominous lowering in an Oklahoma thunderstorm with the overblown caption “massive tornado takes form.” They soon corrected the tweet with one just as dubious.
An organized outbreak of severe thunderstorms is ongoing across the southern and central Plains states this afternoon, with tornado watches stretching from central Texas through south-central Nebraska. This round of severe weather is pretty common for early May, and as expected, storm chasers and news organizations have reported several tornadoes so far in Oklahoma and Kansas.
As we usually see when severe weather threatens Oklahoma City, in particular, news stations have dispatched crews in helicopters to chase the storms and provide visual evidence for meteorologists and the public alike so we know what’s going on. A lone supercell developed southwest of Oklahoma City this afternoon, tracking northeast towards the city’s metropolitan area, and the city’s CBS affiliate News 9 was on it with their eyes in the sky.
This situation is a classic case of the local affiliate holding down the fort pretty well (as usual) while the national organization falls apart at the seams. Holding true to their past history with tornadoes, CBS News ignorantly or maliciously posted a screencap of the News 9 feed, calling the cloud formation a “massive tornado” taking shape.
Without seeing the video clip that accompanies this particular screenshot, it’s hard to tell if it’s just a wall cloud in the parent supercell (abrupt lowering in the clouds caused by moisture condensing in the strong updraft) or if it’s a funnel cloud. Either way, even if it looks terrifying to non-weather-geeks, it’s clearly not a “massive tornado tak[ing] form.”
The CBS News account followed-up a few minutes later with slightly different wording but the element of fear mongering firmly in place:
Oh, okay! It’s a small tornado now, but it has the potential to turn into a “massive tornado.” The second Tweet indicates that it might not be ignorance, but rather irresponsible hype peddled by a social media editor throwing out silly things like “facts” and “science” in a desperate attempt for sweet, scared traffic.
As of the publication of this post, the supercell in question is still rotating and moving into the southern Oklahoma City suburbs. Anything is possible, and people would likely applaud them for their unfounded scare tactic if something horrible does indeed happen over the next couple of hours, but baseless fear mongering is still baseless fear mongering. Hindsight doesn’t absolve lying for clicks under the guise of news reporting.
The incident comes just nine months CBS News stepped in it pretty good after they reported the story of a boater who was caught in a “sideways tornado” on the water in Maryland. A “sideways tornado” doesn’t exist, of course, and what the boater spotted is a feature known as a shelf cloud, which is an extremely common sight in thunderstorms. The news organization quickly retracted the claim and corrected the story after consulting a meteorologist like they should have done in the first place.
[Screenshots via Twitter]