Meteorologist Criticizes National Network

KATV-TV, Channel 7, weatherman Todd Yakoubian last week criticized his affiliate’s national network, ABC, for its coverage of Jan. 22-23 tornados in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Yakoubian posted a written critique Jan. 24 and a video response Jan. 25 onto KATV’s weather blog, where he called statements from ABC “World News” anchor Diane Sawyer “misinformation.”

“Something terrifying took the South by surprise last night,” Sawyer said on air. “No warning. Twenty-five tornadoes striking in less than 24 hours, roaring through four states in the darkness. … And we know that tornadoes peak in May or June, so no one could believe this is happening now in winter.”

In her report, she also called the storms part of a “freakish, frightening new weather pattern.”

The tornadoes in Arkansas struck Fordyce (Dallas County) and elsewhere in the state. No one was killed.  

Yakoubian said Sawyer’s reporting discredited the local media and his responses were the first he had voiced publicly against a report on network news.

“The reason I did was because when I saw it I was surprised and, to some degree, offended,” Yakoubian told Outtakes last week. “We knew this was going to happen. We got the news out there. … In my opinion, what they said is ‘Our ABC affiliates didn’t do their jobs by giving advance warning to their viewers.’”

Yakoubian said KATV began warning of the coming severe weather on Jan. 15, or one week prior, on the weather blog. On air, KATV started the warnings Jan. 20, a couple of days before the storms.  

“For a national broadcast to call it a surprise and for the weather to come without warning undercut our credibility. The real credit goes to the National Weather Service in North Little Rock and the other offices in the South that gave so much advance warning, well above the national lead time,” Yakoubian said. “I think the fact that no one lost their life in Arkansas is a credit to the National Weather Service and local media.”

ABC has local affiliates in all of the states mentioned in Sawyer’s report.

“I know Diane Sawyer didn’t write that. … But I think it is her job and her responsibility to respond to it and correct what was said,” Yakoubian said. “She said, and this is very important, that it was a ‘freakish and frightening’ weather pattern when tornadoes aren’t supposed to happen in winter. We’ve been telling everyone since last summer that we’re in a La Nina pattern. … I’m very confident this is the start of a very active storm season in Arkansas.”

Yakoubian said he informed the ABC assignment desk in New York of the errors in Sawyer’s remarks but did not receive a response.