James Spann, beloved Alabama meteorologist, gets nationally recognized by Discover Magazine

James Spann
Alabama residents truly know the impact of James Spann’s work. (James Spann / Facebook)

Meteorologist James Spann is a household name these days, with phrases like “respect the polygon” coined and Alabama locals frequently assessing the severity by the state of his clothing (jacket off + sleeves up is not a good sign). Recently, the country has discovered one of Alabama’s treasures and decided to highlight the amazing work he’s done for the state. Read on for all the details.

Who is James Spann to the rest of the world?

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Safe to say, there are some superfans out there. (James Spann – Tiffany Lackey / Facebook)

Although he’s navigated the state through some of the worst storms in history, Discover Magazine focused on the deadly string of storms and tornadoes that occured during April 2011. If you’ve lived in Alabama for awhile, you may recall this day.

In total, 376 tornadoes touched down during the outbreak, with 226 happening on April 26 alone. Local and national weather services made the efforts to warn people about the severity of the storm, but few heeded the warnings. When Spann saw the death toll of 321, he was devastated.

This is where natural science combines with social science. Spann sought the help of social scientists.

“We don’t know anything about human behavior. So we went to the social scientists after that event, these wonderful people who do understand human behavior.”

-James Spann, meteorologist, ABC 33/40 (as quoted in Discover Magazine)

Through different communication techniques, tools and strategies, researchers were able to come up with a more effective system. Central Alabama alone launched a campaign called “Be the Hero” which resonated with those who saw the 2011 tornado damages.

What’s been proven to work

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James Spann often reposts content on social media—coming from eyes and ears across the state. (James Spann / Facebook)

See—the problem isn’t the communication; the problem is the response.

“We’re trying to find ways that convey probabilistic information in a sensical way. For example, we might say things like, the risk for you is 10 times higher than on a typical May day.”

-Kim Klockow-Mcclain, research scientist, Cooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations at the University of Oklahoma (as quoted in Discover Magazine)

While broadcasters have yet to nail down the perfect method of communication, Spann says they’re working on it. The tricky part is to not make the warnings too severe, hence creating a “boy who cried wolf” scenario. His goals moving forward? To have messages reach rural communities and non-English speakers.

Spann is leading the charge across the region

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“Respect the polygon” (James Spann / Facebook)

James Spann isn’t just a meteorologist. He’s also an author of two books: All You Can Do is Pray, Weathering Life, and Benny and Chipper: Prepared…Not Scared (a children’s book).

He was a trailblazer in the field of podcast, starting WeatherBrains in 2006. He’s also known for speaking at local events, church gatherings and being active in the Birmingham community.

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Olivia Moses
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