Meteorologist Dave Freeman helped change severe warning criteria

KSN Meteorologist Dave Freeman tracks a severe thunderstorm. (KSN Photo)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – For almost a quarter of a century KSN Chief Meteorologist Dave Freeman has been the face of weather for thousands of Kansans.

“I did not really understand 24 years ago when we moved here what I was getting into.”

To last that long is a rare accomplishment, but to do it in one of the most challenging weather markets in the country is even more rare.

“This market is unique. The Wichita market has the worst combination of huge geography and severe weather climatology of any television market in the country,” said Freeman.

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Because KSN covers such a huge piece of the country, 77 counties in three states and two times zones. Severe weather and all of those warnings can sometimes inundate viewers to the point to where they become numb to the constant crawl of the ticker at the bottom of their television screen.

“My concern with that was the boy who cried wolf really kind of haunts me, if we are constantly warning and no damage is occurring then are people really going to pay attention to us when the chips are down.”

KSN Chief Meteorologist Dave Freeman providing a weather forecast on KSN back in the 1990’s. (KSN File Photo)

That cry wolf syndrome was a complicated issue. Back in the 1950’s, the National Weather Service decided that a severe thunderstorm warning should be issued when a storm was dropping hail the size of pennies, or about 3/4″ in diameter.

Well just about every thunderstorm in Kansas produces penny sized hail and as most people agreed penny sized hail by itself really doesn’t cause any damage.

“People were essentially ignoring those warnings so Dave came to us and said is there any possibility we could change that,” said Dick Elder, Retired from National Weather Service Wichita

Dave’s proposal was a simple one: Don’t issue a warning unless a storm was producing 1″ hail, quarter size. He took it to local weather service offices and everyone agreed it made sense, but the problem was the guys in D.C. wouldn’t budge.

“It finally came down to, well, it’s a good idea, but this is the government, and this is the way we have always done it, so this is the way it is always going to be,” said Elder.

Despite all the research the Feds were unconvinced, until quite by chance, Dave happened to run into the head of the weather service at a conference, a man by the name of Jack Kelly.

“Dave cornered Jack Kelly,” said Elder. “And say, look we’ve studied this. We’ve examined this, and it needs to change. As I like to say, kind of a come to Jesus talk with him.”

KSN Chief Meteorologist Dave Freeman tracks the Greensburg tornado on May 4, 2007. (KSN Photo)

Now you may be asking why is any of this important?

“Well, it was an immediate impact, and we were able to do a test on it in this part of the country The immediate impact was about a 33 percent reduction in warnings. One third fewer warnings, one-third fewer tickers at the bottom of the screen messing up your program.”

There is no argument that Dave’s work will have a lasting impact on the folks watching right now, but this move changed the way severe weather is handled across the nation.

“It is something that I reflect on with satisfaction because I think that made a big difference in peoples lives across the country and put us in a better position to get their attention when we need to get their attention.”

WEB EXTRA | Behind the scenes with Dave

WEB EXTRA | Tracking storms and weather warnings

WEB EXTRA | Tracking the Greensburg tornado


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