Dallas TV station issues apology for delaying tornado warning during NFL game

Chaffin Mitchell

As a severe weather outbreak unfolded across the south-central United States on Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles played a critical football game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

At the same time the game was playing out on the field, a large and destructive EF3 tornado was wreaking havoc across the North Dallas area, roughly 20 to 30 miles away. The game, which was being broadcast on the local NBC affiliate, KXAS-TV, was not immediately interrupted to broadcast a severe weather warning, much to the dismay of some local viewers.

On Monday, the station issued an apology to the community in which its decision-makers recognized that they had made a mistake by not interrupting the game sooner to deliver the crucial weather information.

"We made a mistake by not immediately interrupting the football game with a tornado warning," the station said in a Monday evening statement. "When it comes to dealing with severe weather, we know that seconds matter. We should have broken into football programming sooner. We apologize and want you to know that we're doing everything in our power to make sure this does not happen again."

KXAS said it had been streaming live weather coverage on its website while also alerting the football audience to the live stream throughout the game on the network. The network delayed breaking into the football game, which drew the second-highest TV ratings for a "Sunday Night Football" broadcast this season, for six minutes.

"We look forward to regaining the trust of anyone we may have disappointed," the station said.

The AccuWeather mobile app can fill gaps in the alerting system as it delivers official National Weather Service warnings automatically to the public at no cost, something that is central to the company's core mission of saving lives and protecting property, Christopher Patti, who is a meteorologist and Chief Technology Officer at AccuWeather, pointed out.

"Our processing systems allow for critical near-instant delivery of severe weather notifications," Patti said, "which is important when seconds count in getting life-saving alerts to our users so they can take immediate action."

The largest of the tornados to hit the Dallas area, with wind estimates as high as 140 mph, inflicted damage to homes, businesses and schools, and cut power to more than 150,000 residents. Three injuries were reported, but miraculously, no one was killed.

The Insurance Council of Texas projects the EF-3 tornado was one of the costliest in the state's history, with a total loss of about $2 billion.

The apology came after KXAS took a wave of criticism on social media for the "unbelievable" decision to not interrupt the game broadcast sooner.

While it's common for viewers to barrage TV meteorologists with criticism for interrupting popular shows for storm warnings, it isn't as common for TV meteorologists to be criticized for not interrupting scheduled programming.

The National Weather Service confirmed three tornados touched down in north Texas Sunday evening: an EF1 tornado in Rowlett with estimated maximum winds of 100 mph; an EF0 tornado in Van Zandt County north of Wills Point with winds of 80 mph; and the EF3 tornado in North Dallas with winds up to 140 mph. The destruction was visible in dramatic satellite images, which showed a long path of destruction left by one of the twisters.

And while the local TV station's slow decision-making was a sore point for many in the area, some responded quickly and decisively -- even when that wasn't part of their job description.

The destruction caused by the monster EF3 tornado resembled a war zone, Tiffany Sunday, a civilian first responder in Dallas, said in an interview with the AccuWeather TV network.

"When my son and I arrived, we were probably about 35 minutes after impact, so they were still assessing the area," she told Bernie Rayno and Laura Velasquez on Tuesday.

The responders worked on clearing pathways in the neighborhood then went on a door-to-door search in what they call ground zero, which is in the Preston and Royal area.

"As we were making our way through, we were seeing school buses from St. Marks wrapped around trees. You would see debris that you were unsure of, and at times when we were making our way in total darkness, you would hear people crying out. You'd stop and try to figure out where the sounds are coming from, but there are no street signs that we could find," Sunday said.

Dallas tornado satellite image
Dallas tornado satellite image

Maxar's WorldView-2 satellite shows the clear path of the tornado damage to the northern Dallas metro area in an image captured on October 22, 2019. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies)

Sunday added that all she had to rely on was her sense of the neighborhood from having lived in the area before.

"The most interesting thing we saw from our experience was what we saw on Monday. Everything changes in the light of day. If you've not lived through these storms, you cannot grasp the capacity of what an EF3 can do and the damage," Sunday said.

"When you're looking at the destruction on Preston Road, war zone comes to mind repeatedly," Sunday continued. "That's when we started helping clearing roads where the other crews could not get to."

While Sunday continued helping people, she stopped to sing happy birthday to a little boy who was with his mom trying to get back home.

"We gathered people around and made sure he had a moment that was somewhat normal by singing him happy birthday," Sunday said.

Sunday said the most surreal thing with any tornado is what you see afterward.

"One of the houses we were checking was totally destroyed; the water heater was dangling and the gas pipe was open, so Atmos Energy shut off all of the gas in the area. There was a crystal purple bunny left on the ground untouched, yet the house was destroyed," Sunday said.

"The other thing we kept seeing was the insulation from St. Marks was embedded into tree bark, and it was very difficult to pull off. You would see things like that wrapped around chain-linked fences as if it had been embedded in the metal," Sunday said.

Sunday could see the results of the sheer intensity of the EF3 winds as she saw massive tree branches that resembled missiles blasting into people's homes.

"People were just shell shocked. They can't see, it's dark. Everyone was just kind of sitting still; they can't get out," Sunday said.

Maxar's WorldView-2 satellite captured before and after satellite imagery of a destroyed Home Depot in North Dallas after the EF3 tornado went through the area on Sunday night.

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