Spann broadcast

TV meteorologist James Spann visited Jacksonville State University on Monday, the day before the anniversary of last year's Jacksonville tornado. Spann broadcast several live segments from campus, and other brought other meteorologists from his station to program residents' weather radios. (Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)

JACKSONVILLE — Alabama’s best-known television meteorologist was at Jacksonville State University on Monday on the eve of the anniversary of the tornado that damaged it to talk about the importance of another way to get warning of storms:  weather radios.

ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann — whose broadcasts informed many on March 19, 2018, of the approaching EF-3 tornado that wrecked much of the JSU campus and surrounding communities — urged the audience to pay attention to weather radios and offered to tune them free of charge for residents.  

“You can’t hear a siren in a house, business or school dorm. It doesn’t work that way,” Spann said. “Everybody needs a weather radio; that is the baseline.”

Dozens of Jacksonville residents and students packed the fifth floor of the JSU Stadium press box to have their photos taken with Spann, who broadcast his evening forecast at the stadium before mingling with the crowd.

Spann said this was a perfect time to check weather radios because March is the beginning of tornado season, which he said runs to April. He said weather radios have to be tuned to the correct frequency to ensure they will receive updates for the correct counties. He also recommends using smartphone apps to receive weather alerts.

“I came out mainly to make sure my radio was working right,” said Esther Travis, of Piedmont. “I don’t have a cell phone, so I have to use my radio when the weather gets bad.”

Travis said she was using her radio last March when the EF-3 tornado tore through Jacksonville. Her neighborhood wasn’t damaged too badly in the storm a year ago, she said, but she’s glad she had a “heads up.”

If the survival of everyone touched by the March 19, 2018, tornado was a miracle, it still left questions as old as Job and the whirlwind. And it left questions that ought to be easier to answer. How much does Jacksonville owe to dumb luck? How much did the community do right? And were there lessons in earlier storms that helped us later?

She also came out to meet Spann, a meteorologist she’s been watching for more than a decade.

“I’ve been watching him for 15 years,” she said.

JSU student Brandon Phillips said he was there to get a photo with James Spann, who he’s been watching his “whole life.”

Phillips gets his weather updates primarily from his phone, either from a weather app or via texts from his mom.

“My mom always texts me if there’s even a small chance of severe weather,” he said, “but I also get other notifications, so I’m good either way.”

Monday’s appearance by Spann was the first in a week of events planned at JSU to mark the anniversary of last year’s storm, which damaged hundreds of homes and campus buildings. On Tuesday, ceremonies are planned at 11:30 a.m. at Pete Mathews Coliseum and at 7:30 a.m. at Bibb Graves Hall.