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LANSING — A local TV station’s general manager defended Tuesday a meteorologist’s decision to interrupt Saturday night’s NBC prime time broadcast of the Michigan-Notre Dame football game for about 20 minutes.
WILX-TV’s audience needed to be informed about tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings in parts of mid-Michigan, Debbie Petersmark wrote Tuesday in an email sent to a State Journal reporter.
“Our severe weather policy allows the meteorologist on duty the discretion to interrupt programming based on their expert opinion of weather conditions, and the risk to people’s safety,” Petersmark, who is also WILX Media’s vice president, said.
The live weather alert from meteorologist Dustin Bonk appeared on viewers’ screens at 7:47 p.m. and continued until 8:07 p.m. during the first quarter of the game broadcast from Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. The Fighting Irish beat the Wolverines 24-17.
Petersmark said WILX’s weather alert Saturday evening gives the station “an opportunity to evaluate best practices,” including the appropriate length of warnings that interrupt programming.
The National Weather Service’s office in Grand Rapids confirmed Tuesday that a tornado touched down Saturday night in Jackson, a WILX coverage area, and caused property damage.
NWS Senior Forecaster Bob Dukesherer said the tornado had winds up to 80 mph.
Dukesherer said officials are also investigating whether a tornado touched down Saturday night in Clinton County in Bath Township, where property damage occurred.
“Many of the storms on this night were rotating,” Dukesherer said. “There were a lot of storms in those TV station viewing areas (in the Lansing region) that were rotating.
“I understand what (the WILX-TV staff) were doing, and it was in the vein of public safety.”
Bonk apologized early Sunday morning to football fans for his interruption the previous evening, but said the storms merited the interuption.
“I had a job to keep our viewers informed across all Mid-Michigan,” Bonk wrote on Twitter, and also explained his decision on Facebook. “Thank you our many supportive viewers that extended their gratitude for our weather coverage!”
Saturday marked the second time in less than a year that a Lansing-based TV station cut into a nationally-televised college football game that involved a team from Michigan.
On Oct. 8, 2017, Lansing’s WLNS-TV 6 interrupted the live ABC broadcast of the Michigan State-Michigan football game for several minutes with a severe weather alert.
The game was played at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and broadcast in the Lansing region on WLAJ-TV, an ABC affiliate. WLAJ station broadcasts WLNS news and weather coverage.
News anchors at WLNS, including meteorologist Emily Wahls, defended the station’s decision last fall to cut into game coverage.
“We have one job,” Wahls wrote on her Facebook page. “It’s to keep you informed and warn you when there is dangerous weather that could threaten life or property.”
Eric Lacy is a reporter for the Lansing State Journal. Contact him at 517-377-1206 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EricLacy.
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