Thursday, June 06, 2013

In Defense of KFOR Weatherman Mike Morgan

Weather in the Oklahoma City metro is big business for television stations. Some of the best meteorologists in the nation are in OKC  because the National Weather Service Forecast Office is in Norman, Oklahoma; the premier meteorology department in the country is at the University of Oklahoma; and, of course, OKC is ground central for tornadoes. Gary England of Channel 9 is in his seventies and had a starring role in the Hollywood movie Twister, and he was recently featured in a LA Times feature. Gary is often considered the standard bearer for local meteorologists, but in my book, Mike Morgan of KFOR Channel 4 is the best. Imagine my surprise when I read today an article from Reuters that vilifies Mike Morgan for giving "irresponsible" tornado advice last Friday evening during the El Reno F-5 tornado.

My daughter and her husband have recently moved to OKC from Mississippi. They temporarily live at a hotel on SW 15th and Meridian, a place DIRECTLY in the path of the super tornado last Friday night. I was on the phone with our daughter when Mike Morgan described the dimensions of the tornado, the direction of its movement (bearing directly toward our daughter and her husband), and when he declared that if you can't get underground, you need to move SOUTH and get out of the tornado's path. The hotel where our kids live has no shelter, no underground safe place, and I immediately told my daughter and her husband to "get out and move south." They did and I guided them over the phone. Like thousands, they became stuck in traffic and eventually took shelter in a restaurant at SW 59th and May - two miles south and one mile east of their original location. It was a scary, difficult time for us all.

I had just spent several days in Moore helping victims of the May 20 tornado. I was in Moore the night of the May 3, 1999 tornado. I was in Diamondhead, Mississippi within 12 hours of Katrina coming on shore (Diamondhead was ground zero), and I have been at every major tornado disaster in Oklahoma since the mid-1980's. I did not take Mike's advice because Mike said it. I took Mike's advice because I believed it to be best -- and still do. I was in El Reno and Union City within hours after the tornado hit last Friday and I came home Saturday night and told my wife that the El Reno tornado was an F-5 and a worse tornado than the May 20 Moore tornado of eleven days earlier. She didn't believe me. She said the National Weather Service was calling the El Reno tornado an F-3. I assured her it was worse than the Moore tornado. Sure enough, this week the El Reno tornado was classified as the widest tornado in history, and it came just a few miles per hour away from being the strongest tornado ever. As it was, it was super strong F-5 tornado. Had it not dissipated on the west side of OKC, it would have DESTROYED my daughter's hotel. She and her husband would have been just out of the reach of the massive 2 miles tornado in their shelter at SW 59th and May - just barely, but still out of its reach. I believe it was the right decision for my daughter and son-in-law to leave. If you don't have a basement, shelter, or safe place underground, you need to be out of the path of a major tornado. The problem with our kids is they waited almost too late.

Mike Morgan posted on his Facebook that he has shed many tears since last Friday because of the criticism coming his way. Obviously, some wish to blame him for the deaths that occurred, but that's absurd. Pundits and other television stations will continue to vilify him. I will not. Why? Because it is always best to be outside of a tornado's path, and Mike Morgan pinpoints the tornadoes better than anyone else on television and gives precise and accurate information. He did it on May 3, 1999; he did it on May 20, 2013; and he did it on May 31, 2013. He's the best in my opinion. And I don't think I'm the only one who thinks he is the best. Why?

Because the roads were jammed.


Victorious said...

Our local newspaper yesterday reported the updated ranking of the El Reno tornado as EF5 with winds reaching 295 mph. I could hardly believe it!

So happy your daughter and husband were unharmed.

Tanya Kennedy said...

humans always have to place blame on others...I'm soo glad that you family was okay and God bless you for all your service to others...I wish other pastors would put their "money where their mouth is" so to speak.

Bob Cleveland said...

As I'm sure you're aware, "Pleasing everybody pleases nobody". I am sure the people whose property was destroyed, who'd gotten out of the way as Mike recommended, are quite pleased they took his advice.

As to the ones who were killed in the storm, I'm aware that 3 were storm chasers and that 2 were by drowning. It seems to me that, had all those folks stayed home, the death toll would have been higher.

I'd say Mike done good, detractors or no.

Unknown said...

There is ALWAYS someone who has to 'pick on' another that has done good for all ... not all take that good advice. I applaud this weatherman for his caring ... informing ... & doing a good job.

Mandy said...

We go through this every hurricane season with evacuation orders. No matter what happens, whether an evacuation is ordered or not, somebody is always angry because they see it as a "wrong decision". If you order it too soon, that's a lot of money wasted. If you order it too late, people don't get out in time. If the storm changes paths, more money was wasted in evacuations, etc... When it comes to natural disasters all we can do is try to be prepared. Laying blame on others gets us nowhere. For whatever it is worth, I excel at forecasting tropical disturbances in the Gulf of Mexico but I stink at it when storms threaten the East or West Coasts. If I lived in Oklahoma I would choose to trust Mike Morgan's advice.

Anonymous said...

There was enough warning on the 'potential' of a tornado and probable timeline that nobody should have been killed. All day long that day, the three major stations were giving 'make your plans now' speeches almost hourly. Thirty minutes before News9 said the storms would begin popping up, I turned on my TV. Sure enough, about thirty minutes later, it all began.

Each station has its pro's and con's and we watch a station based on personalities and perspectives. I personally do not enjoy KFOR because I perceive it to be too dramatic on most stormy evenings. Sometimes on News9, the storm chasers are so adrenalin driven that they talk over each other almost yelling.

To suggest that Gary England loses credibility because he is 74 and was seen in Twister, would be like saying your dad loses credibility because of his age and his hearing aide commercials. Mike Morgan is closing in on 60.

Do I think Mike Morgan is responsible for any deaths? No. Do I think News9 needs to call him out? No.

The bottom line is, we all need to have a plan, and we need to know what that plan is BEFORE the next storm.

Glad Karis and her hubby are fine!


Anonymous said...

Our society has lost the word, "oops." When we were becoming a great nation, people understood that bad things happened that were no one's fault, but now drunks collect money because the tree or rock they were too drunk to see was not surrounded by crash protectors.
The basic sales pitch by our voracious army of trial lawyers is, "of course it isn't your responsibility."

The worst aspect of this is the impracticality of bringing a drug to the marketplace if it will probably hurt one person in ten million, because hat ten millionth person will cost the company more money in a suit than the drug netted for the producer, to say nothing of the sodium pentathol fiasco.

This weatherman did an admirable job and tried his hardest to preserve human life. I applaud his professionalism in an impossible situation.

Wanda Martin said...


So glad your daughter and her husband are O.K. I am so sad for those who are suffering as a result of the tornadoes, and I will keep them in my prayers.

Shari England said...

I have defended Mike Morgan as well, even though we are avid Channel 9 viewers. Channel 9's Kelly Ogle defended him as well on his My 2 Cents segment. I think most native to Oklahoma knew the wisdom behind his advice, understanding that fleeing by vehicle works best when you do not wait until the last minute. You cannot out run, but can go at right angles. I admit, I cringed when I heard that Mike said that, not because it was poor advice, but because I knew he would be misunderstood. Thanks Wade.

Rex Ray said...


If I had a house torn apart—wood scattered all over, I’d like to pick it up and put it together as best I could.

That is the situation of victims without insurance from tornados all over America, but at Moore, OK, the city has the demolished houses storied into 3 divisions--steel, brick, and wood. When the clean-up is finished, the lumber will be made into mulch for lawn care.

Disaster work crews still have a long way to go. They separate everything into steel, brick, and wood on the sidewalk and the City moves it.

There could be enough wood to help uninsured victims from all over.

Yesterday, I went to Moore and talked with the City. I said the Texas Baptist Association of Fannin County would like to make the wood into useable lumber for those without insurance.

They asked the BIG question: “How many workers do you have?”

Wade, I know there are many prayers for tornado victims, but here’s a chance to put feet to prayers by asking anyone to help. We could give ‘Tornado Nail Puller’ T-shirts.

Our Association has a 40 X 40, and a 30 X 70 tent. We would need some big fans, generators, saw horses, shop saws, etc I have some of those items and would stay till the job was done. People could work a short time or a long time. The walls of Jericho were not restored in a day. :)

What do you think?

Rex Ray said...

The City department that will make that decision is 405-793-5000.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for defending him so nicely and with a great amount of intelligence. All a weatherman can do is show us what is happening and Mike does it well....sacrificing sleep and everything else to keep us informed. That is all his job keep us informed. If a person can't look at the sky and know better than to run out into a tornado after being told it is rain wrapped and hard to see, then said person must be a mindless sheep who will jump off a cliff if told to. No way should he be held responsible for any deaths or injuries. My heart breaks for him and I'm terrible upset that people in Oklahoma would do this to him. I can't imagine the pain he is in. I trust Mike and want him back.

Wade Burleson said...


I think the TBA of Fannin County has come up with a brilliant idea. I would partner with the BGCO because they can get the word out for volunteers immediately. Their number is 405 942 3800.

Aaron S said...

I know this is old news and I came across this when doing research on a conversation about the El Reno and Moore Tornadoes.

This is not "picking on" Mike, he is a meteorologists, when Mother Nature rears her deadly head people go looking to their local meteorologists for advice on how to stay safe. Much like some one who has cancer should heed advice from their medical doctors.
Morgan has a position of authority by nature of his profession, credentials, and the fact he is on the air during meteorological events. As such he is subjected to well deserved criticism when he offers advice that is known to be bad. IF we look at the other big Meteorologist (at the time) in the same Market, Gary England who is highly regarded among the weather community, England did not offer any bad or deadly advice. From what I recall he even said "Its too late to evacuate you need to find shelter near you NOW"

Mike Morgan was 10000% wrong in offering his advice when he did, I lived in Michigan a state with few tornadoes and little to no real weather awareness yet in 4th (this was 98/99) grade we had a weather safety class, one of the things was "Never try to outrun a tornado in your car". This is advice any half way serious amateur weather enthusiast knows, For a meteorologist whose profession revolves around this type of weather, in a tornado prone state (and area) such as Moore and El Reno, one would think a so called professional with decades of experience would know that.

The National Weather Service and local media DAYS before the El Reno storm was saying "There will be a tornado outbreak with strong tornadoes on May 31st if you do not live in a safe building (e.g. no basement or a trailer park) get to a sturdy building before noon on May 31st" A meteorologist of all people should know that evacuating after tornadoes have hit the ground is DEADLY advice. The El Reno tornado was big, and went in every direction but backwards, adding even more unpredictability to this tornado. The TWISTX team who were known for playing it safe and not doing anything stupid to get data on tornadoes were killed by the El Reno tornado, if these season veterans of tornadoes and had the highest repetition for paying it safe were killed what chance does John and Jane Q. Public have?

Oh also this is at lease Mike's second time he offered DEADLY advice, in the Moore 99 tornado he told people to hide under Overpasses, this has been known to meteorologists and storm cashes as bad and deadly advice.

Unknown said...

Appreciate all the comments within this post, both critical and praise. Certainly I was not involved but from over 1000 miles away remember watching Mike's coverage this awful day from my cell phone. I came across this post and wanted to share my 2 cents.
What I recall was a forecaster that spoke clearly, articulately, passionately, and truthfully. We and he all saw the debris ball, could tell the g2g velocity from 2500', and knew this was a higher end violent if not historic tornado. Mike knows the OKC area has few below ground basements / shelters, further his forecast was so accurate that he and every viewer could see the impact street by street. My heart dropped seeing elementary schools under the core of this monster. Prior to the monster making impact as the TORE was being issued, Mike quickly calculated several factors.
1) The citizens within the danger area go through tornado sirens / alerts weekly in the spring / summer, often leading to apathy.
2) the lack of access to shelters below ground.
3) The structures within the path were largely older frame or metal structures.
4) That within EF4-EF5 tornadoes being above ground, even within masonry buildings, injury and deaths will likely occur within 150 yards of the center.
5) Based on his experience and technology he knew where the monster was headed, the only question / hope was if it might weaken within the city limits (it did not) and if the powerful vortices might deviate damage (these are what killed the chasers).
Given the above he rightfully stated that if you can withdrawal safely outside of the 1000 yards of the target zone/ devastation cone you had a better chance at survivability.
Hindsight is always 20/20, could his words of "flee south" been better said, sure. Could Mike have painted the picture as I did above, well he did during his broadcast, maybe not as succinctly, but he did awesome (I also had years to type this after knowing what he predicted would happen, did indeed occur as he stated).
I guess you can always find fault, certainly not every viewer comprehends all the weather "jargon", but I know if I had to listen to a forecaster in a life or death situation, Mike would be at the top of the list.