I am a big fan of Jeopardy! I remember watching the original version in black and white with Art Fleming as host. The answers would quickly be uncovered to be revealed to the contestants. No fancy electronics in 1964. The covers over the answers on the show actually looked more like the hand-operated numbers on the Fenway Park scoreboard. Sometimes, the covering would get stuck as it was being lifted. Jeopardy! came back in 1984 more popular than ever. My wife and I watch nearly every show and DVR the shows that we may miss.

On May 3, I was conducting a meeting at the Libertytown Volunteer Fire Department and would miss the Monday show. My wife Kathy would make sure the DVR was set, and we would watch together later. As the meeting in Libertytown proceeded, about 30 cell phones almost simultaneously sounded an alert for a “Tornado Warning” for Frederick County. Glancing at the radar, it initially appeared the storm was in the Frederick area. My wife texted she was watching Channel 7, which had interrupted Jeopardy! with WJLA chief meteorologist Bill Kelly providing close-up radar commentary. She was getting ready to go to the basement.

Moments later, the alerts sounded again, and the radar indicated a possible tornado was on a path toward Libertytown — and my house! I texted my wife to make sure she was in the basement and immediately adjourned the meeting. From the lower level of the firehouse, I watch the Channel 7 radar as Kelly described with pinpoint accuracy the path the possible tornado was taking. It looked like it could literally go over my house. He also advised some Channel 7 viewers were sending irate emails and posts about the interruption of Jeopardy! He poignantly explained to viewers that the safety of people in the Channel 7 viewing area was the highest priority, and he would remain on the air with the radar until the threat ceased or was outside the Channel 7 viewing area.

When I was finally able to get home, the power was out, and I had to shovel debris from my driveway before I could get into my garage. The next morning, many limbs were down in our yard and throughout the neighborhood. Our house had some minor soffit damage that I was able to repair. Later in the day, my wife and I rode the area, and I was fairly certain a tornado did touch down and came within a few hundred yards of our house. A very slight change of course, and the funnel would have sliced directly through the 60-some houses of our development. I was actually amazed how the tornado missed the several houses in the pathway it traveled.

I was very grateful for the pinpoint accuracy of Channel 7’s Kelly. I commend all of the D.C. and Baltimore television stations that stopped normal shows to alert the public. Obviously, Kelly wasn’t the only TV meteorologist who received the wrath of irate viewers. In an editorial on WBAL channel 11 in Baltimore, President and General Manager Dan Joerres expressed the same concern about some of the viscous comments Channel 11 received when regular programming was interrupted to focus on the tornado threat in Frederick County.

Frederick is a unique television viewing area. We are within the service range of both the Baltimore and Washington stations. But, because we are on the fringe of each metropolitan area, much of the population in and around those cities consider Frederick a far-away place, not really part of their area. About half of the Frederick County population drives to one of these metro areas for employment. The television stations in these cities are our lifeline. As noted in Mr. Joerres’ editorial, television stations are actually required by the Federal Communications Commission to warn the public and assist in assuring the safety of viewers. Over the years, these simple warnings have developed into expansive and accurate radar reporting to show tornado pathways and projections, hail size and wind speeds. All of this technology is put to good use for our protection.

I am very thankful for the quick response of the television stations in Washington and Baltimore for the immediate actions in relaying potential life-saving information to the public, even if we are an hour drive away. The meteorologists at these stations, including Frederick County native Amelia Draper, are highly trained and equipped with extremely accurate and sensitive radar. Interrupting Jeopardy! to provide viewers with the data they needed to take immediate action to avoid potential injury or death was critical to our community.

But, I must admit, I was not happy that Jeopardy! was pre-empted last week for the football draft!

Clarence “Chip” Jewell is a native of Frederick and has had a life-long interest in weather and meteorology. He has formerly served as a volunteer National Weather Service spotter. At the time of this writing, he was still contacting a service to remove damaged trees.

(2) comments


Very good LTE Mr. Jewel. I too was watching Jeopardy! when the meteorologist broke in with the tornado warning. The storm had come from the WV panhandle and over the Middletown Valley while we were having dinner. The rain was pounding, and the sky had that sickening green color associated with tornadoes. The next thing we heard was the weatherman advising of the tornado warning, so we headed to the cellar. Luckily it did not touch down here. I wonder if all those whiners would have the same attitude if a tornado was headed in their direction? After all, that same storm went through Carroll and Baltimore counties after passing through Frederick county. TV game shows can be aired again (just as the WJLA weatherman said it would be), but have someone be seriously injured or killed because they didn't hear the warning to take shelter immediately is ridiculous. Shame on those that whined to the TV stations!

Greg F

I agree that the information being provided was far more valuable than a GAME SHOW that you could likely catch a re-watch later on-demand or almost anywhere if you really had that big of an urge to do so. In the coverage I watched on NBC-4, I saw way out that it was going to come very close to where I was. I have studied meteorology as an undergrad extensively...so could tell this wasn't an ordinary storm. Even 1/2 hr out I projected it to come within a mile of me seeing it was going to come up parallel to 340 and eventually 26. The updating of the maps on TV were helpful to see more than some of the online weather could provide and live vs slightly delayed as many are online. It went exactly as I figured, and they projected, and continued on a long track with the same intensity. Anyone that has to watch Jeopardy that badly needs to take a car trip with Tom Cruise and find a few better things to complain about.

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