Author: James Spann
Publisher: Crest Publishers, LLC
Pages not numbered
Price: $19.95 (Paper)
My friend Robert Inman published, in 2002, “Captain Saturday,” a novel with a weatherman as hero. The premise? The local weatherman is the biggest celebrity in town, with adoring fans. He is a kind of hero, with huge name and facial recognition. I demurred. Weatherman as hero? Really? Inman assured me it was so. The weatherman speaks to regular people every day, rather intimately, in their homes, suggesting what to wear, how to plan the picnic, the trip, or the day at the pool, and how to avoid or prepare for catastrophe.
Weathermen are, as we know, in an excellent position to run for public office, if they so choose.
James Spann, veteran weatherman, has written his memoir and many will read it, wanting to know the life story of their hero.
He has in many ways been exemplary.
Hardly a day goes by when Spann does not visit a school room and talk with kids about meteorology, increasing their knowledge and in some instances fostering an interest in science.
He blogs tirelessly about Alabama weather and has a huge following on Twitter. Spann connects very well with his viewers, and the TV audience counts on him for warnings and, lately, the very important non-warning. He is very aware of the dangers of “crying wolf” too often. People are likely to stop taking real warnings seriously.
In “Weathering Life,” Spann summarizes his story. As a child he was a ham radio operator, which he suggests is still a valuable mode of emergency communication. He was for years a DJ, in high school, graduating in 1974, then in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Dallas, Texas, Demopolis and Birmingham.
At UA Spann studied electrical engineering, a demanding field, but not meteorology which he learned later through distance learning at Mississippi State, earning a certificate in geoscience and meteorology in 1992.
There is some information on marriage and children, but not much. This is the story of life at work.
Not surprisingly, he recalls a good many of our serious storms, but his summary of tornado after tornado is reminiscent of tedious football books which rehash the play-by-play in game after game.
It also doesn’t help that this is not a smoothly written book. Spann’s prose seems full of what are usually oral linguistic tics. Many sentences begin “Remember now,” or “Understand now.” A competent editor could have improved the prose quite easily.
This editor was not to be found at Crest Publishers, it does not seem.
The production quality is poor as well. The lines in the book are unjustified, meaning that no words are hyphenated, so the right margin of the text is ragged.
The pages themselves are not numbered, which is quite unusual, and there are no notes, citations, bibliography or index.
Spann spends a lot of time talking about the improving technology—new radar systems, etc.— that helps predict weather. He is perhaps best known for what he calls wall-to-wall coverage—staying on the air for hours during an emergency, most notably in April, 2011. Spann informed, warned, reassured, perhaps saved lives during those hours for which he deserves praise.
Spann does include a couple of mildly embarrassing incidents such as the January 1982 snow and ice storm which arrived about 10 hours earlier than he predicted, left many motorists stranded and caused a lot of power outages.
But although he stresses the value of science and technology, explaining how scientists can now predict farther out and more accurately, he also thinks there is divine providence involved in day-to-day life.
In 1978 he was NOT in a wreck on I 59/20. He says “There is no doubt in my mind there was some kind of miracle here, some reason I needed to live past September 19, 1978.”
One possible reason he offers is “my grandmother died two days before this happened and God wanted to spare my mother the pain of having to bury her mom and her son at the same time.”
In 1998 Spann was in a helicopter that did not collide with another one. He “escaped death” and says “Why God chooses to take some home at a very early age and leave others here for a long time will always be a mystery.”
Spann makes no attempt to reconcile these predestined events with the massive death and destruction of tornadoes, which, we assume, are natural events, not willful.
He says of the victims of April 27, 2011, “It was simply their day…their journey here was to end on the late April day in 2011” and “I believe we all have a day to die….”
If your destiny is already determined, why put on the helmet and hide in the bathtub?
Finally, Spann the weatherman addresses climate change. He reminds the reader of “natural variability” and accuses climate activists of vitriol, indulging in “hate, anger and rage,” and Bill Nye especially of tweeting “nonsense.”
A “skeptic of … Anthropogenic [that is, manmade] Global Warming,” Spann asserts that “skepticism is one of the most valuable tools of science.” This is meant to seem reasonable: let’s hear both sides of the story. Maybe the earth is flat after all. But the adherents to this position, in the opinion of most scientists, dwell on an iceberg, their position steadily shrinking in our warming seas.
One further note.
Spann’s viewers notice that if he takes off his jacket and rolls up his sleeves in the studio, there is bad weather coming.
This is because he is under the studio lights for long periods of time–his wall-to-wall coverage— and it gets hot.
When this happens his trademark suspenders become prominent. Viewers, apparently, are curious, and he informs the reader he has over 50 pairs “at the station alone.”
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.