Critical Weather Coverage Concerns: Federal Decision Shifts Jackson County from Huntsville

Critical Weather Coverage Concerns: In a critical move, the federal government stands firm on a weather broadcasting decision that may have life-and-death consequences in northeast Alabama, according to a North Alabama emergency management official.

Paul Smith, from the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, is actively opposing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to shift Jackson County from the Huntsville Designated Market Area (DMA) to the Chattanooga DMA based on Nielsen viewing data. This shift raises concerns about reduced live storm coverage for approaching storms.

U.S. Rep. Dale Strong (R-Huntsville) has formally requested Jackson County’s return to the Huntsville coverage area. Previously, the county received continuous severe weather coverage from Huntsville’s three television stations, but it now primarily relies on Chattanooga weather coverage, with only one Huntsville station, WAFF, still accessible in Jackson County.

The geographical complexity of the county adds to the challenge, as the Tennessee River divides Jackson County. Residents atop the mountains east of the river are on Eastern Standard Time, and many of them watch Chattanooga channels via cable, streaming, and antennas. However, those west of the river, including the largest city, Scottsboro, typically tune in to Huntsville stations. This group represents 60% of the county’s population, residing 20 miles closer to Huntsville than Chattanooga and often working in the Rocket City.

Critical Weather Coverage Concerns

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Smith expresses concern that Chattanooga stations won’t cover Jackson County in time for severe weather events. Despite assurances from Sinclair Broadcast Group’s news director in Chattanooga, Philip Buehler, that the switch isn’t new and Chattanooga stations will continue tracking Jackson County weather, Smith emphasizes the importance of residents having ample time to prepare for bad weather.

The Emergency Management Agency emphasizes the need for residents to spot bad weather early. The extensive coverage provided by Huntsville stations enables elderly individuals to watch with meteorologists as storms approach, facilitating timely responses to on-air warnings.

However, Smith points out that Nielsen ratings, not the Federal Communications Commission, are driving this decision. Rep. Strong joins Smith in urging the FCC to reevaluate the process used to determine the Designated Market Area reassignment. As of Monday, there was no immediate response from the FCC regarding the matter.

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