March 8, 2012

When Violent Weather Makes News

% of weekly newshole
Joplin Tornado May 23-29, 2011 22
Hurricane Irene Aug 22-28 20
April Tornadoes Apr 25-May 1 2011 15
Mississippi Floods May 9-15, 2011 9
Early Tornadoes Feb 27-Mar 4 2011 8

No. 5 – Rank of last week’s tornadoes among the top weather stories of the past year

The dozens of tornadoes that tore across the South and Midwest causing 41 deaths last week attracted major media attention. From February 27-March 4, coverage of the tornadoes filled 8% of the newshole, making it the No. 2 story behind the presidential campaign (26%), but ahead of the violence in Syria (6%), the Chandra, Ohio school shooting (6%), and the economy (6%).

Indeed, the tornadoes are the first weather story in almost six months to account for more than 3% of the newshole—and they follow a winter that provided few newsmaking storms. Overall, last week’s violent storms represented the fifth biggest weather story in the past 12 months.

The single biggest weather story in the past 12 months was the EF5 tornado that destroyed one quarter of the town of Joplin, Missouri, including the hospital and high school. The week of May 23-29, 2011 that tragic story accounted for 22% of the newshole.

After that came Hurricane Irene, which affected virtually the entire Eastern seaboard and filled 21% of the newshole from August 22-28, 2011. As flooding continued, the story filled another 20% the following week (August 29-September 4).

The third biggest weather story in the past year was a rash of tornadoes across the South, Midwest and Northeast that killed more than 300 people and, accounted for 15% of the newshole the week of April 25-May 1. The No. 4 weather story was the Mississippi River flooding that accounted for 9% of the newshole the week of May 9-15, 2011.

Perhaps due to the mild weather in parts of the U.S., there were no weather events that generated major coverage during the 2011-2012 winter season. The biggest snowstorm story this past winter (at 3% from October 31-November 6) was the early snowfall that led to a “white Halloween” in the Northeast.

In contrast, one year earlier, in the winter of 2010-2011, there were four bouts of severe weather that filled between 4% and 13% of the newshole.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ