• Meteorologist John Ahrens' heated conversation with state over air quality alerts

    By: John Ahrens


    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A Code Orange air quality alert was issued Wednesday once again in Charlotte despite favorable weather conditions.

    That alert means ozone conditions could be high enough to cause serious health issues for people suffering from asthma or emphysema, which could keep them from going outdoors.

    However, the air quality in Charlotte was fine, Channel 9 meteorologist John Ahrens said.

    Wednesday was not the first day the alert was issued when it should not have been, he said.

    As a result, children had to stay off the playgrounds and go indoors to avoid the conditions outside.

    Jeff Carwile, with Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation, takes those alerts very seriously.

    “Safety is our No. 1 priority,” Carwile said.

    His department is responsible for the health and well-being of children during outdoor programs.

    The North Carolina Division of Air Quality officials issued nine Code Orange alerts for the Charlotte area in June and was right only once.

    Channel 9 meteorologists felt like the state was being too alarming, so Ahrens contacted those officials on Tuesday.

    That conversation was not pleasant, Ahrens said.

    "We're not going to verify all the time," Nicholas Witcraft with the Air Quality Division said over Skype.

    Ahrens asked Witcraft why the division has been so inaccurate.

    “In my job, if I continue to say it's going to be 90 (degrees) every day and it turns out to be 80 every day, I'm going to be out of a job pretty soon. Am I wrong?” Ahrens asked Witcraft.

    “No, you are not wrong,” Witcraft said. “Well, you are wrong."

    Witcraft said on some days the area may not have hit Code Orange but it’s been close.

    "It's all part of the messaging," Witcraft said.

    “If I continue to say a hurricane is going to come, and I say it every day, am I ‘crying wolf?’” Ahrens pressed Witcraft.

    “No,” Witcraft responded.

    “How so? Nobody is going to believe me soon,” Ahrens said.

    “We're done here," Witcraft said, ending the conversation.

    State officials called Ahrens back after the Skype interview and apologized.

    Officials said they simply like to err on the side of caution when issuing these alerts.

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