Spann was born in Huntsville, but grew up in Greenville in Butler County, where he attended school at W. O. Parmer Elementary. In 1966 the family moved to Tuscaloosa and he completed 5th grade at Verner Elementary before moving on to Eastwood Junior High School and Tuscaloosa High School. He graduated in 1974. While in high school, he served as an amateur radio volunteer, helping to transmit information during the 1973 Brent tornado and 1974 Superoutbreak. He also started working as a disc jockey at WTBC-AM in Tuscaloosa while studying electrical engineering at the University of Alabama.
Spann began working at Tuscaloosa's WCFT 33 in the summer 1978. That fall he moved to WSFA in Montgomery as a weekend sports anchor, occasionally filling in for Dan Atkinson in the weather department. He left that job to take an afternoon radio show at WHHY-FM.
After 5 years at Channel 13, he was transferred to KDFW-4 in Dallas, Texas. There, he won the 1985 Katy Award for Best Weathercaster from the Dallas Press Club. In early 1986 Spann resigned to return to Alabama. He took over the operation of an AM/FM station in Demopolis.
In 1989, Spann returned to Birmingham to replace Mike Royer at WBRC-6. He also went back to school, earning a certificate in meteorology from Mississippi State University. That certificate enabled him to earn recognition by the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association.
In 1996, after 7 years at WBRC marked by blanket coverage of the "Blizzard of '93", Spann switched over to the new ABC 33/40 (which combines the signals of WCFT and WJSU 40 out of Anniston). The move coincided with WBRC's purchase by News Corp., which converted the station into a FOX Network affiliate. Spann was given the opportunity to create ABC 33/40's weather standards from the ground up. He and his team pioneered numerous technologies and practices later copied by other stations. While other stations would return to regular programming, 33/40 stayed on the air during tornados and other especially severe weather events.
Spann's coverage of the 2001 Tuscaloosa tornado, featuring video of the twister taken by a camera mounted on the WCFT tower in Tuscaloosa, won an Emmy Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award. In 2005, Spann completed the requirements to become a "Certified Broadcast Meteorologist" from the American Meteorological Society. In 2012 he was named "Broadcaster of the Year" by National Weather Association.
Spann runs his own private consulting firm, The Weather Company, which provides weather programming to numerous radio stations.
Spann and his wife, the former Karen O'Mary, have two sons. He and his family are active members of Hunter Street Baptist Church, where he also teaches Sunday school.
Weather Channel controversy
On January 18, 2007, Spann wrote an opinion piece on his weather blog regarding the political controversy over the existence of global warming and mankind's culpability for and responsibility to reverse climate change. Spann was responding directly to comments made by Dr Heidi Cullen on The Weather Channel's website. Cullen, in calling for a distinction between scientific and political content in weather forecasts, wrote that "If a meteorologist can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn’t give them a Seal of Approval."1.
In responding to Cullen's piece, Spann stated that "I know dozens and dozens of broadcast meteorologists all over the country. [...]. I do not know of a single TV meteorologist who buys into the man-made global warming hype."2
His blog post was picked up by internet site "The Drudge Report" and disseminated worldwide, making Spann a representative spokesman for meteorologists who reject the theory of man-made global warming. Though the AMS does have an official position that "There is convincing evidence that since the industrial revolution, human activities, [...], have become a major agent of climate change." Spann's position is that individual meteorologists are qualified to draw their own conclusions from the available data and that divergent views should not be censored by the AMS.
Spann appeared on FOX News' "Hannity & Colmes" and CNN's "Glenn Beck" programs to explain his position.
- Cullen, Heidi (December 21, 2006) "Junk Controversy Not Junk Science...". The Weather Channel Blog - accessed January 27, 2007
- Spann, James (January 18, 2007) "'The Weather Channel' Mess". ABC33/40 Weather Blog - accessed January 27, 2007
- Carlton, Bob (January 20, 2007) "Spann spawns cyber-storm." Birmingham News.
- Haden, Courtney (January 25, 2007) "Looking at clouds from both sides now." Birmingham Weekly."