Stormy childhood, passion for meteorology influences James Spann’s career, faith

Stormy childhood, passion for meteorology influences James Spann’s career, faith

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

James Spann says his father never told him he loved him.

“To this day, I don’t know if he did,” he said.

But one thing he knows for certain — when Spann was 7, his dad opted out of fatherhood and walked away, leaving him as the man of the house.

“I know what it’s like to be broke,” he said, noting that his dad never made a child support payment. “And I know what it’s like to be hurt.”

But Spann also knows what it’s like to have something else, something no other person in his life seemed to have — a fascination with the weather. 

“Some people are just born with that, and I was one of those people,” he said. “I was fascinated with storms, and I loved watching clouds. It was a God-given desire.”

The storms in his personal life would set him on a path to meeting Jesus at Calvary Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, when he and his mom moved there from Greenville during his fifth-grade year. 

‘Natural knack’

And the other kind of storms would set Spann on a path that would shape his career. As he grew up into adulthood, God continued to cultivate his faith and his talents for analyzing the weather.

“When I was in high school, I got the opportunity to work for a radio station, and I worked there through my college years,” he said.

One day in 1978 he got a call from a TV station asking if he would be interested in doing some work with the weather.

“I had no formal training back then, but I thought, ‘If they’re going to pay me to talk about the weather, that sounds good,’” he said.

Over time, Spann’s natural knack for the weather became clear, and he only strengthened it with a degree from the meteorology department at Mississippi State University. Decades later, he’s now chief meteorologist at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham and is widely known for trademark suspenders that come out when the weather gets rough.

And it does get rough sometimes. 

Burned in Spann’s mind are the 62 tornadoes that took 252 lives on April 27, 2011. He’s currently in the process of memorizing all 252 names.

‘It’s motivating’

“It’s motivating for me,” he said.

In general, that’s how he lives — trying to prevent storms from wrecking lives. That’s why he’s so passionate about children’s ministry too.

“A lot of kids in the world are struggling; their home situation is not good,” said Spann, who leads children’s worship every week at Double Oak Community Church, Birmingham. “When my dad left, I didn’t have a lot of self-worth. I want these kids to have a good experience, to begin discipling them and let them know that they have God-given gifts and a purpose.” 

Sandy Stephenson, Double Oak’s children’s minister, said Spann teaches in a way children can understand and remember.

“He also serves every year at our Vacation Bible School, planning large group time and putting together videos,” she said. “He’s not afraid to be silly and downright goofy if it will make the kids laugh and want to come back the next day.”

Children’s Homes

Another ministry that is dear to Spann’s heart is the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries. He’s served on their board of trustees through the years.

“I can see where back when my dad left, the easiest thing for my mom to do would’ve been to drop me off at the Children’s Home,” Spann said. “So I have a heart for the work they do there.”

He says it’s through God’s grace and mercy that his path has led him to where he is today. 

He’s chronicled some of that in a book called “Weathering Life,” which talks about his life and faith and documents what it was like to work through some of the major weather events of his time.

“I hope it’s got some encouragement for people who might be struggling, to say, ‘You can still make it,’” he said.