March 1 kicks off arguably the most active weather season, as tornado outbreaks begin to increase in the Southeast part of the country. It’s also a time when those whose duty is to warn the masses of killer storms – recall their scariest moments while on the air, during storm coverage.
5NEWS Chief Meteorologist Garrett Lewis is one of five veteran meteorologists who talked openly, in a new podcast that debuts today, “Tornado Alert: Emotional Terror.” You can catch the podcast by clicking above.
Lewis recalls the moment a supercell thunderstorm took aim on the 5NEWS studio.
“Sometimes you’re in the middle of tracking a tornado when you realize – this is heading right towards the station and our families,” Garrett said. “So you face this dilemma where you feel responsible to protect co-workers and loved ones…but you have a responsibility to thousands of viewers who need you to stay on live TV and track the storm.”
In the podcast, he is joined by WHNT’s Chief Meteorologist Jason Simpson, WREG-TV’s Chief Meteorologist Tim Simpson in Memphis, along with WREG Meteorologist Jim Jaggers, and KFOR Chief Meteorologist Mike Morgan who works in Oklahoma City.
When tornadic weather is headed their way, these meteorologists know the importance of tracking these storms live and guiding their audience of when to seek safe shelter. But what if it’s your own family in the path of a killer storm? What if they know it’s headed to a school, filled with students? What if your station is in the way of a killer storm? These weather veterans know there really is no option for them to leave their jobs to help their families
Lewis looks back in the podcast to April 2008, “By far the scariest moment I had as a broadcast meteorologist.” As he was on the air live, a weather system that appeared to be a tornado was headed right at the TV station. “We may need to actually take shelter here in the studio,” Lewis told his audience that day. “It was one of those moments you realize you have a responsibility to the audience, to the viewers at home, because they are basically experiencing the same thing,” Lewis says almost 11 years later. “Windows were breaking out of the station, it was an incredibly scary moment,” he says.
In the podcast, we hear Lewis instruct his team inside the station where to go as the tornado approaches. The station stayed on the air, as the tornado’s wall cloud and hail were passing over the station. “We’re actually in the center part of our hallway right now,” Lewis told his live TV audience.
The helplessness during these storms hits veterans like Morgan, Lewis, Jaggers, Jason and Tim Simpson.
All of these meteorologists made tough decisions on those days, balancing their task to keep many safe versus those that are close to them. They battled the urge to race home to be with family and keep their responsibility to thousands of viewers.
These are the stories of TV meteorologists in tornado alley who were torn between panic for their own loved one’s safety and duty to thousands of viewers who were threatened by the same deadly storms.