For those watching KAIT on TV or on the station’s Facebook page Saturday, the coverage no doubt saved lives. It’s about as riveting live weather coverage as you’ll see.
All the ingredients were on the table, and Mother Nature mixed up a perfect storm of reality TV on Tuesday as tornadoes tossed big rigs into the sky during a mad five-hour march across the Metroplex. What was so mesmerizing — if it wasn’t your neighborhood under siege — was that it was unfolding in the middle of the day in a giant metropolitan area. And all the cameras were on.
Once the weather service issued a tornado warning for the Joplin, Mo., area on May 22, local TV and radio stations followed protocol for severe weather, ramping up their weather coverage in the 90 minutes or so before the twister hit at around 5:30 p.m. either with cut-ins or going wall-to-wall. But such alerts had become so frequent, especially lately, that even the station staffers themselves did not take them as seriously as subsequent events demonstrated they should have. After the storm hit, news teams scrambled to figure out what exactly had happened and how they could help their striken community.
Minute-by-minute accounts of the developing weather helped thousands of people in Oklahoma City stay abreast of the danger Tuesday.Television helicopters broadcast live footage while the system approached the metropolitan area of 1.2 million people — calling out to specific communities like Piedmont to “Take cover now!”
Even though the NBC affiliate is nearly 250 miles away from Joplin in Columbia, Mo., many people in Columbia and mid-Missouri are either Joplin natives or have family there. The newsroom’s normally local-focused Facebook page quickly became a clearinghouse for updates about how mid-Missouri could help the tornado-ravaged community.
The Big Four affiliates in Joplin, Mo., are working around the clock to cover the devastation wrought by Sunday’s tornado. With much of the city in ruins, relatively small news departments and employees displaced from their homes, local broadcasters asked the Missouri Broadcasters Association for assistance in finding news staff from outside the market that could help in the coverage and for diesel fuel to keep emergency generators running.
Alabama stations are scrambling to cover the devastation from Wednesday’s tornadoes, which left at least 128 dead. Raycom’s WBRC Birmingham is a major news presence there, and Raycom — based in Montgomery — has four stations in the state. Its Huntsville station, WAFF, had its radar blown right off the tower. And on Tuesday night, tornadoes ripped through central Texas, prompting stations to go wall to wall with their coverage.
In addition to extensive storm coverage, Gannett CBS affiliate WFMY Greensboro, N.C., raised $43,000 in a one-day telethon with the Red Cross to aid tornado victims. It’s also organized a two-day food drive for Friday and Saturday.