“We’re going to get ahead of the weather,” I heard somebody say and yes, I rolled my eyes. I’ve heard it many times before, killed countless hours in live trucks awaiting upcoming storms, forecast to have damaging winds. Because TV shows like Storm Chasers show tornado-tracking folk in just the right place, at the moment a tornado forms, the thinking is: We can do this too.
We can, but we rarely do. Actually, we almost never do. But we keep trying, and we did so Tuesday.
The storms were forecast to hit early afternoon. “Go to Douglasville,” somebody said, and we did. When we arrived about 11:15am, we passed a WAGA live truck, mast raised, ready for action. Great minds.
Mike Zakel and I parked in a church lot downtown, a location selected based mostly on the fact that we knew we could set a microwave shot from that spot. The odds of a bad storm hitting that exact spot were no better or worse than any other location in North Georgia.
The noon hit was brief, its point only to convey to the audience that we were in the field, “monitoring” the weather. Nothing was actually happening, and I killed thirty seconds of air time explaining that. I went on too long.
Saying we’re “monitoring” the weather makes us sound much smarter than “we’re standing outside, waiting to get rained on.”
It seems like madness, but there’s a method behind it. When weather is bad, local TV ratings shoot upward. The audience either a) craves information or b) wants to chuckle at images of TV guys / gals outside in inclement weather. I personally lean toward the latter. Whatever the reason, no local TV station dares to ignore a weather system forecast to be dangerous — no matter how much eye-rolling takes place among newsroom cynics.
We knew thunderstorms were popping to our west. We lowered the mast, and relocated. Our goal was to find an abandoned bank drive-through, someplace with a tall roof. It would enable us to exit the vehicle, shoot stormy weather and still have shelter. I spotted a gas station advertising $1.69 regular. The abandoned storefront had a fifteen foot roof covering an old tank. When the rain came, Zakel shot it. It rained hard for no more than twenty minutes.
We returned to town. We began to regroup. I lurched around for another story. Then I heard excited voices in the newsroom. They were looking at a DOT camera, which showed cars trapped in floodwater off I-85. A storm drain had clogged. Two cars were partially under water. Rush hour had started. Traffic was stopped.
As Zakel and I drove to that location, word spread that a tornado had struck near Buford and clobbered a subdivision.
That night, we covered weather the way we usually do: After the fact. And yet next time, somebody’s still gonna say it: We’re going to get ahead of the weather.