Advance notice is good. Especially when you could be digging out from a foot of snow or more.
We were told early last week about conditions coming together for a major winter storm possibly impacting much of Kansas for late this week. That automatically sets off the warning bells of early preparation, although the way the weather is…things can come together and fall apart several times.
Still, being involved in a news department, I’m always looking at the worst case scenarios: one, that nothing happens and everybody gets mad because we cried wolf, and two, we get a major coating of everybody’s winter friend — ice. If you think the first scenario isn’t that big of a deal, you haven’t been on the receiving end. I think everybody is on the giving end when a forecast fails, epic or not.
Ice, though…nobody wanted that. For several years, east central Kansas seemingly got a major ice event every winter with anywhere from half an inch to 1.25 inches of ice on trees, power lines, sidewalks and the like. It had been four years since we had a true ice storm, but the memories of that episode were more vivid for me than our latest snowstorm in 2011.
As the storm neared, our plans were pretty much in flux until Monday. I say pretty much, because the prospect of ice either in Emporia or just to our southeast coalesced ideas for our storm coverage and threw them out of whack. Coalesced because we knew we were in for a major event. Whacked them out because I could have to put reporters in a position where they could be part of the story they were covering, whether through an accident or injuries.
Tuesday is when the storm timeline started sharpening, at least initially. Anticipating snowfall by Wednesday night — just in time for a City Commission meeting and the United Way’s fundraising announcement — I decided to follow the storm situation either at the studio or via scanner, meaning reporter/DJ Kyle Thompson had the United Way duties while anchor/reporter Ryan Schmidt took the City Commission meeting because it was his beat. Even as the storm slowed through Wednesday, I held that schedule largely because, well, I didn’t want to get caught with my pants down if the storm returned to its original schedule.
The storm slowed, but the threat of ice began being replaced by heavier and heavier snowfall projections as Wednesday progressed. As those predictions increased, a stream of schedule adjustments began trickling in to KVOE by noon. This being Ryan’s first winter storm at KVOE, I had him observe the noon newscasts and told him what he had to keep in mind during newscasts and also off air for our online storm coverage. Then I decided to stay for the late afternoon newscasts to be available in case of questions.
Late afternoon Wednesday became a constant stream of on-air and online updates, especially after Emporia State and USD 253 Emporia decided to cancel all education activities for Thursday. For somebody brand-new to the situation or even a veteran, the onslaught we received can be overwhelming. And saying that, it was only a prelude to Thursday morning.
I knew I had to get in early, so instead of the normal 4:15-4:30 a.m. start time I got in by 3:20 a.m. When I arrived, there was just a thin coating of sleet on local roads. I reset the on-air and Web news stories, giving me enough time to breathe before another onslaught of schedule adjustments, which were almost as heavy as the snowfall which started roughly half an hour later. (Thunder-snow apparently does that for both categories).
After that, the day was an absolute sprint. Update here. Type this out. Open up the mike for another extended update. Receive call. Receive call. Type update. Shut everything down to record updates for the FM stations. Receive call. Get information handed to me. Breathe. Repeat. And repeat. Oh — and a trip around much of town to update listeners on driving conditions (in other words, doing exactly what I was telling people they should avoid).
I know from my time in print there once was (a long time ago) a set deadline you worked towards for passing out information. Well, that left a long time ago when I switched back to radio — and the increased emphasis on instant information, thanks to the Internet, means there really is no deadline. You get the information, you get it to the masses. ASAP.
Snow coverage is different in one major regard from severe spring weather coverage in that you usually don’t receive a burst of calls from listeners or staffers about the weather itself. If you get calls, it’s for the schedule adjustments.
We were able to catch a small break after lunch Thursday, but calls started surfacing again as we started relaying the prediction of another round of snow by the evening drive home. At that point, an 18- to 20-hour day became a virtual certainty. Once again, the Instant Information Cycle process began, although my role went more behind the scenes (i.e., Twitter and Facebook) as Ryan took the microphone. Also, needing late photos for our Photo Showcase, I stepped out during a newscast to get some shots near the station.
Once you’re locked into something, time shoots past you. It was better than 6 p.m. before I felt I could breathe comfortably — annnnd then it was more like I needed to collapse.
It was a comforting feeling (as I tried desperately to unwind afterward) that we kept people safe during the heart of our worst winter storm in two years. It wasn’t so comforting realizing we had set the bar pretty high for the next event, but we’ll worry about that later.
The next time you’re listening to a radio station relaying severe weather information or watching it on TV, please realize there’s a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure you get the information you need so you and your loved ones can stay safe.