Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hello Irene

The first squall just blew through our neighborhood from Hurricane Irene.  Consider that Fort Myers is more than 300 miles away from the eye of this storm and it should give you an idea of the massive size of Irene.  In fact last night the local meteorologists suggested the rain wouldn't reach us at all but we would feel more wind.

Any kind of a breeze is a rare thing during the summer.  That was the first thing I noticed this morning.  The palm trees were rustling from the nice breeze produced because of Irene's approach.  I can only imagine what it's like along Florida's east coast and the battering that this big hurricane is delivering to the Bahamas.

It's been seven years since my colleagues at WINK TV and I endured a summer filled with hurricanes.  It started with the worst of it when Charley came ashore about 20 miles from my home on August 13th.  Then came Frances about two weeks later which clipped the northern edge of WINK's viewing area.  Ivan followed but skirted our coast before slamming into Florida's panhandle.  It's a good thing too because it came along the same week as a personal trip to Tampa to watch the Czarina take the oath to become a U.S. citizen.

Jeanne hit a couple of weeks after that on September 25th following roughly the same path as Hurricane Frances.  Jeanne came as something of a surprise.  The storm was expected to take a turn to the north.  The staff was pretty much used up by that point.  Something in my guts made me stop by the newsroom that Saturday afternoon.  Within an hour of intense study of the weather data and talking to our meteorologists it became painfully clear that Jeanne wasn't going to cooperate.

I spent the next couple of hours calling in weary anchors, reporters, photographers and producers.  If Jeanne cut across Florida it would have rolled right through Fort Myers.  Again like Frances, it staggered to the north a bit and dealt a glancing blow to the northern part of our viewing area.

The worst part of that night was calling a worn out Jim McLaughlin at 2:30 in the morning to beg him to come in and help out on the anchor desk.  A sleep-deprived Jim crashed his vehicle about two blocks away from the station.  I felt terrible.  I don't doubt that it played a role in his decision to retire from WINK the following year. It certainly played a role in my decision to take a news director's job in Kansas 11 months later.

18 hours after I arrived in the newsroom on a whim I was allowed to go home.  Our news team which was running on empty had done a remarkable job on its third hurricane in six weeks.  Those six weeks will stay with me forever.  

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