WVUA Meteorologist Richard Scott Watches Tornado Pass Over Family Live On-Air
Thursday's severe weather event was a stressful one for many members of the media, as journalists, radio DJs and TV reporters took to the airwaves to keep the public informed while storms tore through Alabama.
While the professionals were doing their jobs to keep their communities safe, several also had to witness damage that hit a little too close to home.
ABC 33/40 and Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa Chief Meteorologist James Spann was live on the air reporting on a tornado that raced through the suburbs south of Birmingham when he was told his own was damaged by the storm. He had to briefly step away from the green screen to check on his wife, who was at home at the time.
Closer to Tuscaloosa, WVUA 23 Chief Meteorologist Richard Scott experienced a nearly identical situation. While he was live on the air delivering life-saving information to his viewers at around noon Thursday, he was forced to report on a tornado that barreled through the area where his in-laws lived.
His two young children were staying with their grandparents there, and for a short while, Scott had no idea if his family's home had been directly damaged or whether anyone was safe.
TOO CLOSE TO HOME
Scott told the emotional story about his two boys – Parker, 5, and Grayson, 3 – during Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa's Operation Storm Watch Town Hall Thursday Morning.
"We sent them down to my wife's parents' house. They live down in Havana Junction, that's down below Moundville," Scott told Steve Shannon and James Ludeman. "And that area was nearly devastated by the same tornado that went through northern Shelby County and the same tornado that went through Calhoun County, where we had five fatalities."
Scott kept his phone close to his post at the WVUA 23 weather wall so he could see any messages he was receiving from his family during the event. After a few quick texts between him and his wife, Scott was able to confirm that his children and in-laws were all just fine.
"They were so awesome to keep our kids safe. They had bike helmets on them, they had them in the closet – they knew what to do," Scott said of his in-laws. "We had discussed this before, just in case this ever happened, and it did yesterday."
The tornado touched down about a mile after passing over the house. After Scott received word that his family was OK, he said the relief washed over him. But for a while, he could only continue doing his job while hoping for anything but the worst.
"A MOMENT I HOPE I NEVER HAVE TO RELIVE"
The moment when the intense supercell storm passed over Scott's in-laws' house was, he described, one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of his life.
"For about 15 to 20 minutes there, I didn't know anything...gosh, it's unreal," he said. "But when I got that text that everything's OK and they were fine, it was just an incredible relief there just for a moment. But obviously, we had to stay on the air with a life-threatening tornado. That's a moment I hope I never have to relive."
This was not even Scott's first time dealing with personal issues while on the air – he grew up in Linden, Alabama, where he's experienced tornadoes for his entire life. Beyond that, he was reporting the weather when his home was destroyed during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. But, he said this time felt much different.
"[April 27, 2011] was a scary moment of my life, watching this big tornado look to be coming right at us, but I didn't have kids at the time," Scott said. "This is a whole different ballgame for me. When you're a parent, you're thinking about your children. And I'll be honest, my heart was racing out of my chest."
THE IMPORTANCE OF PREPAREDNESS
After the storms passed through the state and his job was declared finished for the evening, Scott took to Facebook to share his story with the viewers whose lives he helped keep safe all day.
"I’ve been on TV covering tornadoes for 14 years, but this was one of the most worrisome moments of my career!" he wrote in the post. "...Did anyone notice how many times I mentioned the Havana Junction in that warning?"
As Scott gears up for an active spring severe weather season, he hopes his audiences can learn from his own experience and understand the importance of being prepared for severe weather.
"What we do want people is to have a plan, as we're in an active severe weather season," Scott said. "Just go over that plan with your family over and over and over because sometimes, tornadoes can spin up quickly. Sometimes we don't have a whole lot of warning for a storm. And we want you to have that plan etched in your mind...that way you can react instead of panicking and making poor decisions."
Taking the storms from this week and last week into account, Scott hopes that his viewers are equipped with enough lessons and know-how to get through the rest of this severe weather season unscathed. The only way to make it through, he says, is to have a plan and keep it close.
"We're not even in April yet," he said. "We try not to say, 'Hey, this is going to be 2011 all over again,' because it's such an emotional statement for people listening and watching. But we do think it's going to be an active spring. ... We've got a ways to go. Hopefully we'll be wrong, hopefully, there will be no other events we deal with. But I'll say this, if we get through the end of April without any additional tornado outbreaks, I would be surprised."
Check out Scott's weather Facebook page here. To see some of his live coverage from Thursday's storms, check out the video below:
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