The devastating tornado that struck southern Indiana late last week was about 20 miles north of Louisville, well within the market limits, and the Louisville TV meteorologists, working with the National Weather Service, did an effective job of giving proper warning to viewers. That compelled schools to close, and residents to get out of town, or at least steel themselves, and their homes, for the deadly twister.
“They knew when the front was coming through, and let people know early,” says Mark Pimentel, GM at Belo’s WHAS. “It’s a good thing they did, or it would’ve been a lot worse.
Pimentel said viewers had a good 24-36 hour warning of when the tornado would strike, though the exact location of the storm is harder to predict.
WHAS and Hearst TV’s WLKY are major news stations in the market. Aerial coverage was key in the tornado’s aftermath, with roads often clogged due to storm damage, rescue vehicles, and people fleeing the area. WHAS shares a helicopter with Raycom’s WAVE, while WLKY has its own.
WHAS went wall to wall around 1:30 p.m. Friday, as the storm bore down on the region, and went back to regular programming around 8, says Pimentel. The station had an hour late news Friday, and expanded its Saturday newscasts too.
WLKY had similar wall to wall coverage on its main channel, a CBS affiliate, and used its dot-two–which normally shows Me-TV–to stay with the story. “There’s no justification not to do that,” says Glenn Haygood, GM. “In a severe weather situation, you give people all the details. You don’t take chances when people’s lives are at stake.”
WLKY got an assist from its Hearst sibling in Pittsburgh, while the company’s Cincinnati station covered severe weather in that region. “We were spread all over the DMA,” says Haygood.
The severity of the storm–there was dangerous hail as well–was unique to the southern Indiana-northern Kentucky region. “We normally see F1s and F0s,” says Pimentel. “It’s rare for us to see F3s and F4s.”
The story became a personal one for WLKY meteorologist Jared Heil, who reported on a gas station awning that traveled a quarter mile before damaging his home.
WHAS is planning a four hour telethon/newscast, and WLKY–and the other Louisville stations, such as Block Communications’ WDRB–continues to raise funds on the station website. “The outpouring of support from people in this area,” says Haygood, “has been pretty remarkable.”