It occurred to me a few days ago that I've been freelancing for The Weather Channel for a decade. It was May of 1999 that I shot my first piece of video that aired on Weather Center. In August of 1999, the Assignment Desk called me to send me out with Meteorologist Jim Cantore to cover Hurricane Dennis from Wrightsville Beach, NC. It's funny how I can still remember details from that assignment and somewhere around here I probably still have some pictures of me that a visitor took and sent me.
That same year, I also covered Hurricane Floyd and Hurricane Irene for The Weather Channel. It was the beginning of a relationship that would change my life.
In 2000, The Weather Channel sent me to Oklahoma to cover the one year anniversary of the deadly May 3rd tornado outbreak that hit the greater Oklahoma City area. I especially remember visiting Bridge Creek, Dell City and Mulhall, OK where we interviewed survivors. They told us their stories of survival, pain, fear and recovery. We also heard about heroes who came to the rescue of those in need.
In 2001, The Weather Channel recommended me to Canada's The Weather Network as a cameraman for their trip to the Midwest to follow a storm chasing tour group. I ended up returning every year to continue to chase storms for at least 25 days each spring. My footage of tornadoes appeared on The Weather Channel, The Weather Network, CNN and National Geographic, plus a few other networks and shows.
In 2004, I covered Hurricanes Charlie, Ivan, Frances and Jeanne. Hurricane Charlie barreled through my hometown of Kissimmee and caused widespread damage to the area, including the homes of my parents, extended family and friends.
In 2005, there were four hurricanes my company covered, including Hurricane Katrina. I was assigned with Meteorologist Stephanie Abrams. We started coverage in Gulf Shores, AL, but were moved east to the Destin, FL area so we could remain on air when Katrina made landfall - which we did. After covering 15 tropical systems for The Weather Channel, this was the first time I saw scores of Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead. They were headed to Biloxi, Gulfport and New Orleans.
The next morning, we headed to Gulfport to pick up Jim Cantore, WIll Rembert and Simon Temperton, who had covered Katrina from a mere 100 yards from the shore and ended up having all their vehicles lost in the storm surge. We stayed for three days for aftermath coverage and saw firsthand the death, the suffering and the loss that most only saw from the comfort of their living rooms. I saw things I still cannot explain.
While wrapping coverage for The Weather Channel, National Geographic called me to shoot HD material for them. I made a quick trip home, cleaned up, swapped out gear and headed back for another 9 days, shooting mostly in Mississippi, but also venturing to western Alabama. By this time, help was arriving in meaningful numbers.
The hurricane season finished with me in Houston (with Cantore) to cover Rita, then in Naples, FL (with Abrams) to document Wilma. That was Keith Krystofiak's first hurricane. Quite memorable!
When not covering severe weather, we also shot segments for Atmospheres, Storm Stories, When Weather Changed History, Forecast Earth and many other specials that aired on The Weather Channel.
Throughout the years, we also provided live shots for them from Maine to Florida, from New York to California. In 2008, we even covered the tornado that struck downtown Atlanta.
It's been a wonderful decade of service. I've had the opportunity to work with some of the best people in television. They've allowed me to be a part of their family and have always treated me as such. The connection to The Weather Channel has provided other opportunities as well. And it all started with a simple phone call. What a decade.