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July 2008

Hurricane season gives me pause for reflection

It was 1999 that I first worked with The Weather Channel. My first contact was in early May when a severe weather system moved through Atlanta and I caught some of the lightning, hail, rain and wind on tape.

Not four months later, I was given the assignment to cover Hurricane Dennis from Wrightsville Beach, NC with Meteorologist Jim Cantore and Producer Dwight Woods. It was my first live shot with The Weather Channel and I distinctly remember thinking 'this is fun, this is what I want to do' as Jim Cantore gave his report on the approaching storm.

2004 and 2005 were unbelievable busy with a few notable events. First, Hurricane Charley  pounded my hometown in Florida and did damage to my parents home - not to mention damage to friends, family and old landmarks in town that later had to be torn down due to structural integrity issues.

Next notable was Hurricane Jeanne, which I covered with Stephanie Abrams in Port St. Lucie, FL. We ended up being in the 'right spot' and had the eye of the hurricane pass directly over our location. We had time to run out and shoot some video while my other cameraman, Chris Erickson, stayed at the hotel with Steph and knocked out several live shots before conditions began to again deteriorate.

2005 had two big storms. Hurricane Wilma was the last storm of the season. Keith Krystofiak, my staff cameraman and I were in Naples, FL with Stephanie Abrams and Mike Bettes for landfall. Wilma made landfall to our south, so we endured some of the northern side of the eyewall for several hours. It was a another overnight landfall and we saw some serious flooding all around downtown Naples.

The last of the notable storms was Katrina. I was again teamed with Stephanie Abrams and we were moved east to Ft. Walton Beach, FL so we could stay on the air when the teams to our west had to drop their dishes due to high winds. I remember all the Coast Guard helicopters flying west during our evening live shots. Never in my memory did I recall seeing so many helicopters heading toward the area of landfall. I couldn't imagine why they needed all those helicopters. Early the next morning the extent of damage along the Mississippi and Louisiana coastlines started to become apparent and we were told to stock up on supplies and go to Gulfport, MS to help Jim Cantore's crew. All their vehicles were lost in the storm surge and were basically stranded. We ended up staying three days to cover the aftermath before heading home for a few days of rest.

I'll write more about Katrina closer to August 29th, including portions of letters and e-mails I wrote immediately after coming home. Many people associate Katrina only with New Orleans, which while understandable, does not do justice to what I witnessed in Mississippi. If any of you reading this post were there, you understand what I mean. It was simply beyond comprehension.