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October 2009

Remembering The Perfect Storm

It was 18 years ago today that the Andrea Gail encountered what was to become 'The Perfect Storm' while in the Atlantic Ocean. Tonight, The Weather Channel launches it's new Friday night programming lineup that includes feature-length movies. It kicks off with 'The Perfect Storm' appropriately enough. If you've never read the book by Sebastian Junger, I highly recommend it.

As it happens, the story of the Andrea Gail and it's crew and rescuers would become important to me some 9 years later. In 2000, I worked with The Weather Channel when they interviewed the real-life survivors and rescuers from that fateful event. Traveling with Weather Channel producer Simon Temperon (now my staff producer), we interviewed the four surviving Air National Guard helicopter crewmen and the Captain and First Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa, which rescued the crew from the raging waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Mike with heros

Pictured above in Gloucester, MA is Michael Forrester, Air National Guard Lt. Col. Graham Buschor, Coast Guard Tamaroa Captain  Lawrence Brudnicki and Lieutenant Commander Kristopher Furtney. The Tamaroa crew rescued Buschor and four other crew members from their downed H-60 helicopter. We also interviewed the other surviving crew members from the helicopter including Maj. David Ruvola, SSft. Jimmy Mioli and TSgt. John Spillane.

Later in 2000, I returned to Gloucester for the Media Day event prior to the premiere of the movie 'The Perfect Storm.' During that visit, I was able to meet and interview author Sebastian Junger and movie director Wolfgang Peterson. Below, we pose in front of the Lady Grace, which played the part of the Andrea Gail in the movie.

Mike with Graham and Jim

During the media event, I was also lucky enough to meet George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg along with other cast and crew. It was quite a memorable event and hearing the stories of those involved first hand was fascinating.

A visit to Embarrass, MN with The Weather Channel

If you are a fan of The Weather Channel (one of our long-time clients), you may remember a fun-hearted competition between International Falls, MN and Embarrass, MN. It was a challenge to International Falls long held title of 'Icebox of the Nation' - a title I'm not sure I'd exactly desire, but nonetheless, a challenge.

It was almost obligatory for The Weather Channel to cover this challenge, so I traveled to International Falls with Producer Michelle Birnbaum and Meteorologist Stephanie Abrams for a few days to try determine the winner. All I can tell you is that this native Floridian was freezing the entire visit.

The photo above pretty well captures the essence of our visit - freezing temperatures. That doesn't stop the locals from enjoying Ice Box Days each January. Hardy locals brave bone-chilling temperatures for some outdoor activities, which fortunately for me, included a nearby bonfire.


While temperatures might indiciate Embarrass is a bit colder than International Falls, my thin blood couldn't tell the difference. It was simply COLD!

The Georgia Dome becomes our studio for a day

Over the years, we've rented a lot of different locations for our productions. We've rented homes, offices and even an entire bed and breakfast. This week, I think we rented the largest building we will probably ever rent - The Georgia Dome. Yes, all 71,000 seats were ours for the day.

Our client, a pharmaceutical company, had a Fox Sports reporter talking about her migraine headaches, so it made sense for us to record the promotional video in her work environment. We worked from the corner of an end zone to take advantage of the huge venue. Using a teleprompter mounted to the front of our XDCam HD F-350 camera, we shot several sequences from different angles to provide a variety of shots for the video.

The video requires a legal sequence, called Fair Balance, that needs to be covered with b-roll, so we placed our reporter in several areas of the Dome in addition to having her walk a portion of the playing field. In the end, we shot over 90 minutes of footage for the four-minute video during our 10-hour day at the Georgia Dome.

The Weather Channel - a decade later

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.