Just as the crew of WFMY 5 p.m. news sat down to broadcast, a vicious tornado struck the city of Greensboro, N.C. The station itself was sideswiped by the twister, but other buildings were completely destroyed. It knocked out power and communications at WFMY and caused significant damage just one neighborhood away.
The station’s crew, which was supposed to be on the air, had to seek shelter in a cinder-block hallway as the twister passed overhead.
Tim Buckley, the chief meteorologist at the station, had already been tracking the storms through the afternoon.
“We were in the line of this storm. We’d been on Facebook Live with our viewers for about four hours tracking the line,” Buckley said. “The tornado warning was issued about one minute before we took massive power hits at our station.”
As the storm approached, the meteorologists hustled everyone to their shelter locations. For a few seconds, the live stream focused on a bright yellow “Safe Spot” sign as the staff ducked into their place of refuge.
Buckley described “loud sounds and power flashes” as the storm snapped utility poles and left streets just a quarter mile away in shambles.
“It was nerve-racking,” said Terran Kirksey, another meteorologist at WFMY. “I’ve covered tornadoes on-air since 2010, and that was the first time one impacted my station.”
Officials confirmed at least one person was killed Sunday night along East Cone Boulevard and Summit Avenue in Greensboro. Their vehicle was crushed by a falling tree. There is no word yet on other casualties from the storms.
This is not the first time a TV weather broadcast has been interrupted by the weather a station was covering.
Meteorologists in Joplin, Mo., were forced to duck and cover on May 22, 2011, as their station found itself in the crosshairs of an approaching tornado.
A similar scene unfolded at KSN-TV in Wichita on May 19, 2013. As a meteorologist covered the storm live in front of a weather map, the chief meteorologist preempted him with a roaring noise growing in the background. “You know, in 20 years I’ve never said this, but I think it’s our time to go,” the meteorologist said, moments before the station evacuated to the basement as the tornado barreled through.
Even the Northeast isn’t immune to a bit of on-air live TV weather drama. One EF-3 tornado struck Springfield, Mass., on June 1, 2011. It barreled just 100 yards east of the CBS channel 3, tossing debris at the live tower camera mounted atop Monarch Tower. An emergency siren blares within the studio as the storm races by.
After the tornado had passed, Buckley and his team were able to get back up and broadcasting over the airwaves. He’s thankful his station was able to remain safe during the height of the storm.
“We’ve never been in that position before, but it helps us to realize what our viewers might be going through when storms are heading their way,” Buckley said.