Action plans turned into action Friday in coastal North Carolina, with Hurricane Irene's full force due to arrive in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 27. As the winds picked up and the rain arrived in squalls, crews at the likes of WCTI in New Bern and WITN in Washington (N.C.) geared up for the frightful storm.
"We are gonna take a full hit," says Lyle Schulze, vice president and general manager at WCTI. "And we are ready for it."
Meteorologists have pinpointed Morehead City, N.C., as the landfall ground zero for Irene, meaning DMA No. 101, representing Greenville-New Bern-Washington, looks to be first to meet Irene. Stations owned by Media General (WNCT), Gray (WITN) and Bonten (WCTI) are closely matched in the news races there. The stations were live as early as 4 a.m. Aug. 26, taking some breaks for network news, and expect to be going full speed for the next few days.
"It's going to be a long day tomorrow," says Chris Mossman, WITN vice president and general manager, after returning from a dinner run -- Carolina barbeque, naturally -- for his troops.
As is always the case when extreme weather hits, it's all hands on deck at the stations. WITN morning weather guy Jim Howard cut short a cruise in Alaska, flying east out of Fairbanks to pitch in with the coverage. The station has reserved 17 rooms at a nearby hotel, while many will make do with floor space at station headquarters.
"This is what we get excited for," Mossman says.
As was the case with the recent earthquake, and the devastating tornadoes earlier this year, social media is playing a huge role in getting critical messages out to the community. WITN's weather crew has been answering countless questions from users on Facebook. For its part, WCTI has some 2,000 new Facebook fans in the last three days, says Schulze, with station weather talent, including 30-year market vet Skip Waters, also addressing questions on the social platform.
"The single most influential difference maker for us year over year is definitely social media," Schulze says.
Located nine feet above sea level, and about 35 miles from Morehead City, WCTI's New Bern base is at risk of flooding. Several days' worth of food and water, and a pair of generators, may suffice. Worst case scenario, Schulze has a site lined up in inland Trenton to which he can move the 100 staffers and continue broadcasting.
Whatever wrath Irene brings, stations in eastern Carolina, and elsewhere up and down the coast, will be first responders on behalf of their communities. "It's part of the DNA of our culture," Schulze says. "It's our job to inform our communities."
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