Five. The clicking of keyboards, telephones ringing and people yelling to each other down a long corridor fill the air. A low roar emits from fans of different computer towers and boards and travels over a group of people rushing around like ants trying to get to different places in the small room full of TV screens and processors. A man yells down the corridor from the lobby about whether or not certain papers were missing. No one in the room answers. They are on a mission.
Four. Papers rustle in hands as people shuffle around and finally get situated in their squeaky rolling chairs. The heavy sound of someone’s boots rushes down the corridor leading to the small room. A woman looks up from her papers, peers down the hallway and then gets up and closes the door. She makes her way back to her chair and puts on a headset. By this point, everyone in the room has on their headsets.
Three. Things have started to quiet down throughout the entire building. The four people in the room begin to stare at the monitors, checking every little detail. A loud crash comes from thunder outside. A man starts pressing buttons on a giant control board that blinks different colors of light.
“A.J., tell him to move to his right! Quick,” he yells through his headset.
“Good,” he says. “Tell Keith standby.”
A man looking through the window gives him the thumbs up. Suddenly, everyone in the small room quiets to almost a whisper. The man through the window holds up his hand with two fingers pointed at the ceiling. The man at the control board flexes his hands and lays his fingers down on the board; never losing eye contact with the huge TV screen full of different boxes in front of him.
Mississippi is well known for music, sweet tea and hospitality. But one thing that usually goes under the radar is its weather. Mississippi has humid conditions most of the year, and that can cause some interesting weather.
WCBI has been serving North Mississippi for almost 60 years now. WCBI has presented shows to Mississippi such as “Fun Time With Uncle Bunky” and was also the first station in Mississippi to swap to digital signals. WCBI broadcasts have a huge coverage area, which spreads from Philadelphia, Miss., to Booneville, Miss., west of Grenada, Miss., and east to parts of Tuscaloosa County in Alabama. But one thing that hasn’t changed over the past 60 years is the station’s determination to keep its viewers safe from storms.
Preparation is the key for meteorologists in the North Mississippi areas. According to WCBI’s Keith Gibson, the chief meteorologist, the weather team starts preparing for storms almost a week in advance.
“Well, these big events, it goes days in advance. Where we’re looking at… we usually get a sign as early as five, six days out and we kinda fine-tune things through time. And as we get closer and closer, it requires more analysis of these higher-resolution models and once we get to the day of, we basically throw all the guidance out, and we are just real-time forecasting,” said Gibson.
During severe weather, the meteorologists at WCBI must check all of the equipment constantly, or “babysit the radar” as Gibson puts it, to be able to chart out severe storms.
Another way that the meteorologists prepare for these storms is mentally and emotionally.
"My mind is constantly racing,” says Ashley Ruiz, meteorologist. “Especially during severe weather events. And you block everything else out, but I’m also focusing on, ‘Well, I need to get this information out to the public. I need to do this. I need to do that. I need to, ya know, analyze the radar to see what’s going on.’ So my mind is going at a thousand miles per hour, but I’m still staying calm.”
The meteorologists know that if they aren’t able to keep their composure on live TV, their viewers won’t, either.
Not only do the meteorologists have to be prepared for the coming storm, but the production staff must meet as well. Shane Reese, lead director of news production at WCBI, must go to every meeting held by the weather department to prepare the production staff on what will be needed from them when the day finally arrives.
“I get excited, because it’s an event, and it doesn’t happen often, but at the same time, I get really nervous because you don’t – it’s always kind of unpredictable,” Reese explained.
Reese went on to say that when it comes to severe weather, there’s not much he can do to prepare for it.
“Things change on the fly a lot. Nothing is scripted. A newscast is scripted,” said Reese. “With severe weather, you are always on the seat of your pants.”
Gibson, Ruiz and Reese expressed that even with the preparation that goes into severe weather coverage, it can often change dramatically during the broadcast.
“The viewers must be prepared too,” stated Reese.
When it comes to severe weather, the best thing to do is to find a media outlet and watch or listen for instructions on how to stay safe. If anyone is prepared for the storm, it’s your local weather team.