Weathermen brave the storm, get the story

To the disappointment of many, the Eastern elite bastions of New York, Washington and Boston remain standing this morning after Hurricane Irene’s march up the East Coast over the weekend.

Most of the TV meteorologists who risked their lives to bring us “special team coverage” of the storm also appear to have survived, despite their best efforts to get themselves killed.

Viewers benefitted from brave weatherpeople who didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain, as reporters on TV went to extraordinary lengths to keep the public informed.

“You see them standing out there in torrents, oblivious to the dangers,” said media analyst Harold Johnson. “They remind me of overbred farm turkeys, too pea-brained to get themselves out of the elements.

“Turkeys will look up at the falling rain with their beaks open and eventually drown,” Johnson added. “TV reporters, though their mouths are open, at least have the good sense not to look up. Usually.”

Up and down the Atlantic seaboard, meteorologists attempted to out-do each other going to extreme lengths to report on the storm from inside its gale-force winds and driving rains.

Reporter Melissa Toomey of New York’s WABC rented a helicopter to fly down the New Jersey coast so she could be the first to report from inside the hurricane. The pilot lowered a rescue ladder, allowing her to swing freely several hundred feet above the crashing waves, as they flew into 90 m.p.h. winds just off-shore.

“This one’s really winding up for a major landfall,” she shouted up to the cameraman who dangled on a sled of the chopper. “Don’t let the way my hair stays in place fool you.”

Other New York meteorologists resisted the lure of almost-certain death pursued by Toomey, and instead posted themselves at local landmarks to film their segments.

WPIX’s Chuck Haigler rode the Coney Island roller coaster to file his report as the storm came ashore there. Tom Roebuck from WNYW had himself lashed to the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Bill Chadwick of WCBS spent Sunday inside the flooded Holland Tunnel, wearing scuba gear to survive the inundation and using hand signals to give viewers the latest updates.

WNBC’s Ed Wylie had perhaps the most difficult challenge of all. He chose to swim New York Harbor from Battery Park to Staten Island, pulling the island ferry through the choppy seas with a rope he gripped in his teeth.

“Nnngh mmuum hnhn mingaah,” he warned his audience at one point, which officials now believe may have saved countless lives.

Foolish bravado was not limited to the New York media. In Boston, weathermen Bill Nanny of WBZ and Ed Lavin of WCVB engaged in a shootout with each other at the height of the storm.

“I’m not sure that did anything to lend more insight into the deteriorating conditions,” said WBZ station manager Don Montgomery. “But it sure did grab the eyeballs among our target demographic of 18-to-24-year-old males.”

Out on the beaches of Cape Cod, WHDH’s Joanne Jones had herself buried in sand up to her neck to lend more color to her reports of a six-foot storm surge expected to overwash seaside roads.

“I can see the waves breaking closer and closer,” Jones told her viewers during a mid-afternoon insert Sunday. “This next one could be the biggest yet.”

Then, silence.

In the nation’s capital, reporters more familiar with covering a whirlwind of political activity rather than a monster storm struggled to lend a proper perspective to the hurricane’s advance.

“This wind is really something,” noted WUSA’s Wade Dameron as he was shot out of a cannon not far from the Jefferson Memorial. “I’m about to find out how far it’ll take me.”

Meanwhile, rival meteorologist Larry Groen of WTTG had a 30-foot-tall sail attached to his back as he hopped on a skateboard for a rousing trip down wind-swept Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Wheeee!” he reported before being struck by a Red Cross disaster van.

With the storm now past, and most TV weatherpeople safely recuperating in local hospitals, it seems in retrospect that Terry Cobb of New York’s Z100 radio may have had the best idea for coverage of the tropical storm.

“I wasn’t about to go outside in that mess,” the Zoo Crew veteran said. “I just used the SleepMachine app on my iPad to simulate the sounds of a storm. I started with ‘Distant Thunder,’ then switched to ‘Rain and Thunder 2’ as Irene got closer. I’m not sure what happened after that. I fell asleep.”

"There's Irene," reports the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore. "Right over there."

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