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Covering storms a challenging aspect of the job

Once again, it seems, the forces of nature have passed us by.

Ever since April 2019, when three tornadoes ravaged Vicksburg and other areas of the county, we’ve been pretty fortunate as an area to escape severe damage while other counties in Mississippi and the neighboring states of Louisiana and Alabama have suffered serious damage and members of their populations have been injured and sometimes killed in storms.

Covering the weather is an interesting challenge. Unlike covering meetings, court trials and conferences that tend to be orderly and follow a schedule, weather doesn’t stand still. It constantly moves and changes; what a forecaster, meteorologist or emergency management director tells you at 11 a.m. may not be true at 11:30.

What you see in the sky at one point or see on radar, whether on television, a computer or smartphone weather app, changes constantly.

That big blob of yellow, or orange or red that represents severe weather and appears to be floating over what you think is your home may just be producing a lot of thunder and lightning or rain that’s flooding your street while a mile away it is producing tornadoes tearing up a subdivision.

A hurricane may be bearing down on the Louisiana Gulf Coast in the early evening and by the next morning its tidal surge, 100 mph winds and driving rain are pounding the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

When you’re a reporter, covering severe weather means many times you wait and worry — about whether that storm front is going to hit your area and whether your family is safe.

When storms like the one that threatened our area hits, you wait for the calls of flooding or that a tornado hit a section of town or an area in the county.

And when you hear something has happened you react and head in the direction of the call, all the time wondering if you will run into the same force of nature on the way there.

With a hurricane, you wait at the emergency operations center or some other place you hope is safe.

Many times, there’s no sense in getting out during the storm because storm surge and high winds make it impossible to go anywhere outside the safety of your building. You wait until the storm passes and then go out to face new dangers.

I’ve often heard some people complain about news coverage “sensationalizing” the disaster. I look at it as informing the public, many of whom may have relatives in the affected areas and want to know what happened.

That statement was clear after Hurricane Katrina when power was restored and my computer was flooded with requests from people wanting to know about loved ones in the area — requests I knew I could never completely fulfill.

Wednesday, we dodged a bullet and I didn’t have to chase a disaster.

I take no pleasure in writing about people losing homes or being injured. I guess that’s because in 2005 I went through it myself. But it’s something I have a responsibility to do so people will know what happened.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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