Tampa Fox station briefly knocked off air by lightning strike, while local TV leveraged social media to cover severe storms
As local TV stations were managing a deluge of photos, videos and reports from viewers on the storms which raked the Tampa Bay area this morning, Fox station WTVT-Ch. 13 was dealing with a more direct impact.
Deep into its continuous coverage, WTVT was knocked off the air for up to 7 minutes by a lightning strike at its Kennedy Avenue studios, which forced workers to reboot some computer gear and interrupted reports on a severe weather system moving across the bay.
Viewers saw the station’s picture vanish for minutes, then return and freeze intermittently before returning to normal. WTVT announced the problem to its audience via Twitter, noting at 11:45 a.m. "Lights are back on at FOX 13, feeds are up, and SkyTower still standing. Riverview & Brandon, take cover." See WTVT's own report on the outage by clicking here, including footage of the set when the lights went out, courtesy of Florida News Center website.
In fact, Twitter and Facebook became an invaluable reporting tool for local TV stations as most every outlet offered large chunks of weather coverage from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, dropping regular morning broadcasts as high winds and thunderstorms raked through the middle of the region. (several broadcasters stopped coverage briefly for network or syndicated shows at 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.) As the storms got worse around 11 a.m., every broadcaster went into continuous coverage mode.
Local cable newschannel Bay News 9 dropped commercials at 6:15 a.m. and offered weather coverage continuously, bringing back commercials at 2 p.m. while staying focused on weather. One forecaster there even suggested dropping out of continuous coverage around 1 p.m., wary of "overhyping" the storms, though he was overruled.
(At left, a viewer-submitted photo of the Oar House Bar from the website of WFTS-Ch. 28)
Social media provided connections with viewers sending in photos, video and information. Many local TV stations reported pageview totals close to 1-million for Thursday; Bay News 9 reported 9 million. WTVT took in 400 pictures submitted by viewers, while Bay News 9 had to drop some advertisements from its website to accommodate the extra traffic.
"It's the first time we've had social media with such an extreme weather event," said Doug Culver, news director at Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS. "We've been inundated with video and information. But I think we've served our viewers a lot better."
Bay News 9 featured a telephone interview with a woman who was stuck in a grounded plane at Tampa International Airport; she had been posting messages on Facebook -- including my profile page -- about her predicament. Other stations featured photos of jackknifed trucks and footage of wind damage and weather effects emailed and sent in by viewers.
At CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, executive producer Melissa Rancourt said she prepared up to 40 pictures from viewers for for broadcast. "Outside of our meteorologists, much of our coverage came through pictures from viewers," she said. "Our meteorologists asked people to send in photos and they responded; they can be in so many more places than our crews."
The only downside for local stations: dropping commercials and syndicated shows at the end the month, with no days left to offer “make up” slots, will cost money. “We took a significant financial blow today,” said Rich Pegram, general manager WFTS. “But when there’s tornado warnings and wind shear up to 100 mph, you go on the air.”
But despite the weather emergency, some programming was missed, as WTVT blew out an episode of Live with Regis and Kelly before viewers could see guest co-host and Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba get a proposal from her boyfriend.
And WTVT reporter Tanya Arja, stuck at Tampa International Airport while leaving for vacation, was pressed into back into service, calling in information.
Look below for the Regis and Kelly clip you might have missed if you were watching WTVT today.