1. Hurricane

How a Florida newsroom prepares for hurricane season

The Tampa Bay Times has learned a few lessons over the years.
A look inside one of the Tampa Bay Times’ hurricane kits.  (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
A look inside one of the Tampa Bay Times’ hurricane kits. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Published Jun. 13, 2019

When it comes to hurricane preparation, the Tampa Bay Times is always in motion.

Our job is to keep you in the know.

That means we train and equip a team to cover storms. We secure reliable communication methods. And we even have hotel rooms on hold to make mobile newsrooms around the Tampa Bay area.

“We try to at least mentally prepare everyone on staff to get ready for hurricane season,” said Boyzell Hosey, our deputy editor for photography.

Strategically, we have “first responders,” reporters and photographers ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

Hurricane Guide: Prepare yourself now. We have lots of advice.

Special report: In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a family looks to rebuild in a ruined town

This year we’re relying on staff writers Zachary T. Sampson, Josh Solomon and Kathryn Varn. And staff photographers Douglas R. Clifford and Luis Santana.

These staffers know the drill: You can’t wear cotton in a storm. It’s all dry-wick workout gear. Don’t take anything that you’d hate to throw away afterward. You need a rain jacket, rain pants and rubber boots. Bring your medicine, spare glasses, a pillow, anything you might need in an emergency. Most likely, you’ll be living out of an SUV for two to three days.

What do we take on the road?

Lots and lots of water. Food that won’t go bad or expire. Government-approved gas cans. Wipes, because in a hurricane, you won’t be showering. Lots of plastic.

“Everything gets wet in a storm,” said Jamal Thalji, our hurricane editor. “Just opening your SUV becomes an ordeal. Ziploc bags can keep your notebooks and electronics dry. Hefty bags can cover up your suitcase, or cover up a busted car window.”

The Times assembles hurricane kits that are sturdy 24-gallon plastic bins packed with supplies.

“We stock stuff like tow straps, in case the team needs to pull someone out of a ditch, or they need to be pulled out of a ditch,” Thalji said. Also an AM/FM National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio; waterproof flashlights; headlamps; a back-up fuse kit; a tire plug kit; duct tape; microfiber towels; an LED lantern and portable, battery-powered fan; batteries; a first-aid kit; hydrogen peroxide; and aloe vera (think fire ants).

Communication is the big hurdle in hurricane conditions, but especially for reporters and photographers trying to transmit stories and videos.

“Relying on cellular service and WiFi has left us more vulnerable to losing communications now than 10 years ago,” Thalji said.

During Hurricane Michael last year, our reporters and photographers had to drive hours from the storm site just to send video. Occasionally, a nearby bridge would provide a few bars of cellular service.

We have used satellite phones, but they’re cost prohibitive and we often had trouble getting them to work. This year, we’re trying to sign on to a robust cellular network being set up for first and second responders in disaster situations.

“By getting on that network,” Hosey said, “we should be able to more effectively communicate and transmit data during an emergency situation.”

On top of all that, we worry about the security of our offices.

Two years ago, Hurricane Irma forced us to evacuate our downtown St. Pete newsroom and our downtown Tampa newsroom.

In St. Pete, we quickly set up a mobile newsroom at our printing plant on 34th Street. More than 30 people worked, ate and slept there, covering the storm 24/7 on and putting out the daily newspaper.

In Tampa, our office is near Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River, an area that gets shut down pretty fast in storm conditions.

So months in advance, we reserve hotel rooms. People who can work from home will, but during Irma, we had several staffers in those hotel rooms.

This year, we have rooms on hold in Carrollwood and Brandon. Knock on wood that we won’t need them.

“For a while, hurricane season just seemed to come and go,” Thalji said. “We’d drill and, thank goodness, nothing happened. I miss the days when I’d buy my hurricane supplies and not have to use them.”


  1. Sea rise is pushing inland and amplifying the threats from hurricanes, wiping out one of the rarest forests on the planet in the Florida Keys. [MATIAS J. OCNER  |]
  2. Flooding from an October king tide in Miami Shores fills streets, sidewalks and driveways at its peak. [Miami Herald]
  3. From left, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos speak at a summit held by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council's Resiliency Coalition on Tuesday at the Hilton Carillon Park in St. Petersburg. [LANGSTON TAYLOR]
  4. The Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) aboard NOAA's GOES East captured this view of Hurricane Dorian overnight on Sept. 4, 2019. The GLM continually looks for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, both on land and nearby ocean regions and can detect all three major lightning types: in-cloud, cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning. Alongside radar and other weather satellite data, lightning information helps forecasters understand when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous. [NOAA]
  5. Ridge Road in Pasco County currently ends at Moon Lake Road. The county wants to extend it 8 miles to link to the Suncoast Parkway and then to U.S. 41 in Land O' Lakes. [Tampa Bay Times]
  6. Denis Phillips, chief meteorologist for ABC Action news (WFTS-Ch. 28 ), center, serves cookies to Griffin Frank, of Tampa, right, while hosting a fundraiser for the Children's Miracle Network with hot chocolate, popcorn, Doubletree Chocolate Chip cookies and even a few homemade Rule #7 Wine glasses, on Saturday, December 14, 2019, at his home in Palm Harbor. At left is Denis' wife, Robyn Phillips, and at right is his son, Josh Phillips, 16. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
  7. Hurricane Dorian left homes in ruin in the Bahamas. [FERNANDO LLANO  |  AP]
  8. The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm moving toward the northeast out to sea. [National Hurricane Center]
  9. Tropical storm Sebastien has developed in the Atlantic and now has an 80 percent chance of turning into a tropical cyclone. [National Hurricane Center] [National Hurricane Center]
  10. Forecasters with the National Weather Service estimate that the system has a 50-percent chance of developing into a tropical or sub-tropical depression during the next 48 hours. [National Weather Service]
  11. Mos Antenor, 42, drives a bulldozer while clearing the road after Hurricane Dorian Mclean's Town, Grand Bahama, Bahamas on Sept. 13. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) [RAMON ESPINOSA  |  AP]
  12. The projected path of Tropical Storm Olga [National Hurricane Center]