ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - One vital part of WALB News 10′s coverage of Hurricane Michael was our First Alert Weather Team.
One year later, they said their hurricane experiences were defining moments in their careers.
In the days leading up to Hurricane Michael’s landfall, the First Alert Weather Team knew Southwest Georgia was in for a massive weather event.
“It was coming through Southwest Georgia. The only thing we weren’t sure of about was how strong it was,” said Meteorologist Chris Zelman.
“The problem with the storm in itself, it was so massive and it was moving very fast,” said Chief Meteorologist Yolanda Amadeo.
Two days out, the First Alert Weather Team was sending out the warning while also preparing for coverage during the storm.
“We strategized what we were going to do to keep our viewers safe at home,” said Weathercaster Bradford Ambrose.
The weather team used every platform to pass along the National Hurricane Center’s forecast and warn what people had to do to protect themselves.
“When you see terms like ‘catastrophic damage,’ there will be loss of life,” Amadeo said. "Then you want to make sure people are aware of what to expect and that they are prepared.”
The weather team said most South Georgians heeded the warnings but there were still some that disagreed.
"We did get phone calls into the newsroom, day, two days prior to the storm, saying, ‘Why are you all using this language? This is just going to be just like Irma,’” Ambrose said.
Said Zelman: “I still think there was a minority who believed that it wasn’t going to be as bad as we had forecast.”
But the hurricane forecast was chillingly correct.
Michael hit the Florida Panhandle as a Category 5 storm and roared into South Georgia at least as a Category 3.
“We never got an accurate reading of the wind speeds in Albany," Zelman said. "And I don’t think we got accurate readings of wind speeds across most of Southwest Georgia.”
Amadeo, Ambrose and Zelman broadcast through most of the day and evening as Michael roared over the WALB News 10 studio. The winds slammed the roof tiles, creating a deafening roar and shook the lights as they all continued broadcasting while their own safety was in question.
″More debris was coming down. We also had a water leak toward the greenscreen. So, it was scary in here, because we didn’t know," said Ambrose.
“It was frightening in here," Amadeo said. “The shingles on the roof up and down, persistently. And you hear the wind outside. The rain was just really pounding away at the building. But we are here to make sure the viewers are safe.”
The weather team broadcast throughout that day, night and into the next morning before leaving the weather center for their first look at what Hurricane Michael had left behind.
″I have never seen anything like it," said Ambrose. ″Power poles snapped. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as I drove home."
Over the next few days, viewers who met The First Alert Weather Team would thank them for their coverage, saying it saved lives.
“People would hug you,” Zelman said. "And that probably happened for you, too. So a lot of people were happy and grateful for our coverage and just preparing them for what was to come.”
“They were just grateful we gave them lead warning and that we kept them abreast of what was happening during the entirety of the storm moving across Southwest Georgia,” Amedeo said.
Hurricane Michael was a determining event for WALB News 10 and the First Alert Weather Team. It was just one event that points out why their training and expertise is vital to South Georgia.
The weather team said there were many lessons learned from Hurricane Michael. Lessons like staying informed with your local media, getting a NOAA weather radio and keeping it working, downloading the WALB News 10 Weather app, to have several sources of information and, finally, preparing your family emergency plan and supplies to be ready if needed.