National Weather Service meteorologists reflect on April 27th
By Nick Austin, Meteorologist / Reporter - bio | email
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Days before the epic tornado outbreak a year ago, meteorologists at the National Weather Service knew they'd have to bring their A-game to prepare for an unusual event.
"The day before the event, that's when we really started hard wiring who was going to work this time period, who was going to work that time period," recalls Eric Holweg.
He's a meteorologist at the Morristown, Tennessee forecast office which is responsible for issuing weather warnings for a vast 40 county area.
"And then the day of the event, it just kind of flowed," says Holweg.
He went on to say 90% of the staff walked through the doors at some point last April 27. Most of them stayed throughout the heart of the outbreak, issuing tornado warnings at a rate of nearly four per hour.
In all, nearly 10 meteorologists tracked storms and issued warnings over an 18-hour period. Staying alert was critical and Holweg says the group adopted workman-like attitudes.
"We see it's coming. We stay focused on it to make sure the timing of it is nailed," explains Holweg. "And then when it actually happens, we just roll up our sleeves and get the job done."
One of the biggest challenges, he says, was keeping the accurate communication flowing during a situation that big not only within the office, but to the outside.
Social media has added another layer to the information onion.
"Now you have to communicate it to the right person at the right time, so that they can take action with it," says Holweg.
All went well and the group did its best to live up to its motto: 'Protecting lives and property'.
But once it all ended at one o'clock the next morning, Holweg admitted the entire experience was a wake-up call, even for meteorologists.
"I personally pay more attention and I force my family to pay more attention to the warnings," says Holweg.
For several days after the outbreak, members of the team gathered data and surveyed damage. The Morristown office's 40 counties include southwest Virginia, east Tennessee and southwest North Carolina.
Almost 70 tornado warnings were issued throughout the event.
Other offices serving the Channel 3 viewing area include Peachtree City for north Georgia, Huntsville for northern Alabama, and Nashville for the northern Cumberland Plateau.