Monday, January 11, 2016

20 Years Later

It's the 20th anniversary of one of the strangest weather weeks in our area's history-- a blizzard followed by massive flooding.

I was working down the street at the time, and here's what I remember.

Police wanted you off the streets during the blizzard, but I had to get to work.  Interstate 81 was off limits, so I had to drive through Dunmore to get to my office in downtown Scranton.  If memory serves, I had a Pontiac back then.  It wasn't the greatest car in the snow, but it got me there.  I remember encountering a police officer at Dunmore Corners, expecting a ticket or a lecture or something.  I passed through the intersection unquestioned.

Strangely, I don't remember much about our snow coverage that day.  Was I anchoring and in a nice, warm building?  Honestly, I can't recall.  Whatever I did, it was unremarkable.

The bizarre things started piling up in the next few days.  Temperatures skyrocketed upward.  The snow went down.  The rivers went up.  And up.  And up.

As it was hitting the fan, photographer Jim Keenan and I wound up on top of a mountain in Eaton Township, near Tunkhannock.  Mud was rolling off the mountain,  inundating homes.  I had never seen anything like it.  We got a really good story, and just as we were wrapping up, tons of dirt, snow, ice and mud came sliding off the mountain.  We got more video and high-tailed it out of there.It truly was a frightening moment.

Jimmy and I put together out story back at the office in Scranton.  In the meantime, the Susquehanna River was rising.  People were being forced from their homes.  We had a lot going on.  One of my co-workers, Jen Watson, noticed something was bugging me.  My story wasn't getting the attention it deserved.  Jen went to management and suggested I do a live shot from somewhere.  It was a last minute addition.  At the time, we were doing our weather from the roof of the Oppenheim building, so I was live up there to introduce and close my piece.

As I was leaving, the news director cornered me. He wanted some presence the next day, a Saturday.  The plan was for quickie updates on the hour and half hour, beginning at 6:00 AM.  I said "sure" and went home.

Let me back up a bit.  This news director had just changed some assignments and many staffers were angry.  Several had reasons why they couldn't come in on a Saturday.  I'm sure some were legitimate and some were manufactured.  My schedule and responsibilities weren't being touched.  I liked my boss, so I wound up in the anchor chair the next morning.

Things were going OK.  I was anchoring from our set in the newsroom.  Just before the 9:30 AM hit, the boss said "keep going as long as you can."  The 9:30 AM update, which was supposed to last a few minutes, went on for more than two and a half hours.

Needless to say, I didn't do it alone.  First of all, we had a really good production staff.  We had meteorologist Barry Finn and reporter Melissa Becker Sgroi in West Pittston.  David DeCosmo, who knows as much about the Susquehanna River as anyone, was in Wilkes-Barre.  Weather anchor Derry Bird was with me in the studio.  I'm sure there were a few others, but hey, it's been 20 years.

You can't have a good anchor without a good producer.  In this case, it was Eileen Kennedy.  She kept the balls in the air, telling me where to go next, whispering the latest information in my ear.

We wrapped it up after the river crested, the level started going down, and the evacuation order was lifted.

Regular readers know my veins are filled with diet soda, and so was my bladder, after two and half  hours on the air without a break.  My first stop after signing off was the rest room.  I sprinted down the long hall way and up the steps to the second floor.  Pardon my bluntness, but my bladder was at its limit.

The bottom line on the day is we were undermanned and underplanned, but we got some good information on the air without hype and hysterics.  I hesitate to use the word "fun" to describe the day because so many were experiencing misery.  Let's say it was a huge challenge, and I'm glad the team got it done.