• Lauren Donovan

Weathering any Storm

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

"It's simple, just say what you see," they told me.

At first read or listen, this suggestion seems straightforward. The more I think about this professional piece of advice, the more I find it similar to sentiments I'd heard from a basketball coach of mine:

"A free-throw is just that, a freebee. So you've got NO reason miss it." (<-- remember this)

Picture this: Light snow canvasses the roads, making conditions a bit sticky for drivers. Snowfall, but still these fluffy flakes are by no means a blizzard. The only bit of pressure I feel in a situation like this revolves around the live television aspect. I enjoy the honest nature of stories like this. I can be descriptive, creative and no two days are ever alike. There's a great deal of value to our viewers as it helps them plan their day.

Here's how my brain works when pulling together a weather "live shot":

  1. Identify location: Mention cross streets and geographical indications like "not far from the Merle Hay Mall".

  2. Enunciate clearly: Nothing frustrates me more to look back at my clips and hear a slurred word. Speeding through a hit just makes you look inexperienced and void of control.

  3. K-I-S-S (keep-it-simple-stupid): Give yourself three key points to mention and be done. While your producers care about you filling your time slot (for example you have 1 minute and 15 seconds on live TV before you "wrap"), I know they'd much rather have a clean show without excessive rambling.

After two dark Iowa winters that seemed to drag on until late April, I've had my fair share of challenges in the field. There's been days when the temperature drops 10 degrees below zero and where blowing snow forced the highways shut. Travel advisories are in place and drivers are forced to abandon their cars on the side of the road. The scene on the shoulder looks almost apocalyptic.

*That is when you realize, this is the fourth quarter and you've stepped up to the free throw line. You're down two points, with only a minute remaining on the clock. Unless you're Lebron James or in my case the news equivalent, odds are the stress can sneak in. Instead of sinking the shot, you lob a straight brick. That, is why you've got to remember the fundamentals (three points mentioned above). For those of you not about that hoop life, all I'm saying is: when the going gets tough, even the most basic moves are easier said than done.

Severe weather demands all your senses, focus and energy. This makes each shift very fulfilling. However, I will admit at times, just keeping up with Central Iowa's fickle forecast can be draining...

But then there's those days when you're left laughing with a mouthful of snow....

Below you'll find more examples of my storm coverage from my past two years at KCCI. This temperate climate-raised reporter has learned a lot about herself from these field experiences. Be it tornados, flash floods, straight line winds or blizzards -instead of failing at the free throw line, lately I've been at least going one for two.

Bevington - June 2018

You won't have to look closely to see the sheer terror filling my face. I never expected to be in this situation. Stranded at a truck stop in Bevington, a town of under 70 people, suddenly the skies turned green. We thought we were out of the path of severe weather path, but the storm made an unexpected shift...

Trees were ripped from their roots and I in retrospect, I should NOT have been standing this close to a glass window. Wind gusts here in Iowa can exceed 100 mph. While what we experienced was closer to 85 mph that day, the gusts were so powerful they knocked the photographer I was with off his feet! I'd always heard about the fight or flight response, but this was living it. There was a real jolt of adrenaline that lingered in the hours and even days that followed. It was distressing in the moment, but I am proud of our work and that it earned us an award from the Iowa Broadcaster's News Association.

Marshalltown, July 2018

It's been a year since a tornado tore through downtown Marshalltown. Miraculous the EF-3 claimed no lives, but it did destroy the cupola of the century-old Marshall County Courthouse. I made a point of coming on my day off so that I would be the one to be live, 365 days later...

Our team was the first to go live from Marshalltown. In October of 2019, the KCCI team received an Upper Midwest Emmy Nomination for our coverage.

Two other tornados had hit the southern cities of Bondurant and Pella. We were live on the air for two hours straight. The photographer, and I travelled into the chaos trying to get as close to the action as we could.

By the time our batteries eventually died we were blocks away. I remember running back to the car - dodging fallen bricks and water main breaks to get replacements. The scene looked like it was from the movie, War of the Worlds.

TIP FOR FELLOW REPORTERS: Assigned to a different story earlier in the day, I was wearing sandals. I did not know what to expect when I was rerouted up North and I didn't bother to change. By that evening my feet were cut up and bloody from loose shards of glass and debris that found their way in. My advice - always bring a pair of running shoes with you. I should have headed this warning much sooner.

Des Moines Metro, September 2019

Severe weather is highly visual. Well, in daylight that is. Here's a look at five different live shots in what is often referred to in morning news, as the "black hole".

Keeping viewers keyed in on Social:

Here are some tips that have helped me boost engagement and credibility in my extended coverage with our viewers:

Facebook Live

  • Pull back the curtain: show them what they won't see on TV

"We've got photographer John Houghton out there doing what he does best. Getting the shots, he loves it."

  • Say it like you would to your mom

"I'm bothering people on their nice morning."

  • Call out those commenting by name and converse:

"Rose, I haven't been out to Ankeny yet but we have live maps on our website. So if you want to take a look there..."

  • Engage with everyone around you

The reporter with their face stuck to their cellphone screen is never a good look. By talking to a random spectator you can get firsthand accounts and in some instances (like DeAnna in the video) an on camera interview.


TIP FOR FELLOW REPORTERS: Often times the hardest people to get on camera are the ones without the badge or the authority. With the exception of a few public officials, more often than not the best sound comes from the man or woman on the street! Working alongside your social team to post content like this creates a call to action for your followers and validates their importance. My advice is to use blocky letters in an easy to read font. I would also advice on making the illustration visually stimulating with a sense of urgency. We work on tight deadlines and there's often no time to waste!

In summary, the Midwest has taught me how important weather coverage is to ALL of our viewing demographic. From how they plan their outfit for the day to what route they decide to take home from work.

If you're a reporter I suggest getting to know your meteorologists well. Ask them for assistance on terminology. By having them break down forecasts like "dew point" in layman's terms you'll become a much more effective communicator in the long run. On a more serious note, an accurate report and a sense of urgency can truly save lives. I am so grateful to our team for what they've taught me.

Best wishes,


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