Jim Cantore was hit by a branch on TV during Hurricane Ian. Who gets hurt next? : NPR



Gusty winds blow across Sarasota Bay as Hurricane Ian heads south Wednesday in Sarasota, Florida.

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

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Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Gusty winds blow across Sarasota Bay as Hurricane Ian heads south Wednesday in Sarasota, Florida.

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

When I saw a tree branch fly in Intrepid The Weather Channel presenter Jim Cantore as he struggled to withstand the intense winds reported amidst the storm as Hurricane Ian made landfall on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but d to have a fleeting and terrible thought:

Maybe now they’ll stop doing that.

As a lifelong resident of Florida, this is a sight I was forced to endure for many years, as I scoured television news reports for information about my home during a hurricane: reporters standing in high winds and driving rain, shouting out their observations of the experience of being inside a deadly storm to an audience of millions.

Cantore seemed to be among the most daring correspondents I’ve seen delivering this kind of reporting on Wednesday, which included experienced and accomplished reporters like Bill Weir on CNN, Kerry Sanders on NBC and Steve Harrigan on Fox News Channel.

Reporting for The Weather Channel, Cantore is a storm chasing legend and he did not disappoint when reporting on Ian, clinging to a road sign as the wind blew a stop sign back. He shrugged off the danger once he regained his footing, heading to a safer location to continue his reporting.


I understand why this happens. Not only are these powerful visuals, but they help break the monotony of watching a slow-moving storm wreak the same kind of damage on communities across Florida’s Gulf Coast. Hurricane coverage can take on a dreadful pace; the meteorologist provides insight into the storm’s progress, local officials talk about efforts to protect their communities, reporters on site watch the wind and rain and document the destruction.

And you hear the same warnings: don’t walk or drive in flooded areas. Don’t expect emergency services to respond until the storm passes and the winds calm down. A more recent slogan, which I have heard repeated by several meteorologists and news anchors as a mantra: “Hide from the winds, run away from the water.

Watching a person stand in the middle of the maelstrom adds drama to an unfortunately predictable situation. And, as one of my more unconventional social media followers noted, it can be a bit like watching a NASCAR race, where you fear and are drawn to the possibility of something terrible happening in real time.

We do need reporters on site to see how a storm like Ian dismantles communities in Florida. But do these journalists really need to risk their lives standing in the rain and gusty winds? Watching Shepard Smith’s CNBC show for a bit, I saw him reporting on Ian while talking to a longtime Florida meteorologist – now retired – and residents of the affected areas who were at the interior. I didn’t feel like I was missing much.

Anderson Cooper’s CNN show featured a report from a Florida station reporter noting that he was able to stand up in the elements because he was next to a solid fire station. Still, it’s hard to send a message that people in affected areas should retreat to their homes, when television channels are filled with images of journalists in the storm, highlighting stark weather moments.

I was not in the hurricane when this happened; I had traveled to Atlanta from my home in St. Petersburg after a mandatory evacuation was declared, fearing I would be caught in a flood with my 13-year-old dog. Television reporting was therefore a lifeline for friends, family and my neighborhood; I really didn’t want to see anyone get seriously injured in a place where I like to do something no one should do in a hurricane.

It’s an old debate and the television news industry already seems to have decided. Cantore tripping over a tree branch will not suffice; until a journalist is seriously injured doing this kind of reporting, it will continue. And I always wish they were more careful.

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