For many of us, a hurricane can be like a sandblast for the soul.
Storms scrape away the enamel of everyday concerns — the morning rush, who left that ancient salad in the office fridge and the lack of decent parking spots at Walmart.
We’re suddenly suffused with a sense of the greater good — a need to not just survive in terrifying times but to lend a hand to our fellow beings.
That would explain the surplus of unlikely heroes emerging in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. There’s Texas cabbie William Bruso, who found a hawk waiting for him in his taxi and decided to give the bird much-needed shelter from Harvey’s devastation.
There’s Alan Sealls, a meteorological mainstay at WKRG in Alabama, who has been dubbed America’s favorite weatherman. Why? Because he offers a calm and thoughtful voice in the storm.
But if calm and reassuring are the hallmarks of these heroes, how do we rate the exploits of people who fling themselves at disasters — in high-flying fashion — just to bring that sense of chaos to your living room?
We’re talking about extreme-weather reporters.
Whenever a major storm blows through, public officials urge people to stay indoors. Yet there's always a reporter demonstrating on live TV how just how dangerous things are outside.
Some reporters, like Ted Scouten from CBS Miami, wisely take special precautions in the storm — like staying close to a building’s front door and using vehicles to deflect potential flying objects.
“I do not want to be that guy that dies from covering the storm,” Scouten noted.
But then there’s Juston Drake, the storm-chasing meteorologist, recently lauded for his bravery after stepping into 117-mph, Irma-inspired winds in southern Florida.
The video of Drake being bullied to the ground by winds too strong to be measured went viral for obvious reasons. It’s incredibly dramatic. But how does seeing a full-grown man in a paintball mask getting rag-dolled by Irma set our minds at ease?
Of course, there’s another side to this swirling debate: Journalists have a duty to cover a big story, and sometimes, that story involves a hostile subject like a hurricane.
Reporters like Drake specialize in the fully immersive experience — something a satellite map can’t offer.
But what service does a stalwart storm-chaser perform in times of chaos? It’s hard not to wonder if at least some younger viewers see a kind of amusement park thrill to riding the winds.
they always say how dangerous it is to be out with all the flying debris, yet there they are lol— Chuck (@SUKnives) September 10, 2017
Grown-ups, on the hand, tend to feel more anxious when they see humans taunting nature.
“Who gave these storm reporters the idea that we need to see them standing in the storm? I believe you. Go inside,” Shawn Bonfine, a science teacher from Ohio, tweeted.
“Don't get me wrong, the work you do is incredibly helpful,” another chimed in on Twitter, “But this is just begging for tragedy to happen.”
Those buffeting winds may be frightfully real — and certainly, extreme-weather reporters capture that menace like no one else.
But it’s hard to imagine someone like Sealls at WKRG needing to be blown across the street to make a point.
No, he stands in front of a giant map, safely inside a TV studio. And he gives us a sense of the hurricane’s scope along with the hows and whys and what-to-dos that help us all keep calm. And hero on.