Station Staffers Getting Back to Normal as Idalia Heads to Sea

 Hurricane Idalia
Hurricane Idalia

As Tropical Storm Idalia heads out to sea on Thursday, August 31, it has left behind considerable damage. But those who study the weather in the affected regions said things could’ve been much worse.

Speaking from his home in the Jacksonville market, Richard Nunn, WJXT chief meteorologist, said Hurricane Idalia knocked down tree limbs, left a bunch of debris on yards and roads, and caused some flooding. But residents were mostly relieved the storm did not pack a bigger wallop.

“What could’ve been a really bad day was just a hectic day,” Nunn said.

The Category 3 hurricane hit Florida Wednesday morning, August 30, pounding the state’s Big Bend region between the panhandle and the peninsula. CNN called Idalia the strongest hurricane to hit the Big Bend region in more than 125 years.

Thankfully, the region is not densely populated. One hard-hit town, Perry, located southeast of Tallahassee, has just 7,000 residents.

The storm then barreled between Tallahassee and Jacksonville. Nunn, named chief meteorologist this year, spent 32½ hours at WJXT, catching a nap in an empty office. He noted how most everyone at the station found a way to help, whether it was the business manager handling dinner orders for staffers or the lifestyle show host pitching in with weather stories.

“Everybody turns into a weather person,” he said. “Everybody just chips in.”

Wind gusts maxed out around 66 miles per hour, he said, and 4½ inches of rain fell across about a dozen hours. (The Washington Post reported 9.4 inches in Clearwater Beach, Florida, and over 11.5 inches in Mullins, North Carolina.)

There are substantial power outages in the Jacksonville region, but it could’ve been much worse.

“Mother Nature came through and gave the trees a shaking,” said Nunn, who described things as “best-case scenario.”

Idalia headed into southeastern Georgia, and was downgraded to a tropical storm as it arrived in South Carolina Wednesday evening. WCIV Charleston reported on a pregnant woman driving in the area when a massive wind lifted her car off the ground. (She was uninjured.) The National Weather Service noted a small tornado striking the area at that time.

Mark Mendenhall, VP and general manager of WECT Wilmington, spoke of a “standard gloomy morning” Thursday in southeastern North Carolina — some wind, a bit of rain, not much else.

“This one spared us,” he said.

The station did not need to go wall-to-wall with storm coverage, instead providing regular weather updates.

“It fell right in line with what we were expecting,” Mendenhall said.

As the storm heads out to sea, more than 130,000 are without power in Florida, according to The Washington Post, with close to 100,000 more in Georgia and 30,000 in the Carolinas. But many are nonetheless breathing a sigh of relief.

Said Nunn, “I woke up this morning in bed with a big smile.”