The weather is beautiful, wish I was there ... home in Houston.
Last week, I was "stuck" in paradise, in the beautiful rainforest of San Ignacio in western Belize. I sat in my hotel room, glued to CNN International and The Weather Channel as Hurricane Harvey barreled toward Corpus Christi and Rockport, taking dead aim on Houston.
In this most natural setting in Central America, naturally I was worried about my people, pets, friends, my house in Houston.
I didn't come to Belize to escape the torrential rain and flooding at home. I planned this trip months ago, and Harvey wasn't threatening Houston when I arrived in Belize. But now I was tuned to TV, and some of the hurricane tracks looked like Google Earth photos of my street.
I'm used to television scaring viewers half to death. I've led the brigade mocking local TV reporters for making "severe weather" out of a drizzle. I swear, I once had a weatherman confess that his news director instructed him to overhype the danger of a storm. He said he had to apologize and calm down frightened viewers calling for instructions what to do. We all remember watching reporters practically being blown away like the Wizard of Oz, while someone in the background was reading a newspaper on a park bench.
This time I believed the TV weatherman. I also read that hundreds of flights in and out of Houston were being canceled. This could last several days, a week. I needed to get home. Southwest had a direct flight from Belize to Hobby Airport scheduled for Saturday afternoon, right in the middle of all hell breaking loose. I called Southwest, what are the chances that plane is making it out? They said it was on.
I checked out of my hotel and drove two hours to Belize City. Philip S. W. Goldson Airport is one building with a couple of souvenir shops and a snack bar. Only two people were in front of me at the Southwest counter. We looked at each other, shrugging shoulders like "we're hoping."
The plane took off on the dot on schedule. It was maybe 1/4-full. I had a whole row to myself. I could have had 10 bags of peanuts if I wished. When was the last time you were on a Southwest flight like that?
I was pretty surprised to hear this from the pilot welcoming us onboard: "If you're concerned about the weather in Houston, it's not quite as bad as the media outlets are saying. So sit back and enjoy some good old Southwest hospitality." When we landed — on time— and it wasn't raining, a flight attendant announced, "It doesn't look too bad out there. The people on TV make everything look huge, they do."
Hey, that's my job. I was expecting lightning, and this flight attendant was stealing my thunder.
Hobby Airport looked like a ghost town. I didn't have to sprint to customs like I normally do. An off-site parking van was waiting outside and I hopped on. I was the only passenger. It wasn't raining, but the roads were empty and it felt spooky. Made it home in 30 minutes, no jam at the I-45 and 610 split, including a drive-through stop.
That's when the sky opened. My street normally floods — welcome to West U — but not like this. Water was coming over the curb. The fence on the side of my house crashed to the ground. I turned on the TV and settled in for an evening that turned into an all-nighter, then another day of marathon storm coverage.
Memo to self: cancel my satellite TV provider. Whenever the rain came down hard, my TV went blank. It was maddening. I understand how satellite TV works, but you’d think these companies would have a relay system from an unaffected area – or something. TV is a public service. When a weather emergency hits, like now in Houston, satellite TV dropped its signal and the ball. Worthless. Rabbit ears are more dependable in crunch time than satellite TV.
When my TV was working, I bounced around the remote, watching all the local stations cover this hurricane or tropical storm or whatever is causing the worst flooding in Houston’s history. And we’ve had our share of disaster flooding.
Now here’s where I’d like to describe the silly shenanigans and irresponsible antics of reporters trying to one-up each other for stupidity. Remember when one reporter, demonstrating the lethal winds of a storm, showed a paper cup blowing across a street?
But not this time. I watched them all, and to a station, our news teams handled storm coverage with sensitivity, public service and journalism. There was no grandstanding, no fake news. How I hate that expression. I watched reporters literally drop their microphones to help victims out of danger to safety. They handled sad stories with dignity.
The big one
I didn’t see one weather forecaster exaggerating the danger of Harvey. Not that they had to. This was the big one. I used to suspect that TV weather forecasters hoped for a hurricane. This time, instead of predicting the end of the world, they explained what was happening, and what could lie ahead, with science. In the past, when things got close to the knuckle, I’d turn off our local stations and tune to CNN or the networks for serious coverage. Not this time. In fact, our stations had so many reporters on the street, they made CNN look like patchwork TV. This is Houston, we’ll handle it.
Poor Channel 11 was knocked off the air for several hours when its building along Allen Parkway was flooded. The station returned to broadcasting through a link with a Dallas station, with plans to use Channel 8's facilities at the University of Houston.
Our elected officials stepped up, too. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is always good at this, and as usual he was a calm, efficient, comforting leader. He takes his job seriously. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was cool under pressure, too.
This storm is as bad as it’s ever gotten, the darkest clouds above, but this is when Houston shines the brightest.
Let’s hope that TV news has joined us for good.