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Winter and Disaster Prep

Sam Champion Gives an Eyewitness View on Preparing for Winter

Photo: Courtesy of Sam Champion

In this interview, former “Good Morning America” meteorologist Sam Champion talks winter storm records and emergency preparation for homeowners.

Could you give us an overview of one of the worst winter storms you have covered?

Chicago’s blizzard of February 2011, also named “Snowpocalypse” or “Snowmageddon,” is a winter storm I will never forget. The National Weather Service places the official snow total at 21.2 inches. That’s a crazy amount of snow in a short time and this one came in fast with 70 mph wind gusts. Hundreds of cars and motorists were trapped on Lake Shore Drive, many forced to stay in their cars for more than 12 hours in whiteout conditions and high winds. Warnings were issued earlier in the day, so many people tried to leave work early to beat the blizzard, but ended up stranded as snow piled up over their cars. The pictures are staggering. As I stood on an overpass looking at the cars, blocked by 4-6-foot drifts on the road, I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I slid down an embankment to get to the area, the snow drifts were up to my chin —  I am 6 feet tall! There are also stories of people stuck inside city buses as the storm raged around them. This was a bad storm that came at the very worst time and was even carrying its own thunder and lightning. As a side note, the brutal cold that followed the blizzard, seemed colder to me than my many trips to the arctic zone.

What is something that many homeowners forget to do while anticipating a winter storm?

We are all pretty good at getting geared up for storms these days. I like ready.gov/winter-weather for good winter tips, plus 24-hour news coverage gives us plenty of time and all the tips and pointers we need. Everyone can run to the store and clear those shelves. Our families can happily binge-watch a favorite show as the storm blows by (as long as the power stays on). But putting a storm kit in your car is something I think many people overlook. It should be much like the things you stockpile in the house, but smaller. Please include water, food bars and snacks, flashlights and batteries, extra phone batteries, blankets and warm clothes (don’t forget the gloves and hats), a small bag of sand or road salt, and maybe even a shovel with some tire chains. Place all this in a duffle bag in the trunk and you are ready for our next winter storm.

Aside from the normal procedure, what is a piece of advice you can give homeowners when “winterizing” their homes?

There are great articles and videos for “winterizing” your home. Do your family a favor by following that advice every season. [Also,] the power goes out in so many winter storms, it’s important to be ready to “live in the dark” for hours, if not days. Today, we have great options to make electronic survival easier. Buy a few of the LED battery-operated lights and light strips you see in those ads and commercials. Buy extra batteries for them. They are bright and easy to use. Here at home we have about a dozen portable power banks. They are always charged and ready to use whether it’s for a cell phone or tablet. They are also really great to travel with. If your family is in the position to professionally install a generator in your home, I promise you will cheer every time you hear the whirring sound it makes just before the lights come back on. 

What inspired you to choose meteorology as your career?

I originally wanted to be a foreign correspondent, because I grew up in the days of stellar network journalism. The image of the trench coat-wearing journalist in front of the Eiffel Tower was magic to me. But my first job in television, which included everything from writing, producing and reporting to sweeping the floor, involved using one of the first on-air graphics machines. Developing computer graphics to show the audience weather hooked me and never let go. To this day, I think of how any storm can best be explained with graphics.

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