Meteorologists continue live broadcast as flooding turns studio into 'lake'
As severe weather rolled through the viewing area, two local meteorologists kept rolling to deliver critical forecast information even as water levels nearly reached a level that would have caused “real trouble.”
In the early-morning hours of Monday, WCIA in Champaign, Illinois, flooded when 3 inches of rain fell in an hour. Its meteorologists kept broadcasting life-saving information as the waters rose.
Two broadcast meteorologists in central Illinois found themselves ankle-deep in water early Monday morning, Sept. 19, 2022, as their studio flooded during their coverage of the local severe weather.
Chief Meteorologist Kevin Lighty and Meteorologist Jacob Dickey of the local channel WCIA 3 continued their coverage of heavy thunderstorms rolling through parts of Illinois that day even as water poured into the studio.
"There's literally a lake -- there's a lake that's in the studio right now because of all of the heavy rainfall here that came in," Lighty said while on air, the camera switching to an overhead view of the studio. Water was pooled across the floor, threatening to damage the equipment. The newsroom and control room also saw flooding.
"I can't believe that we're still able to do what we're doing here right now," he continued. "Our online stream is messed up, but we're still on TV here with you guys."
At one point as cameras kept rolling, Lighty can be seen nearly slipping as he trudged through the water in the studio.
Lighty said that if the water had risen one more inch, it would have caused "real trouble," reaching the equipment and shut down the broadcast.
The storms unleashed roughly 1.75 to 2.25 inches of rainfall across Champaign, Illinois, within 60 to 90 minutes, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Mary Gilbert. She added some locations had even recorded up to 3 inches of rain within the same span of time.
"Rainfall rates were close to 1-2 inches an hour, which is enough to cause flash flooding even in areas that can accommodate heavier rainfall," Gilbert said. "As the thunderstorms rolled through, wind gusts of 30-45 mph were recorded at Champaign’s Willard Airport."
In a tweet, Lighty said that some 4 inches of water had flooded the studio, and in a second tweet he showed how the water line that stained the green screen measured up to a foot.
The WCIA 3 broadcast studio flooded the morning of Sept. 19, 2022, as powerful thunderstorms delivered heavy rainfall. (Twitter/@KevinLighty/WCIA)
"Now some of that may be exaggerated from some walking through and kicking up the water but still it was a bad scene last night in the studio," he wrote, including photos of him holding a ruler to the water line.
In a typical thunderstorm, Lightly said the studio's location might get a half inch of rain, or even an inch if the storm was "a good one." On Monday, however, he estimated they received triple that amount and the excessive rain poured down over a short time frame. The studio is located in a low-lying area which allows water to flow easily into the vicinity, he explained.
The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the majority of central Illinois, including Champaign, Sunday night, which was set to expire around 4 a.m., local time. The severe weather churned up a small tornado, produced damaging winds and delivered tennis ball-sized hail in some locations in central Illinois, which WCIA 3 had been covering at the time of the incident.
"We just had very potential life-impacting storms with tornadoes and hail and high winds that were just to the west associated with the same storm system that was on top of us at the time, so we had a job we had to do," Lighty said. "That's what we do -- we pass along information to as many people as we can and this information was still important."
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