Courageous heroes helped define 2022's wild weather
From first responders in the wake of a hurricane to animal shelter volunteers saving dogs in rising floodwaters, many heroes stepped up during a year of devastating natural disasters.
Natural disasters from coast to coast made headlines throughout 2022. Some of these included the deadliest hurricane Florida had experienced in nearly 90 years, catastrophic flooding that inundated entire towns, and historic blizzards. Through the strife, several heroes emerged, showcasing their courage and toughness to help those in need amid extreme, life-threatening weather.
The events have since been etched in the history books, but the stories of bravery live on. Here are AccuWeather's top weather heroes of 2022:
First responders make thousands of rescues after Hurricane Ian
Hurricane Ian was arguably the biggest weather story of the year with the monstrous Category 4 hurricane causing cataclysmic damage in Florida in late September. Countless first responders who endured a massive physical and emotional toll made thousands of rescues in the storm’s wake.
"Ian, you thought you could break us," volunteer firefighter Elio Gorrostieta Jr. told AccuWeather at the time. "We’re way stronger than you thought."
More than 2,500 rescues were made in the days and weeks after Ian by more than 1,000 government agency responders and volunteers. Gorrostieta, a Floridian who made his way to Ian’s hardest-hit locations, made one particularly daring save.
Volunteer firefighter Elio Gorrostieta Jr. was one of the countless volunteers that helped in the aftermath of the destructive Hurricane Ian.
"A 92-year-old woman had been stranded at her home,” he said. “We brought her down from upstairs, we were walking through the water, and [I] had water just up to my chest."
A crucial piece of Florida’s recovery from Ian was the determination shown by first responders in their life-saving missions. "The memories that were lost with the storm … we’ll rebuild," Gorrostieta said. "We’re Florida strong. There’s nothing going to hold that back."
Animal shelters save dogs from dangerous floodwaters
Historic flooding swept through the St. Louis metro area in July as the city was bombarded with a record-breaking 9.07 inches of rain in just one day. Over 12 inches of rain hit nearby St. Peters, where the Stray Paws Rescue animal shelter was located. The heavy rain deluged the shelter during the storm, with dozens of dogs caught up in the rising floodwaters in the early-morning hours.
While 10 puppies didn’t survive, responders from Central County Fire and Rescue were able to save the remaining dogs one by one, and the shelter took the dogs to local animal hospitals for monitoring after the incident. As word spread about the shelter’s dire situation and the heroic actions of responders and shelter employees, the response from the community kicked in. Hundreds of foster applications poured in for the displaced dogs, and more than $33,000 was raised for the shelter within a few days.
Some of the offices of Stray Paws Rescue were flooded when historic heavy downpours hit the St. Louis area early Tuesday, July 26, 2022. A total of 15 dogs were rescued, but 10 puppies died in the flooding. (Stray Paws Rescue)
Animal rescues were also made during the floods at The Humane Society of Missouri’s Best Buddy Center, where workers waded through high waters and rescued dozens of dogs that were being housed at the shelter.
"It was a mad dash to get the animals that were on the lower level," Humane Society Communication Director Laura Keller said. "They were all OK, we were able to get them all out and then cleaned up because the water was a little funky."
Buffalo residents step up during deadly blizzard
The city of Buffalo was pounded late in the year by record-setting snowfall, including a late-December blizzard that left dozens dead. Despite the traumatic storm, residents of the area sprung into action to help others, including those with the organization Buffalo Gives. Members of the organization worked for days to help those in need in the storm’s aftermath.
The organization called out for help to shovel snow for those trapped on Buffalo’s East Side, with the call answered by strangers that hit the streets with shovels. The mission, known as “Snowplow Mafia,” lasted two days, freeing residents that were snowed in, including elderly people that needed medical attention and babies with families unable to get vehicles out of their driveways.
The "Snowplow Mafia" mission helped free Buffalo residents who were trapped by snow in the middle of a deadly December blizzard.
“The Bills’ Mafia has rallied … to come and dig out the east side of Buffalo because we can’t sit by and do nothing,” Buffalo Gives founder Lydia Dominick told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell, referencing the nickname for Buffalo Bills fans.
Other members of the community performed heroics during the blizzard as well, including Buffalo resident Sha’Kyra Aughtry, who noticed 64-year-old Joe White calling for help in the frigid conditions. Aughtry's boyfriend carried the man into her home, and Aughtry used a blow dryer to melt ice off of White’s hands, she stated in a Facebook live broadcast.
After Aughtry pled for additional help for White, another good Samaritan was watching Aughtry's livestream and came to rescue White and bring him to the hospital. “I don’t care about nothing else,” Aughtry said, “This man is not about to die over here.” White is currently recovering in the ICU with fourth-degree frostbite, with his younger sister Yvonne White stating she is "hoping and praying for the best."
Meteorologist goes from broadcaster to family hero
NEWS4 Chief Meteorologist Doug Kammerer shifted back into parent mode in an instant on March 31 after the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the Washington, D.C. suburbs, where his house is located and his kids were home alone. While he was live on the air, Kammerer grabbed his cell phone to call home and alert his children of a tornado and violent storms headed right over his house.
After his son answered the call, Kammerer said, "You there, buddy? Hey man, want you to get down in the basement. We’ve got a tornado warning and you … need to get to the basement now."
Doug Kammerer, a TV meteorologist for NBC4 in Washington, D.C., made a phone call home to warn his family about an approaching tornado. (NBC4)
Kammerer stayed calm under the dual pressures of his job as a broadcaster and his job as a father, telling his son to wait out the storm downstairs.
"We have had tornado warnings before, but I was always able to text my wife or call them off-air," Kammerer told AccuWeather. "This was the first time I had to make the call live. My wife was not home, so my kids were home alone and I knew they would not be paying attention. Fortunately, we were all safe and no one was injured by this tornado."
Police perform heroic rescue on frozen New Jersey lake
Three people were rescued after they broke through the thin ice on Lake Musconetcong in New Jersey on Jan. 16.
Three individuals were in a perilous predicament on Jan. 16, in northern New Jersey, leading to a heroic rescue by police that was captured by dramatic bodycam footage. Police were called to Lake Musconetcong, which is located about one hour west of Newark, after a person fell through the lake’s ice and was wading in the frigid waters, weighed down by the heavy clothing he was wearing. The man had reportedly driven his motorbike onto the frozen lake.
The police rescue became complicated when two witnesses also fell through the ice, forcing officers from the Stanhope Borough Police Department to think quickly. Officers worked together, using a rope to pull one of the onlookers from the ice, followed by the onlooker helping officers locate the initial victim. During rescue efforts, the initial victim was able to pull himself out of the water onto the ice, waiting while officers helped the second onlooker out of the water.
Officers rescued the initial victim from the ice with a sled, and all three individuals were treated at the scene by EMS personnel. Only one was taken to the hospital.
“Everybody was so heroic,” onlooker Amy Grayson told WABC. “They went out, and they saved three lives and it was great.”
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