Stories from the field: AccuWeather reporters reflect on 2022 coverage
They listened to and reported on the victories and woes of people across the nation, and now they're reflecting on what stuck with them over the past year.
From the 24-hour January traffic jam on Interstate 95 in Virginia to the bitter cold delivered by a massive late-December winter storm, AccuWeather national weather reporters and storm chasers traveled across the nation to speak with experts and elevate the experiences of survivors and advocates.
Now they're looking back on the events, stories and voices that inspired them throughout 2022.
Disaster recovery resilience
A year after a tornado struck the Chicago suburb of Naperville in June of 2021, AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor reconnected with a family that had been fighting to fully recover following the twister.
"There are so many people I've been inspired by this year, including Beth Nuesser," Victor said. "I met Beth more than a year ago when her house was damaged by an EF3 tornado in the Chicago suburbs. She was having trouble getting her insurance company to pay for the damage, so she ended up paying out of pocket to get her roof fixed."
After the tornado had struck the area on June 20, Nuesser reported the roof damage to her insurance company and called their roofer to assess the property. They found the roof was a total loss, and it would cost $17,000 to replace. However, when the insurance company did an assessment, it told the Nuessers that there had only been $800 worth of damage, which didn't reach the deductible.
Six months after the tornado, the city held an open house for residents to discuss the ongoing repairs. it was here where the Nuessers found several others who were experiencing the same issue.
"That was really eye-opening for me because I had no idea how many homeowners within the subdivision and the multiple subdivisions surrounding us were really still not receiving any help from insurance companies," Nuesser told Victor.
"After our story aired, she was able to get all of her money back," Victor said. "I was inspired by Beth's resilience and willingness to share her story."
The increasing stress on water supply
The bitter irony of numerous extreme precipitation events that overwhelmed entire towns with damaging floodwaters while over three-quarters of the country experienced abnormally dry or drought conditions was one note of 2022 that stood out to AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell.
By Dec. 20, over 73% of the contiguous U.S. was abnormally dry or in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. While not ideal, the percentage is down from the 85% that it had held during the week of Nov. 1 -- the largest swath of the U.S. to be affected since the launch of Drought Monitor in 2000.
"I've seen a lot of wild weather on the road this year, but one thing that really sticks out to me is the power and the importance of water," Wadell said. "Storms that can cause devastating flash floods, but rain and snowpack are critical to our drinking water supply. We've seen reservoirs running low in the west, and that's threatening hydropower generation."
Experts say the impacts of climate change are supercharging storms, leading to more intense rainfall opportunities and flooding.
In June, plummeting water levels at Lake Mead reached the historic low of 1,043.8 feet -- its lowest level since the lake was filled in the 1930s. The minimum elevation to generate power at Hoover Dam is at the 950 feet mark, at which point the reservoir would be considered an "inactive pool." At 895 feet, Lake Mead would become a "dead pool" as water levels dip below the dam's intake towers' lower gates.
Then in the fall, drought in the Midwest and High Plains drove water levels at the Mississippi River to historic low levels.
Yet even as these shores receded, yielding sunken vessels and human remains, at least five locations across the nation experienced next-to-impossible flooding events.
Dallas, Death Valley, St. Louis and locations in Eastern Kentucky and Southeastern Illinois all experienced a 1-in-1,000-year flood event between July and August. A 1-in-1,000-year event refers to a 0.1% chance of that level of flooding occurring in that area in any given year.
"We only have so much clean water to go around," Wadell said, "and with this trend of warmer summers and bigger droughts, it's important that we all do our part to conserve and protect our water supply in the new year in the coming years."
The importance of community support
On Sept. 28, residents of Fort Myers Beach faced Florida's deadliest hurricane since 1935 as Hurricane Ian made landfall over the state's southwestern shores. The area resembled "a war zone," survivors told AccuWeather reporters.
Drone footage showed the extent of the damage from obliterated buildings to shattered causeways as crews were hard-pressed to create temporary fixes ahead of more sustainable rebuilding efforts.
It was during this dire situation, however, that some of the brightest personalities shined through to raise morale.
"I meet so many amazing people through my coverage and travels with the AccuWeather Network workers, from international organizations like the Salvation Army to neighbors helping neighbors in communities, to people coming far and wide to help others during times of disaster," AccuWeather National Reporter Jillian Angeline said. "I met David Graham, nicknamed 'Cowboy' on San Carlos Island outside Fort Myers Beach in the wake of Hurricane Ian. He was holding signs, waving and cheering the first responders and search and rescue crews heading to one of the hardest hit areas."
Graham traveled to Florida before Hurricane Ian struck, working as a solo volunteer to provide supplies, comfort and support.
"I’m providing what they need, if it's a flashlight or diaper wipes for the baby," Graham told Angeline. "And I’m trying to clap at the workers and let them know that even though they’re getting tired, they’re smelling death and they’re dealing with death all day long and destruction, for 15 seconds, they got something better to look over and be like 'That's nice.'"
"Cowboy Dave offers all of us a lesson about the importance of something as simple as a smile and a wave can lift spirits because you really don't know what people are going through around you," Angeline said.
A reminder of the power of severe weather
The year 2022 marked AccuWeather Meteorologist Tony Laubach's 25th year of storm chasing, and an eventful one at that. Preliminary data from the National Weather Service lists roughly 1,329 tornadoes were spawned across the nation this year -- above the annual average of 1,253 based on SPC data from 1991-2010.
While March, April and May were the months with the highest number of preliminary tornado reports, 117 tornadoes were recorded during the month of November amid the secondary severe weather season.
Out of all of the tornadoes to spawn in 2022, two stood out to Laubach: a photogenic tornado that formed a stunning white cone outside of Crowell, Texas, on May 4 and a large tornado near Sulphur Springs, Texas, six months later.
AccuWeather’s Tony Laubach reported from the community of Sulphur Springs in Texas after severe storms led to tornadoes throughout the Lone Star State.
"It was ghostly how it materialized and came out of the tree line," Laubach's chasing partner Ed Grubb said about the May tornado. "It was this bowl of dust, and suddenly the funnel appeared. And the sound, as close as we were, it was almost silent."
While the tornado tracked over a few wind turbines, the storm chasers reported little damage.
Unfortunately, the Sulphur Springs tornado on Nov. 4 reportedly severely damaged a home, though it lifted as it approached the town.
"Even after decades upon decades and over 350 tornadoes, the power and devastation of Mother Nature continue to astound me [while] trying to track these storms across the country," Laubach said.
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