Katy Magazine, December 2017
Written by Gail G. Collins
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The iconic opening to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens could’ve described the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey. The cataclysmic event of wind and water tested the Bayou City and surrounding communities, spawning powerful stories of heroism, help and the human spirit.
Be Alert, Be Calm, Be Wise
Leadership is paramount in times of trial. Throughout Harvey, people needed information, direction and support. Fox New 26 Chief Meteorologist and Katy resident Jim Siebert provided it through television broadcasts, Facebook Live dialogues and Twitter Q & A. Alongside weekend and morning forecasters, the team worked in eight-hour shifts to cover air time and engage the public personally. “Hundreds of thousands on Facebook needed help with specifics for their areas, and we offered feedback,” says Dr. Jim. The overriding message on every front was: Be calm, be alert, be wise.
A Hurricane Brewing
A week before Harvey hit, the meteorologist sat in his home office, mulling over computer weather models. His wife, Debbie, came in, and was disturbed by what she saw in his face. “I knew it would be bad,” says Dr. Jim. “None of the solutions for the path were good ones.” Stalling was the great fear. “No one anywhere had covered a storm like Harvey. Allison was devastating, but the areas impacted were limited. Every storm has its unique set of hazards,” he admits. “Harvey will go down in the history books.”
Foreseeing trouble, Dr. Jim booked into a hotel near the news station for a week and aimed for six hours of sleep a night. Fox 26 is prepared for extreme situations and can actually house employees for a month. There are cots and supplies, including generators and fuel. Dr. Jim kept up with family through texts. “The worst part of my job is leaving my family.” The Sieberts have a plan to stay safe, and friends support them in the Dr. Jim’s absence.
Social media played an integral part in spreading information and personalizing support efforts throughout the hurricane. It also allowed Dr. Jim and team to talk to people in their homes and offer the latest news. Sometimes, bad information was posted by trolls, like the photoshopped shark on the West Park Tollway, but at other times, it was more subtle. This created some fear and skepticism. “The good far outweighed any bad,” he says.
In the storm’s aftermath, one Katy family with horse property near George Bush Park had no electricity or access. They made a Facebook plea for help. A friend of a friend of a friend connected and brought a boat to help with the family and horses. The family, then turned around, and assisted others. “It’s so very Texas, and there are thousands of stories like that,” says Dr. Jim.
Every storm teaches us lessons, if we are willing to learn. Dr. Jim outlined the ground gained through the most recent ones: Katrina taught us to help other communities; Rita brought evacuation trials; Ike encouraged hazard preparation; and Harvey hunkered us down with hatches battened. “Each storm prepared us,” he says. “When things got bad, people jumped into action and understood the life-altering decisions and how to make good ones.”
A Storm Plan
The Sieberts are ultra-ready for storms, but even they made a list of improvements for next time. His family took preventative steps, like lowering the pool level, but still suffered roof and patio damage. Communications equipment is imperative. A phone is a means of information and outreach, and a way to recharge it without electricity is a must. “Most people say they have a storm plan, but Harvey has helped all of us assess that and refine it.” There will be another storm.
Lending a Helping Hand
As Latter Days Saints, the Siebarts are part of an experienced crew of muckers, called Helping Hands, who’ve been deployed to help others. This time, it was their community. The group coordinates with many churches to provide effective efforts. The family spent two solid weeks mucking out those in need and several weekends thereafter.
Education and Family
Education brings power and opportunity. As a boy, Dr. Jim was afraid of lightening, but his parents helped him understand the bolt of energy. Later, as an ROTC cadet, he trained as a pilot with the Air Force. His first lesson was weather. With a broadcasting degree underway, he tried on television forecasting and loved it. That began a position with the college news station and launched his weather career. Today, Dr. Jim has two U.S. patents for lightening related to minerals, fault lines and conductivity.
With degrees in meteorology and earth science from Baylor University at Waco, communications from Brigham Young University and science education from the University of New Mexico, Dr. Jim is constantly teaching. When it’s not live television, he instructs in both meteorology and geography at the university level. After television positions in New Mexico and Nevada, Dr. Jim came to Texas and raised a family.
Dedicated Katy Family
Wife Debbie is a professional opera singer, who earned a doctoral degree while raising their four children. They range in age from a college freshman to middle school, attending Taylor High School and McMeans Junior High. Now, Debbie has a school schedule, too, as an assistant choir. She is also a founding member of Katy Children’s Choir and Katy Grand Theatre Project.
The Sieberts have lived in Katy for 12 years. “Katy is a wonderful place to raise a family with opportunities for every member,” says Dr. Jim. They love the access to suburban joys and country getaways. Mostly, like H-Town itself, he reminds us, “Our community takes care of each other.” KM