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.