Evacuated from its long-time building on South Dixie Highway, the Post staff used a conference room at a hotel across from the airport to provide 24-hour coverage of Hurricane Dorian.
It’s noon Monday and Hurricane Dorian is pumping up to Cat 5 strength through the warm Atlantic waters like a cartoon villain, plowing a ruthless path across the Bahamas.
Palm Beach County remains in the dreaded cone. It’s been a 72-hour roller coaster ride of emotions. On Friday, three trusted experts delivered grim news to Palm Beach Post Weather Reporter Kimberly Miller - this storm’s forecast is the worst-case scenario for Palm Beach County. Our paradise finally is in for a historic hit.
By Saturday, models track the monster shifting north, sparing us. But Sunday, we’re back again as a potential bullseye.
During the weekend, The Post moved its newsroom operation to an improvised "command center’’ in two conference rooms at the Embassy Suites across from Palm Beach International Airport. We no longer own the longtime Post building on South Dixie Highway, and our landlord evacuated all tenants.
So here we are on one of several daily Dorian conference calls, patching in editors working remotely from their homes to plan digital and print coverage.
Story ideas, shuffled assignments, logistical challenges, communication and technical glitches are exchanged in rapid-fire sequence. Then, from a dark corner of the room, a groan, followed by the steady snore of REM slumber.
Did I mention that one of the conference rooms doubled as a dorm?
Frankly, 40 winks was low priority for Post and Palm Beach Daily News journalists operating on 12-hour shifts to keep readers informed 24/7 on our digital platforms and to produce daily newspapers.
We’ve had the responsibility of helping readers to hunker down for hurricanes long before TV meteorologists started 24-hour tag-teaming in front of green screens. Back in that day, The Post and Times would alert residents by flying the hurricane warning and watch flags on the roof of our building on Datura Street.
Now, we have Facebook Live, featuring Kimberly Miller. She’s a rarity in the newspaper world, a full-time weather reporter, who, like all accomplished beat writers, continues to strengthen her grip on subject matter. Her reporting has earned numerous awards. It helps to have a Certificate of Meteorology from Penn State, a direct line to an array of atmospheric experts nationwide and salt water in her veins - she’s an avid surfer who does frown on those daredevil dudes paddling into hurricane-fueled waves.
Palm Beach Post #HurricaneDorian morning crew working it at Embassy Suites. Photobomb courtesy of @glennglazer @WPTV pic.twitter.com/FpQBeCc4w5— john bisognano (@jbisognano) September 3, 2019
Kim is loathe to label herself an expert. But her calm, reasonable delivery of Dorian updates and helpful information was a hit with viewers on our many digital platforms and daily Facebook Live appearances.
During one broadcast, Kim was asked about Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and noticed that veteran Post reporter Eliot Kleinberg, who has written several books on Florida history, including "Black Cloud," about the deadly 1928 hurricane, had wandered back into the room after an unsuccessful attempt to sleep. She yanked him in for a cameo and Eliot reeled off facts with encyclopedic precision. Between these journalists, they’ve covered dozens of hurricanes, including Hugo, Andrew, Charley, Frances, Jeanne, Wilma, Irma, Matthew and Michael.
Our own building is closed, so here’s a peek at our little @pbpost makeshift newsroom inside a hotel as we cover #HurricaneDorian. pic.twitter.com/ueYap1VO01— Cecilia Mazanec (@CeciliaMazanec) September 2, 2019
As for her native craft, Kim taps out prose as delightful as a summer breeze or as profound as the events unfolding around us. Behold this description of the fury of Dorian unleashed on the islands as it crept toward our coastline:
"Florida stared into the maw of an atmosphere unhinged Monday, a major hurricane that gnawed on the limestone bones of the northern Bahamas without mercy.
"As Hurricane Dorian buzz-sawed over Grand Bahama, its yawning reach clawed at Palm Beach County – an intimacy with the Sunshine State that one meteorologist called "wildly unnerving.""
Kim is one of more than 80 Post and Daily News reporters, editors, photographers, videographers and social media specialists launched to cover Dorian throughout the county. The Embassy Suites setup accommodated about 20 journalists and served as our FB Live studio. (A special thank you to the staff of storm-tested hospitality professionals there who made us feel so welcome.)
Good morning Dorian. I feel like this is becoming a habit - a very bad habit. Hurricane Dorian: 5 a.m. update: Stationary Category 3 hurricane continues to batter Grand Bahamahttps://t.co/oxd2KLBcR3 pic.twitter.com/BLIUBs19h7— Kimberly Miller (@KMillerWeather) September 3, 2019
We tracked our digital audience throughout the day and into the night. And what did readers want most? The basics: Dorian’s path. When will the winds arrive? What’s open, what’s closed? Essential info to prepare.
And you couldn’t get enough of images created by our team of award-winning photographers, who, from dawn to dusk, fanned out across the region to document the storm.
The waves in Juno Beach are still plenty strong. Wind whipping up sand pic.twitter.com/YSWYzAfJJe— Sam Howard (@SamuelHHoward) September 3, 2019
Galleries included drone photography from Greg Lovett, who’s notched a dozen hurricanes on his camera straps, including Hugo, Andrew and Katrina.
And lest you think a pro needs thousands of dollars worth of equipment to capture that money shot, check out the image of gawkers engulfed at the Fort Pierce Inlet shot by Lannis Waters - through the lens of his Smartphone. Seems he had negotiated his way onto a jetty when there was a perfect storm explosion of driving rain, whipping winds and battering waves. Lannis scrambled to secure the cameras and lenses hanging from his torso with plastic bags and deftly pulled out his phone to snap away.
"Just bought the waterproof case the other day. Good thing,’’ said Lannis, whose disaster coverage includes Hurricane Andrew and the earthquake in Haiti.
Meanwhile, back at the command center, driving the digital operation in hurricane mode can be as dizzying as directing flight patterns from a LaGuardia traffic tower. Editors Tom Elia and Jim Coleman split 3 p.m.-3 a.m. shifts to help keep the content flowing on our home page, our news app, main and community Facebook pages, Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Of course, what matters most to many readers is a newspaper landing in the driveway. To that end, production and delivery staff track the storm pattern projections to determine the safest opportunities for carriers. Post veteran Samantha Forzano coordinated ever-shifting print plans for both newspapers as the storm moved toward us. Bottom line: We produced a print newspaper each day, provided email and replica versions on digital, and delivered the actual paper as soon as the weather gave us a window free of tropical storm-force winds.
And this is what it looks like when a hurricane misses you. pic.twitter.com/NGAuGN9Jos— Tony Doris (@TonyDorisPBP) September 3, 2019
It’s our job. We’re here to serve our community. But it’s nice to be noticed.
A voicemail from a subscriber expressed "huge gratitude for the fact that you’ve been so wonderful about getting all the newspapers to us through this storm.’’
Coffee fueled the command center. Counter tops were grazing grounds for sleeves of Oreos and bags of chips and pretzels. Welcome comfort food to offset uncomfortable shifts and resting spots.
Keeping kids entertained while waiting on Hurricane Dorian has been a challenge for many parents: https://t.co/FiitMpl8Us pic.twitter.com/uQl9xHYuTd— Jodie Wagner (@JRWagner5) September 3, 2019
Off-duty staffers staggered zombie-like in between restless sleep. One morning, just after sunrise, digital specialist Michele Kelley stared at her cellphone and announced that it was her wedding anniversary with all the enthusiasm of a deli counter clerk calling the next number.
Quite a few bands from #HurricaneDorian moving through Palm Beach County right now. Wellington seeing some stronger wind gusts and pouring rain. pic.twitter.com/zX1JkmEaBC— Kristina Webb (@KristinaWebb) September 2, 2019
But in the end, we dodged Dorian. Our hearts go out to the Bahamas and everyone else in the path.
Thank you for trusting us through this nerve-wracking, exhaustive stretch. And for supporting community journalism. We hope we won’t face another threat this season. But if we do, we’ll be there for you. Just keep that coffee coming.