The chief meteorologist from NBC 6 Miami, a NBC affiliate based in Miramar, said he was impressed by the size and strength of Hurricane Irma.
John Morales is the longest tenured broadcast meteorologist in South Florida, working for 26 years and winning multiple Suncoast Regional Emmys for his coverage of weather in the region. Morales covered several of the infamous storms that have devastated Florida, including hurricanes Andrew, Wilma and now Irma.
Morales worked 12-hour shifts in the ramp-up to Hurricane Irma making landfall in Florida. From Saturday evening to Sunday, he said he worked 25 hours, only stepping away for roughly three hours to sleep.
“Irma gave me a great deal of concern, similar to Andrew in 1992 which I covered here in South Florida,” said Morales. “A category four or five hurricane striking Miami directly — as was forecast at one point — would’ve been a tremendous disaster.”
Atop the tower of the NBC 6 Miami and Telmundo 51 station sits the First Alert Doppler 6000. Morales said the system, in place for nine months, is the only one of its kind in South Florida. He described it as invaluable in his station’s coverage.
“The ability to detect rotation live, without delay, allowed me to warn the audience about tornadoes even before the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings,” said Morales. “I believe that alone puts us a step ahead of the rest of the stations. But I believe our team of meteorologists made a huge difference as well.”
Morales worked alongside fellow NBC 6 Miami meteorologist Ryan Phillips and reporter Michael Spears the night Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida.
Phillips has been a meteorologist at NBC 6 for 12 years. He started in 2005 before Hurricane Katrina. Phillips felt covering Irma was different because of how advanced technology has become.
“The ability to connect with our viewers outside of television has changed considerably,” Phillips explained. “With the popularity of social media, we’re able to reach more people, mainly through Twitter and Facebook. They’re looking for information around the clock and we’re able to provide it around the clock, outside of traditional newscasts.”
During Irma, Spears covered Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood, near Northeast 30 Street and Biscayne Boulevard. He said he is drawn to covering weather, and loved covering Irma.
“I think it’s important to show people the storm [firsthand]. That’s why people turn on the news. I showed people the conditions, and how it affected me so they could see what’s going on in their city and their neighborhood,” said Spears. “I get into the zone, and don’t always realize how it can be scary.”
After Hurricane Irma, Morales traveled to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
“There are so many Puerto Rico aid efforts underway and I’ve tried to lend support to as many as I can,” Morales said. He described the trip as emotional because he was able to see his mother who lives on the island. Morales posted a video on his Facebook of him jumping and embracing his mother in an airport parking garage in San Juan.
“She looked healthy, strong, resilient, and refused my offer to bring her to the mainland U.S. while things normalized on the island. I’m impressed and prouder of her than ever!”