Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Trent Okerson, February 18, 2022

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - On-air forecast and the anticipation of the Mayfield, Kentucky tornado's damage

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Partial Transcript: ...an hour and half, two hours out, showing if this thing continues on these are the areas that are gonna be impacted.

Segment Synopsis: WPSD-TV Chief Meteorologist Trent Okerson talks about being on air, watching the storm unfold on radar, hearing the forecast from the National Weather Service, and how he chose to forecast the storm's trek to his viewers. [The audio for this interview begins mid-sentence, excluding all conversation up to this point.]

Keywords: Chief Meteorologist; Dopplar Radar; Feeling helpless; Forecast; National Weather service; Paducah, Kentucky television; Sense of dread; Television viewers; Tornadoes--East (U.S.); Tornadoes--Kentucky.; Tornadoes--Middle West.; WPSD-TV; Weather forecast; Weather forecasting--Kentucky.

Subjects: Forecasting; Tornado damage; Tornadoes; United States. National Weather Service

GPS: Paducah, Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 37.06,-88.72
00:02:02 - Conveying the severity of the tornado to an audience

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Partial Transcript: I guess one of the questions I had is, how do you emphasis the severity of a storm like this?

Segment Synopsis: Okerson describes how forecasting this storm was different from previous severe weather forecasts, and how the credibility he had built with his viewing audience over the years helped his use of facial expressions and the tone of voice convey the seriousness of the Western Kentucky December 2021 tornado.

Keywords: Debris signature on radar; Disaster victims--Care--United States.; Dopplar Radar; Radar signatures; Tone of voice; Tornadoes--East (U.S.); Tornadoes--Kentucky.; Tornadoes--Middle West.; Violent weather; Visual dopplar; Weather forecasts

Subjects: Disaster survivors; Memories; Meteorologists; National Weather Service (U.S.); Tornado damage; Tornadoes; Weather forecasting--Kentucky.

GPS: Paducah, Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 37.06,-88.72
00:06:37 - Social media's role in the event

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, we know the mental, mental stress has been hard on like everybody who was impacted by it, and, uh, but one of the things we were wondering was like, how does, like you know, there's probably social media was blowing up at that point. How does that effect, uh, your reaction, and, and maybe, does it, how does that effect your reaction overall?

Segment Synopsis: Okerson talks about the role social media played in informing him where the tornado was on the ground and the conditions surrounding it. He specifically mentions the sudden lack of Facebook comments after the tornado hit Mayfield, Kentucky.

Keywords: Comment sections; Dopplar Radar; Facebook; On-the-ground; Real-time communications; Severe Weather situations

Subjects: Facebook (Electronic resource)--Social aspects--United States.; Mayfield (Ky.); Radar; Social media and journalism.; Social media and society.; Social media and television.; Social media.

GPS: Mayfield, Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 36.737778,-88.64
00:08:13 - Okerson describes his experience of the aftermath

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Partial Transcript: So, Trent, uh, after the event, the National Weather Service goes out and does, uh, storm surveys, uh. Did you accompany any of those tornado surveys? Uh, what were some of the stories you heard after the event?

Segment Synopsis: Okerson describes being sick the night the Western Kentucky Tornado struck, and he spent the immediate days afterwards recuperating before he ventured out into the community. He recounts an anecdote with a couple at the remains of the Mayfield, Kentucky courthouse.

Keywords: Al Roker; Charity organization; Community response; Community support; Disaster victims--Care--United States.; Donations; Mayfield courthouse; Storm Survey; Storm tracking; Supplies; The Today Show; Tornado destruction; Tornadoes--East (U.S.); Tornadoes--Kentucky.; Weather forecasting--Kentucky.

Subjects: Community action; Disaster response and recovery; Disaster survivors; Forecasting; Mayfield (Ky.); Meteorologists; Mobile homes; Tornado damage; Tornadoes; United States. National Weather Service

GPS: Mayfiled, Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 36.737778,-88.64
00:13:54 - Various warning systems for a sever weather threat

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Partial Transcript: And, you know, I think, you know, one of those, we've talked to the weather service and different ones, and a lot of them are doing Action Reports and trying to figure out is there anything we coulda done better? What did we learn from this experience?

Segment Synopsis: Okerson talks about the ways in which communications can fail during a severe weather event, and how he and his colleagues use their on-air delivery to emphasize the severity of a severe weather event threat.

Keywords: Cell phone communications; Cell signal loss; Take shelter; Tornadoes--East (U.S.); Tornadoes--Kentucky.; Tornadoes--Middle West.; Weather event; Weather forecast; Weather forecasting--Kentucky.; Weather warnings

Subjects: Meteorologists; Meteorology; Tornado damage; Tornado warning systems; Tornadoes; United States. National Weather Service

00:17:30 - Final thoughts

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, like to try to end these on a positive note. What was the most, you know, positive, beneficial, what, what brought your faith back in humanity when you saw after this event took place? What was a really touching moment for you?

Segment Synopsis: Okerson talks about the political strife in the U.S. disappearing in the months after the tornado as people helped one another recover and restore their lives.

Keywords: Donation centers; Donations; National Television; Political division; Rubble

Subjects: Community action; Disaster relief; Disaster survivors; Disaster television programs; Disaster victims--Care--United States.; Tornado damage; Tornadoes; Tornadoes--Kentucky.; Weather forecasting--Kentucky.