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From the Field: Chicago Winter Storm

Today was the first day in the field producing with Amy Freeze ahead of a major Winter Storm in Chicago. I have always wanted to come here on an assignment. I have experience documenting winter storms here — for fun, but still, check out my 2011 Blizzard Videos on YouTube — It was time once again to go toe-to-toe with Chicago snow.

Bring it.

The trip started Tuesday (1/9) when Kristen, one of our Exec Producers, asked if I’d go to Chicago with Meteorologist Amy Freeze to cover the coming storm on Thursday & Friday. It was my first day back and I was still a little beat up from Boston, and was really looking forward to settling in at home and catching up on sleep. But I was not gonna miss a Chicago Winter Storm. I went home a little early to finish unpacking, do laundry, and packed right back up again.

Because I’m insane, I agreed to do some Segment producing for Weather Command (our 9a-12p show) Wednesday morning. That’s a 5am in-time. I rode the D train up to Midtown with bags in hand, and got to work. I produced the D block of the show (the last quarter of the hour) recapping Tuesday’s severe weather and looking ahead to the incoming storm. I wrapped that up, watched it go to air, and got to prepping for Chicago. I walked to the Best Buy on 4th to buy extra-long lightning cables for the 3 iPads I’d take to display our return feeds. Amy would anchor her show from the field, just like Jane had done in Boston a few days before. I was rushing to gather info and connect with the News Desk on all that we would need for the trip. Technical details about the broadcast feed, what remote channels we will put our feeds on, things like that. I packed up my backpack with all the tech and took an Uber to LaGuardia. Ended up with a row to myself.

I got into O’Hare, which still feels like my home airport. I was greeted on the outer curb by my mother in-law Nancy who drove me down to the city, in part for the conversation, but also because Eileen left her wedding ring behind at Christmas, lol. With that in tow, I checked into the hotel on State St. The view from my room was nuts:

I walked a few blocks across the river, over to a steakhouse to meet up with Amy and our correspondents Robert and Max, and photographer Ben. Robert had been in Chicago covering the previous snowstorm, and Max in Madison doing the same. Max was bound for the lake-effect in Michigan but stopped in Chicago on the way. I was a little nervous, I didn’t really know Amy personally, and hadn’t met the others. But we quickly settled into conversation. The view of the city was unreal. I just kept staring at the skyline. The architecture of downtown Chicago never fails to pull like 49% of my attention at all times. Especially if it’s been a minute.

It felt like my old days on the road, staying out later than you’re supposed to, making new friends, none of which live in the town you’re in. As we waited for the bill, “Mother Nature” by Grouplove came on in the restaurant. The first song that appears on my 2024 Spotify playlist. If it were any more obscure, I’d take it as a good omen.

That 3:45a CT alarm hit hard on Thursday morning. I popped the Weather Command planning meeting up on my work phone and got moving, laying out my layers to get ready for hours of standing in the cold. We had a two-pronged story: the blizzard in the Midwest and severe storms in the South. I met Amy in the lobby at 5:45a and we Uber’d to the Water Tower on North Michigan Ave. Winter Storm Watches were replaced with Warnings. It was go time.

When we pulled up, our crew was already in-place and halfway set up. A good sign we were in great hands. Dino and Dalton handled video while Pat was on audio duty. I helped set up, grabbed a Red Bull, a Diet Coke, and hand warmers for Amy at CVS. I popped into Chicago’s famous Stan’s Donuts for some old fashioned glazed and a box of hot coffee for the crew. (& myself. Must have coffee.)

I had a little trouble getting all my transmissions feeds set up, which I’m starting to think is not abnormal lol. It’s a complicated process. I had to download some new software on the iPads to get it done, but Dino had some instructions in an old email, so it wasn’t too bad. Soon we were fully operational. We had an 8:30a hit with our early show, FOX Weather First, and then we were off to the races on Weather Command.

Amy and Robert had asked a few folks to stop by the show, kind of on an “if you can make it” basis, so we had a bit of a surprise rotating cast of in-person guests. We had all of Robert, Max, a FOX Business contributor named Scotty, and the Chicago Dept of Transportation Commisioner Tom Carney. It felt like it helped with pacing to have that much variety, and the bit of extra work and conversations off-camera made the day fly. It was cold, wind chills were in the low 20s for much of the show. There were a few trips to the car for hand warmers. We did one hit after Weather Command and we were out.

It was so nice the storm wasn’t going to hit until Friday. But in the meantime…My toes were ice cubes.

I stopped by Potbelly’s. One of my core comfort foods is their chicken salad sandwich. I needed to ingest this to quell my anxiety, and consume something other than a donut. My biggest concern was tomorrow’s location. I couldn’t wait to finish half my sandwich before I found myself calling the building management for a spot Dino had sent me the view from. It was a development called New City, and it was in the western part of Lincoln Park. Their parking garage would be perfect for tomorrow. It was fully covered, and had a view of the skyline looking east that would look great on camera. I left a message, but couldn’t wait for a callback. I ended up getting someone on the second try, they told me they would track down the general manager and get back to me. I slammed my sandwich hoping they’d call back. I was feeling impatient. The location is such a huge thing, especially with a snowstorm on the way. Yesterday, Dino and Robert sold us on the location, it was all out in the open and in public, and it worked perfectly. Today, it was all on me. I couldn’t just sit here and wait. My gut instinct as a location had been Ohio Street Beach. But after seeing how much sensitive gear we needed to get Amy’s set up going, not to mention how cold it was that day with no wet snow falling…Cover would be essential, on a few fronts. So I went to Navy Pier near Ohio St, just hoping to find an area with enough cover. Within a couple minutes of arriving, I got a call back from New City, and they seemed agreeable. I offered to meet up with them and say hello and give details. They were very kind and cool about it all. It was a major relief. I was switching from anxiety to getting excited. I ubered over and the view was perfect.

David, Valerie, and Jennifer, the building staff on duty, were very welcoming and were open to the idea. Turns out I knew Valerie through a friend, a good friend even, which was pretty wild. We had met in 2012 or 13, down in Tampa. The world is a speck.

With the location set, I ubered straight to FOX 32 where Amy and Robert would do a hit with Meteorologist Emily Wahls during their 4pm Newscast. It was great to meet their News Director Michael again and say hey to some of their crew. I was the Instagram Husband™ on the set and took shots for social and promo stuff.

After the newscast, I crashed back at the hotel. I woke up at 7pm, ordered a Cesar salad, destroyed it, (it was honestly really good and had this pesto sauce on the chicken that went crazy) and went right back to sleep. My schedule is often not dissimilar to having jet lag. I was just gonna have to let the sleep and eating schedule get weird. This is just how it goes, on the Morning Show back in NYC, and on the road.

I woke up at 3:45a again Friday and looked out my window. State street looked hazy. A good sign of snow. I logged onto my meeting and started getting my layers together. I knew I needed to go a step further than yesterday. Here’s every single thing I wore Friday:

At 5:45a we met In the lobby, Amy had a bunch of Amazon packages. She had ordered an anemometer,  a few usb hand warmers. We called an Uber. When we stepped outside, we realized just how hard it was snowing. It was going completely haywire. It seemed like 2”/hr snowfall rates, easy. For reference, 1”/hr is considered the low bound of “heavy” snow. I started really getting excited. A real ass Chicago snowstorm. I was shooting video the whole way to the location. It ended up all over FOX Networks, and even went kinda viral on Twitter.

When we got up to the 6th level of the parking garage, Dino, Dalton, and Pat were already setting up. We continued to be in great hands. I checked in with the guys and got some of my stuff in order. I went downstairs to the Mariano’s, a legendary Chicago grocery chain known for having a bar in the middle of the store. It’s essentially like a Whole Foods. I found my way to cough drops and a water for Amy and a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I brought a spare one up too, even though everyone said they were good. It got slammed right away. We were set by 7a, and with an appeal from Line Producer Bri on my old team back in NY, we got the shot up a little early to do the early show’s B Blk tease live. They had Amy as a reporter quickly in the C block, and then it was time for our show, Weather Command.

We were all set, we had been set for awhile, but this is live TV, people. We lost our teleprompter feed literally at the top of the hour, 8:00. The screen just turned green. This is my worst nightmare in this scenario, literally. Lol. I started calling our transmissions team in New York. Amy had her laptop with the script open so she could vaguely follow along, but she was largely improvising. In most of our shows, that’s not a big deal, but Weather Command is really scripted in spots, especially the A and C blocks. It turned out to be a total freak glitch: the 5-year software license had  expired right at the top of the hour. Thanks, 2019 Dino. Once we figured out the issue we had a plan, so by B Block we were rolling, but it wasn’t without some huge stepping up from Amy and Dino.

The shot was great. The city skyline was obscured by heavy snow, which was pouring into the parking garage and made the shot look active. Early on I actually had Dino put a light on the snow to make it pop. I checked the radar at 8:30a, and a pocket of dry air was approaching. I guessed that this was my chance for daylight snow B-roll for awhile, what we call “VO” for short. Video for VoiceOver. Welp, this is why I’m here. it was Storm Chaser mode activated. I sprinted out of the parking garage and began doing what I do in these situations: find something, anything of visual interest in the scene, run to it, shoot it, and keep moving. I ended up with some really nice shots of the El train, and the neighborhood.

I cut the video on my phone in iMovie and sent it into HQ. Valerie had given us coupons for free coffee, so I made a hot chocolate and coffee run for the team. From here, the snow did back off, and the Chicago skyline started to appear in our shot. Epic. We had a special guest, 14 year old storm chaser and aspiring meteorologist Beckett Moore.

Next, we got ready for our reporter hits. We had a few for Weather, one with FOX News, and one with LIVE NOW, the FOX News streaming platform scattered throughout the next few hours. We had such a great shot and setup, so we stayed in our location.

We wrapped and went to thank the building folks once more. We said goodbye to our crew, and Amy and I headed to…yup, Potbelly’s.

I crashed back at the hotel. I woke up and wandered to the lobby for some food. I ran into Robert again, we exchanged battle stories from the day. It was crazy how rough conditions were for him in Lake Michigan. There’s no way Amy could have hosted Weather Command from the lakeshore. I was feeling even better about our location choice. A little bad for Robert, though.

Right now, it’s Saturday at O’Hare, 5am. I grabbed (a couple) donuts and a coffee. My flight is on time. What a whirlwind of a trip, and thankfully, the lake temps held the storm off in the city, so I’m on my way home. The next storm awaits…


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