By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Harrison Holland
Once you’ve gone through something traumatic, it’s nigh impossible to forget. And when you’re the meteorologist warning West Alabamians of a dangerous, deadly tornado on the ground, there’s no time to stop and think about how your house is among the thousands being reduced to rubble.
So WVUA 23 Chief Meteorologist Richard Scott did what he does best: He kept talking.
At least until the station’s signal went out.
“We were in Reese Phifer (Hall on the University of Alabama campus) when the power went out,” Scott said. “We looked just east of us and you could see the big tornado moving away, so I did the math and I was thinking it had to be over my house. Thinking about just how eerie that feeling was still gives me nightmares now. Everything was flattened.”
Right then, the brilliant reds and oranges and greens of the weather radar became a massive, majestic menace viewed by his own eyes, not through a monitor keyed onto a green screen behind him.
“Everyone in the business has a morbid curiosity for tornadoes, but I think that satisfied it for Richard,” said WVUA 23 Director Jennifer Robbins. “What an experience for someone so young on the job. The community trusted him after that, but it took its toll. People thought we were all dead.”
Robbins was on the job that day as well, hunkered down in the station’s control room in basement of Reese Phifer with the rest of the producers, master control operators and reporters handling the severe weather coverage.
Before those moments in the afternoon when Scott stood in a stairwell and watched the tornado barrel down 15th Street, he’d had spent most of the rest of the day on the air tracking the devastating storm and the dozens of tornadoes it spawned. Every time a new threat appeared, he encouraged those in the path to get in their safe place or get to a storm shelter.
Plenty of people listened. Some didn’t. Some did, but were still not spared the tornado’s wrath. For Scott, handing out the warnings didn’t keep him from being affected.
Like so many others around West Alabama, when he finally got home he found his home was no longer habitable.
“It was such an odd smell of dirt and mold, and I can remember that vividly,” Scott said. “When I got to my neighborhood, there was a guy walking around with his arms and legs bright red from blood and he had no clue.”
It took 40 hours before WVUA 23 could broadcast again.
The months after were a disorienting blur of waking up on friends’ couches, being a workaholic (that hasn’t changed), and scavenging clothes, mementos and memories from his home until it was razed.
Scott wasn’t the only person at WVUA 23 affected by the tornado, so they commiserated in their separate journeys on the way back to a sense of normalcy, he said. And through it all, he never wavered in his commitment to the community he serves.
“It brings a whole different degree of gravity to the situation when you yourself are impacted, and when you’ve lost everything that you owned,” said WVUA 23 News Director Lynn Brooks. “But there is one thing I can say about Richard: He continued to get up every day and come to work, and I have so much respect for the integrity it showed.”
Ten years later, Scott remains dedicated to informing West Alabamians of the weather. Whenever bad weather is forecast, he sticks it out at the station as long as he’s needed. Sometimes, he has to be told to take a break when he’s been on the air for hours straight. Even when his voice cracks from overuse, his passion to inform never wavers.