NTV staff remember broadcasting through ice storm

NTV Newsroom Damage (NTV News)

The "Ice Crisis" as it was called on the air is a story NTV's reporters, producers, and engineers lived through, as they tried to keep viewers informed, despite threats to the station.

Producer Priscilla Mace was working on the last two days of 2006, when the station lost power. She remembers:

I remember the Ice Crisis like it was yesterday! I walked into the station and there were no lights on, at first I didn't think anything about it until I realized we had no electricity! As it turns out we wouldn't have power for several days. But we made the most of it and did the best we can to get information out to viewers! I can honestly say it was the first time I ever produced an entire newscast using a landline phone, my cell phone for light and a pen and notepad! I am so thankful to have gotten the opportunity to work with so many amazing people who rolled with the punches, especially Steve, Melody and Mike Webb who didn't have much direction, but made the most of my crazy instructions and pulled off newscasts we could all be proud of!

Anchor Jake Wasikowski was the only one able to get out and report on the storm:

I remember I was the only reporter working to get video of the ice storm for two days since it was a holiday and a weekend. It was frightening to drive on the ice capped country roads. You slid off the road going 5mph. I remember being amazed at the damage and every place I stopped was more surprising than the next. The downed power lines were a sobering reminder of how close everyone was to danger, but amazingly no one died.

Steve White was pressed into duty as the emergency anchor:

I got the call that the station lost power, so I rushed to our studio in downtown Grand Island. We had no camera operator, no Teleprompter, and barely any ability to play back video, so we were counting on an extended weather segment to help us fill the time. Unfortunately, the weather forecaster started coughing, and threw it back to Melody and me, when we'd already said everything we had prepared. I'm sure repeated ourselves a lot! The following Monday, I called the governor's office, and got the sense people didn't realize how bad the situation was. By the following day, Gov. Heineman was in Grand Island, and things were moving. But our studio in Axtell had a new problem. The ice was coming off the tower, crashing through the roof. It was evacuated again, and this time Seth and Colleen came to Grand Island, where I had to rig up the phone so they could hear what was on the air. It even took an act of God to move the Husker bowl game from our Fox station to NTV. But through it all, I was so impressed with our team's commitment to staying on the air, and keeping viewers informed. That's the most important part!

Master control operator Orvin Debban was reporting to work as the conditions worsened:

I recall leaving Holdrege at 3:00 pm to report to work at 4:00 pm at the television station. The highway was ice covered. Power lines down between Holdrege and Axtell. 5 to 10 mph on the ice covered highway. When I arrived at the television station it was operating on the World War II back-up generator. The generator had enough power to only operate the master control room equipment. No power to the rest of NTV studio. I and other employees slept in the studio and listened the ice fall 500 feet from the tower onto the studio roof. A lot of ice went through the studio roof. Destroyed the newsroom. I was able to leave the Axtell studio 3 day later.

Tim Reith remembers the storm, from a meteorological point of view:

The forecast was for freezing rain transitioning to snow as the night progressed. Unfortunately that never happened as the precipitation stayed as freezing rain. I remember my news director calling me the next morning asking me how I thought I did on the forecast. I answered “fairly well” but that was before I had looked outside. Seeing transmission lines down and the towers bent over the road is something I’ll never forget. The sheer amount of ice that covered everything was hard to comprehend. Nothing though was quite like seeing ice fall from our tower and go straight through the roof completely destroying people's workstations. Having the entire newsroom quarantined off to keep people safe and wearing hard hats while giving the forecast are memories that won’t fade anytime soon. The sound that the ice made as it landed on the roof was so incredibly loud it would startle anyone who was around to hear it. It was a very uneasy feeling sitting in the weather center and listening to all the ice landing on the roof wondering if it would break through and land near you.

Colleen Williams remembers one of her worst commute homes in a decade:

I thought I’d miss it. After signing off the air at 10:35pm (the night of the initial storm) I started home, hoping to get to Hastings before the worst hit. Passing through Minden, I thought time was on my side. The roads weren’t that bad. Then I encountered the overpass at Heartwell. Oh boy. I remember feeling nearly sea sick as my car swayed side to side on the ice. There was no traction to be had. I called my husband, not sure if I should turn around or go home. We decided since I was half way home, I should continue.The overpass was a nightmare. No doubt, the blacktop was solid ice. Again, the sensation that I was at sea as I slowly made my way up and over. A few miles later, I uncounted a few cars stopped on the highway. We formed an instant bond- then a caravan and carefully made the drive to Hastings. I found such comfort in numbers. Had I known how icy the roads had been, I never would have made the drive.

Kent Boughton remembers working through the dangerous conditions:

There were thousands of pounds of ice coating the NTV tower and studio near Axtell as a result of the historic storm. It took over a week for the ice the shed free from the giant steel columns of the TV tower extending hundreds of feet above the building. By the time the ice finally became free of the tower there was over half a million dollars in damage leaving the roof at NTV looking like swiss cheese.

Day after day NTV personnel had to wear hard hats and as temperatures warmed up Seth and Colleen did the news from the Grand Island Studio while I drove from the farm near GI to stay in the First Alert Weather Center. We had lost power at the farm for only three days and with a small borrowed generator we had just enough juice to run the essentials such as my wife Lori's hair dryer and Direct TV.

At sunset ice would contract and fall off the tower making sounds as it hit the roof above us like elephants doing wind sprints. One of the night's Seth and Colleen were in G.I. two separate 20 to 30 pounds chunks of ice came through the newsroom ceiling landing in their work spaces trashing out desks and computers. I held icebergs up on the air stating the obvious that it was a blessing they weren't sitting there. The largest hole in the newsroom was five feet around when I heard the ice chunk hit. I looked down the hall observing a spooky misty like fog. Looking through the massive hole you could nearly see all the stars in the sky. It is historic for a reason as those who lived through it will never forget.

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