Worst of storms, best of storms: TV news reports live from the Sierra

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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It’s standard local TV news fare as winter rolls in and the snow begins to pile up in the Sierra. Auburnites see the familiar microwave transmitter trucks slogging their way in the rain up Interstate 80 and the lead news stories later on zero in on snowy, live reports from Blue Canyon and other wintry sites. KCRA’s Mike Teselle estimates he’s made the trek up I-80 to Blue Canyon and beyond hundreds of times during the 12 years he’s worked as a news reporter with Sacramento’s Channel 3. And while he was clenching his teeth during a bitingly cold blizzard as he reported this past week from Nyack, about 40 miles east of Auburn, Teselle said he remains enthusiastic about an assignment he’ll put up his hand to take. “The No. 1 thing our audience wants to know about is the weather,” Teselle said. “Active live weather like this is one of the most interesting stories and we can get out the message about the dangers of being out in it.” Wednesday’s snowstorm created blizzard conditions, with wind sending walls of white blowing horizontally. Teselle, with the benefit of a satellite truck, was able to set up next to the Nyack Shell station, where he had access to a meal as well as people who had stopped in on their own drive over Donner Summit through the ever-thickening snow. It was a do as I say, not as I do day for Teselle, photographer Brian Fong and satellite truck technician Dave Ramos. Teselle’s noon-hour message to motorists was to stay away from the Sierra, something Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol were also recommending. By 1 p.m. I-80 had been closed both directions because of blinding gusts of wind-whipped snow. At nearby Blue Canyon, other TV stations had set up at the side of the road. Blue Canyon is a popular position for TV news microwave transmitters because it’s the closest and lowest point crews can get to for getting signals out of a snowy location. KMAX 31’s “Good Day Sacramento” reporter Courtney Dempsey said the news takes her station on location from Blue Canyon instead of, say Auburn, because viewers in the valley and in the foothills want to know what all the conditions are during a storm. Blue Canyon has also become an initiation spot for green reporters, Dempsey noted, with a trip into the snow incomplete unless they have done an on-camera snow angel. “If you see a reporter making a snow angel, you know they’re new,” she laughed. The journey into the snow isn’t without its dangerous side. Teselle recalled one instance where he and a photographer had just left their SUV to help a motorist in an accident when another vehicle slammed into their vehicle. Dempsey said she’s had some slippery roads but no mishaps so far. “The worst for me is when the snow is falling horizontally and I get a little microderm abrasion,” she said. Caltrans spokeswoman Rochelle Jenkins said TV crews normally choose a wide spot off the side of Interstate 80 on a straightaway – which provides oncoming motorists with plenty of warning. Many reporters and camera operators will choose to report from down an embankment to avoid the possibility of an errant vehicle crashing into them. “They want to stay safe,” Jenkins said. “And if there is a safety issue, I’ll call and they’re cooperative. The last thing they want to do is get hurt.” Auburn resident Tom Mason keeps track of the weather and said he admires the work TV reporters do when the provide condition reports from the eye of the storm in some cases. “I give them credit for what they do – it can’t be easy,” Mason said. “Sure they get paid for it but they go there a lot and do a good job.”