By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – As the tornado bore down on Tupelo, WTVA meteorologist Matt Laubhan went into survival mode.
“This is a tornado emergency for Lee County. This is a tornado ripping through the city of Tupelo as we speak, and this could be deadly,” Laubhan said, looking right into the camera. “There is a damaging tornado on the ground right now.”
Moments later, Laubhan directed his staff to safety, shouting, “Basement, now! Let’s go,” and running off screen.
Shortly after, a fiber line between WTVA and Comcast was cut and feeds for cable and satellite providers was interrupted until later in the evening.
Laubhan’s call for safety has gone viral, with videos of his broadcast posted on news websites all over the world. On Tuesday morning, there were stories and links to the video on the UK’s news source, The Daily Mail, CNN, ABC News, the Huffington Post and the Boston Globe, and several more agencies were trying to contact him for interviews.
“I’ve had a lot of unknown numbers on my phone,” Laubhan said with a laugh on Tuesday morning. “Email is just coming up. …CNN, ‘Inside Edition,’ we did ‘Good Morning America’ this morning, ‘Nightly News,’ ‘The Today Show.’”
He suspects his mother in Kansas City saw him on NBC’s “Nightly News” on Monday night, which prompted her to call him while he was still on the air – a call he took, quickly assuring her of his safety, before returning to his forecasting duties.
It’s all in a day’s work, said Laubhan, 31, who’s been with WTVA for three years. He tracked the weather all weekend, posting updates online and warning his audience to prepare to take shelter on Monday.
“I got two or three hours of sleep on Sunday night, when I knew it was coming,” he said. “I looked at Emily (Leonard, his wife and WTVA anchor) and said, ‘I have a bad feeling.’”
Laubhan was stressed while on the air, with the power going out and technology failing. He had to use his phone’s data to track radar. It was stressful, too, because he knew tornadoes were hitting other heavily populated towns like Louisville and Columbus shortly after the tornado hit Tupelo.
Facebook posts and tweets poured in overnight and into Tuesday morning, thanking Laubhan for his efforts and crediting him with keeping north Mississippians safe.
Tweets included, “Matt Laubhan, you are the man,” and, “Matt Laubhan is awesome.”
But Laubhan doesn’t see himself as a hero.
“That’s not what my job is,” he said. “The spotlight goes to the engineering staff, who rented generators to keep the power from going off. The people who were running toward open gas leaks, they’re heroes. I’m not running toward gas leaks.”