‘Basement, now!’ Meteorologist Laubhan goes viral after directing staff to safety

By Sheena Barnett

Daily Journal

TUPELO – As the tornado bore down on Tupelo, WTVA meteorologist Matt Laubhan went into survival mode.

LAUBHAN

LAUBHAN

“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.”

sheena.barnett@journalinc.com

  • james

    ain’t it great that now the dick rice successor is a sensation for being as stupid as the storm chasers. I watch dave brown out of Memphis because matt thinks he’s the only weatherman in the world. but those who would not be considered pseudo celebrities like those at wtva and the soon to be prison bound mayor will do anything to bring any publicity on tupelo. how about doing a story on why the barnes crossing area is still without power for a second day? why aren’t the sightseers being ticketed? why did it take a day to get the guard out? it hit a very small area and now tupelo officials are acting as if the entire city was destroyed, and wanting more attention than Smithville ever got. can’t wait to see the level of karma on all those at wtva and the lemmings who run tupelo.

    • charity wallace

      You need to chill ! Everything takes time power,getting the gaurd, and getting things cleaned up. As for Smithville they have gotten alot of attention ; you obviously have not watched the TV. This isnt about what town has gotten more attention though;this is about a man saveing live because he stayed on air for a few more seconds while a tornado was on the ground and headed towards them. He also got WTVA members to safety before himself and that is a hero. You don’t have to like him but you shouldn’t bad mouth him.

      • james

        Comcast went down right before he told the world to run for their lives. so how could viewers know to run? I know clean up takes time sweetie. but when grocery stores are out of power and people can’t get to area stores, what are they to do? those whose homes are badly damaged, can’t stay in hotels because they don’t have power. tupelo practically pimps out the barnes crossing area and now that area is ignored, all except the wtva station THAT SAVED THE LIVES OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE BY TELLING THEM TO RUN FOR THEIR LIVES.

        • charity wallace

          Like i said you may not like him but you dont have to talk bad about him. I understand the frustration about the power and the politics, i really do, but he didn’t ask for all the attention, he was just doing his job.

          • james

            then he doesn’t have to reply to all the spots on national tv. no one put a gun to his head to go on gma and tell his stupid story.

          • Lisa

            What grade are you in James?

        • TupeloStrong

          Get a grip man. Go back in your hole.

        • Thile

          You’re complaining because your cable went out at the height of the storm? Have you heard of these things called radios or smart phones?

          BTW, business districts will always get preference over residences when it comes to power restoration (probably so people can go buy things like food). This happens in ANY town in ANY disaster; no one’s “pimping” anything. And if you like watching WMC during severe weather in this area, you’re SOL because Tupelo isn’t in their DMA. That means coverage would be limited, but Dave Brown appreciates you watching.

          • james

            I choose to not have a smart phone. I’ve watched wmc before and dave brown always talked about the weather in tupelo and surrounding areas. and he’s not running his mouth about areas a hundred miles away. Columbus has their own station and matt shouldn’t be cutting into a show because of Columbus weather.

          • Thile

            I understand not having a smartphone. What about a radio? Not very smart to rely on just one source of info during a weather emergency.

            See the YouTube vid the Journal used to accompany this story? If you’ve ever seen severe weather warnings on WCBI, WTVA, or your fave WMC, you’ll notice the counties on the map. Those counties = DMA/viewing area. WTVA and WCBI cover northeast MS and a few Alabama counties as their viewing area. This is mandated by the FCC. As a service to their viewers and to keep them informed (and to generate ad revenue), they cover the cities and towns in those designated areas. In short, that’s why WTVA covers storms in Columbus. WMC won’t break in for a storm in West Point or Amory.

            For further readings on DMAs and FCC coverage rules, contact those local stations and have them explain those concepts to you. Or keep flailing in the comments here. [“The More You Know” jingle plays]

          • james

            wmc isn’t my favorite, I just like it. they featured tupelo on the broadcast tonight as I was waiting on a story. wmc has broken for Mississippi weather but u wouldn’t know that watching wtva and their daily stories of some stupid festival that takes place every damn weekend.

          • James Cole

            Actually, Tupelo is in WMC’s DMA (fringe) or it wouldn’t be offered on cable channels in the city. WMC’s DMA also includes Desoto, Benton, Tippah, Marshall, Lafayette and Union counties. The local carriage access rule (that cable companies should carry the station closest to them) doesn’t apply in Ripley, Corinth or Oxford, meaning WMC is seen instead of WTVA. WTVA shares the DMA with Memphis, so there is overlap. If there wasn’t, WMC wouldn’t make trips to cover stories in Lee (Macedonia murder-suicide), Alcorn (liquor referendum) or Union (Amanda Price murder) counties. They simply wouldn’t make the trip.

        • James Cole

          James, all WMC cared about was getting extra viewers when WTVA went off the air. They said “Hey, their radar is out. Watch us. We’re sure they’d do the same for us.” Except Memphis isn’t in WTVA’s DMA. Your beloved Dave Brown just wanted extra viewers just in time for May sweeps, which started last week.

          By the way, it’s their job to help people in these situations. Broadcast stations are charged with serving the public good, because after all, these airwaves are public. As such, he has a responsibility to help get those people to safety, and he fulfilled that through whatever technology was available to him at the time. I doubt you would have been able to do that for 6+ hours.

          • james

            if they’re serving the public, then why no mention of the drug dealing pharmacist jim bain? don’t you think we should’ve been informed of bain selling narcotics and which city officials were buying. they serve themselves. if it’s not in tupelo, it isn’t important.

          • James Cole

            That story ran in December of last year. Mid-December, if I recall. So it looks like they did do something on it, not that it would have been the meteorologist’s job to report on narcotics investigations.

          • james

            cole, do you suffer from brain damage? yes I know it is not a weatherman’s job to report high society drug dealing. but it’s the station’s responsibility to report it. only the journal put in a tiny article on it and nothing sense.

          • bradlocke
          • James Cole

            Well said, Brad.

            James, obviously my sarcasm is lost on you, but I figured as much going into this conversation.

            The level of damage to TVA lines/substations/infrastructure is what caused this two-day lapse of power. I really don’t know how that’s so difficult to understand. It’s not a conspiracy by the mayor to keep people in the dark. From what I saw, TW&L and TVA were working around the clock to restore power. Perhaps the “small area” it struck was much larger in terms of infrastructure than you realize.

            I’ll admit there is far more attention on Tupelo than should be, considering the level of damage. Winston County and Louisville in particular were harder hit, with at least 9 fatalities to prove it.

            However, you have to credit the Tupelo-area media (Matt in particular) with saving lives because Tupelo didn’t lose a single one. For that, everybody should be thankful, or in your case, at least cognizant of what that person did and what that job entails.

          • james

            if it’s black outside and it’s eerily quiet, chances are one needs to run and not be told to do so. those during Katrina needed no order to high tail it out, except for those of new Orleans who were too stupid to head the warning.

          • james

            that’s the same tiny article reworded for effect. no new info. no mention of which city officials he was dealing to.

    • Amber

      Small area are you blind, have you helped go to alburn, go to Jackson st, n gloster, Coley rd/main st, Elvis Presley lake!! Tupelo is spread out, it hit multiple areas in lee county! A damn tornado come through you can’t just do damn back flips to get here!! Ticket people hell some people work, some are helping! What an ass you are get off your ass and go help!! Then you might feel differently! Power be glad you have a home, I know a lot people that don’t!

      • james

        do you mean auburn? besides, Shelton wants all the poor folk out of Jackson so his buddies can turn it into prized property he can sell off. no mention of coley from any outlet. for those with no reason to be in the area, like the rubberneckers, who can’t provide proof of work or home in the area, should be ticketed. all those on mccollough leaving their cars on the sides of the road should be ticketed and towed for obstructing traffic. I couldn’t see oncoming traffic while pulling out. why are u not opening ur home to those without power? oh that’s right, ur a hypocrite. talk a big game but do nothing. I work sweetie which leaves me no time to do anything else.

  • charity wallace

    I love Matt. He has always kept me calm when it is bad weather. If it wasn’t for him i would be a crazy mess, all the other weathermen get me more nervous. He is a great weatherman and we are lucky to have him in North Mississippi!

    • Cid

      Wow.. someone failed weatherman school and is bitter ..Grow up jealous, go out there and grab a shovel with the rest of us and quit complaining online about some guy trying to help folks .. or are you one of those that can’t get away from his computer long enough .. i bet your popular on Topix aren’t you .. oof I just hit a soft spot huh .. literally

  • the_rocket

    The Rocket thought that Laubhan’s performance was as embarrassing as his inability to predict the weather. Never have I wished more for Dick Rice to come in and grab the reigns, because it was clear that no one there had any idea what to do. Matt stood there like a deer in the head lights the whole time the tornado was bearing down on Tupelo; after WTVA’s internet went out, he had no idea what was going on. He was on literally on facebook on his phone trying to find out what warnings were still active.

    • charity wallace

      Without radar No weatherman would be able to tell you anything.

    • TWBDB

      What’s your problem? Mr Rice was fine in his day but this young man used all available technology, including his hand-held device, to track the weather and inform the public : to the point where he himself had to seek shelter. In speaking to my relatives, they listened and actually heeded his warnings thankfully. What more do you want?

    • Amber

      The Rocket needs load up and set itself off!!! This man put together a weather blog way in advance for us to be prepared. Thank goodness he did are we would been caught up in the weather camping!!! He stayed on the air way longer than he should have for his own safety! Inability to predict?? He got it spot on ant sure what you were watching!!
      He was aggravated he couldn’t do more when he did way more than most would have! No disrespect but I feel heck of a lot safer with him in control than if that would have been a previous meteorologist “Dick Rice” we have had! Hell I waited for snow 10 years watching Dick Rice! I knew it would be sunny as hell to!!! Don’t watch him if you don’t like him but he sure helped my family Monday!!!! He isn’t arrogant he’s just that damn good!!!!

  • Angella Ray Baker

    I thought his performance was riveting. He did a great job keeping us informed and letting us know when things were about to get bad. He definitely earned his paycheck Monday and more. MS is lucky to have him.

  • D.Catchot

    I lived in Memphis for 14 years and can say that Dan Brown is not and never will be able to be in the same class with Matt Laubhan! Mr. Laubhan is a breath of fresh air to the weather reporting in Tupelo. If you take the time to listen not only would you know what is going to happen you will also know why. Mr. Laubhan makes it a point to inform the public of the how, why and when in he’s broadcast. Now when I look at weather on the internet and my smartphone my understanding is based in fact not just colors on the radar. I know to look at the other information to fill in the picture. As for getting national and international coverage, I’m so thankful it was him and not one of you yahoos!!! He has done us proud! And maybe, just maybe they will not think of us
    as uneducated hicks!!!!!

  • barney fife

    Laubhan’s straight-forward & professional manner on screen were just what this region needed during a rather spectacular severe weather event. His use of all available technology and down-to-earth manner of speech was exactly the type of coverage needed to both maintain the seriousness of the situation and help keep others calm around him. Well done.

  • Kevin

    The real story of the Tupelo Tornado of 2014 is why the heck didn’t the sirens go off until the storm was upon us? The sirens when off about 2:40 Monday when they should have sounded the moment the tornado warning was issued–well in advance of the storm. Sirens are better warnings than weathermen monitoring doppler because, as folks have mentioned, the cable and electricity went out before Laubhon’s warnings could be seen by viewers.

    So the DJ needs to do a story, if they haven’t already, on why the sirens didn’t go off until way, way too late. When I hear sirens, I think tornado. Several weeks ago the sirens sounded 45 minutes before some weather rolled in–and those durn things went off a 3 a.m.!! But this past Monday, the sirens sounded about 2:40–as the tornado was touching down.