By Josh Mabry, Local News Partnerships

As Hurricane Irma hit Florida, local newsrooms across the state used Facebook to engage with audiences around the clock, especially as homes lost power and needed vital information on the storm’s movement. As the chief meteorologist for FOX 13 in Tampa Bay, Paul Dellegatto has seen several of the state’s worst hurricanes narrowly miss his city over the last decade. This time however, Hurricane Irma’s path went through the city, making it the biggest storm to hit Tampa in years.

Between September 7 and 15, Dellegatto relied on Facebook to keep his audience informed before, during and after the storm. Like so many meteorologists in Florida, his feed became an indispensable source of information. His follower count and engagement levels grew more than ever before as the city’s population turned to his live videos and posts to get the latest updates.

 

Before the Storm

September 7
As the forecast changed leading up to Sunday’s storm, Dellegatto posted whatever new information he had to his Page. The storm models shifted on Thursday, September 7, three days before the storm, showing the probably of a direct hit. This information was shared over 25k times.

Dellegatto went Live that night to warn people of the coming storm. He showed people how to prepare and what they should realistically expect. This live was viewed more than 330k times.

September 8
After his posts on Thursday, he received over 1,500 messages in his Page’s inbox, and answered as many as he could. People from around the the world with family and friends in Florida contacted him, eager to know how the weather might effect loved ones.

September 9
Starting early Saturday morning, FOX 13 went into continuing coverage mode. When not on air for FOX 13, Dellegatto went Live to keep his audience not watching television up-to-date on Irma’s progress.

Hurricane Irma Hits Tampa Bay

September 10
The morning before the storm, the waterways of Tampa were sucked dry by the hurricane. It was an odd site that the meteorologist shared to his page. Later that night, the water would come back with a vengeance, but a video of this occurrence before the storm received 1.5 million views, 32k shares, and 4.5k comments.

The video was also featured prominently in an Instant Article published by FOX 13 that went viral for the station.

During the storm, many in the Tampa Bay area lost power. FOX 13 went live on its own Page as well as Dellegatto’s, knowing it was one of the only ways for residents to get information. The storm’s predicted path was off, and Irma took a northern turn. The Live video from Dellegatto’s Page was viewed over 300k times as he reported the storm’s change of direction.

The Aftermath

September 10
Towards the end of the storm, everyone wanted to know how widespread the power outages were. Dellegatto put out a roll call to check the extent of outages and learn how long they lasted. The post received over 25k comments.

September 11
The day after, he encouraged readers to share photos of the damage caused by Irma in the comments of his post. Over a thousand photos and videos came through giving his audience a window into how the storm personally affected people around the metropolitan area.

September 14
After collecting reader photos, he began sharing some of his favorites. This one came from the east coast of the state.

September 15
After spending 9 days around the clock with Dellegatto, following Irma’s movements, engaging with him in messages, going live, and sharing photos, people across the city were thankful — but also needed their space once again. The FOX 13 meteorologist couldn’t help but agree.

“Facebook allowed me to connect with my viewers and followers literally 24 hours a day as Irma was approaching Florida. Important changes in hurricane tracking and intensity often happen at odd times of day. Facebook provided a great opportunity to pass that critical information immediately to our viewers. I was able to go into much more depth on Facebook than I was on TV, many times getting down to the nitty gritty of the forecast and speaking directly to those affected.

Generally speaking, I use Facebook to directly connect with viewers because it is fast, it is real, and because it is a two-way street. It helps me understand their needs and concerns.” — WTVT Chief Meteorologist Paul Dellegatto