The weather in Green Country—and across the state—has been relentless the last few weeks. During the chaos, many Tulsans have been glued to coverage by Travis Meyer, the chief meteorologist at KOTV News On 6, for in-depth, up-to-the-second updates on every hook echo, squall line and flood warning in northeastern Oklahoma. Meyer has more than 30 years of meteorology experience, first working in Tulsa with KTUL Channel 8 before moving to Channel 6 in 2005. We talked to Meyer on a sunny afternoon, the first since the severe weather outbreak began, for an inside look on what it’s like to be a weatherman in the heart of Tornado Alley.
The Tulsa Voice: I imagine you’ve had a crazy week, to say the least. Can you tell us what the last 10 days have been like in the studio?
Travis Meyer: "Relentless" is the word I would use to describe it. You know, you’re prepared, and yet even when you’re prepared, you can run out of energy. … We were running low on gas, but fortunately, we have six meteorologists on the staff, and so we were able to rotate a lot. I spoke quite a bit during the events. … I got kind of sore toward the end, because it was hours and hours and hours of talking. So we split it up as much as we can and make sure that nobody wears out their voice.
TTV: How long were you on air during this period of time?
Meyer: It’s all a blur, to be honest with you. All the days merged into the same. You sleep for about five hours, six hours, and you hurry up and get back to work. … I think we were a solid nine-and-a-half [hours] on Channel 6 and then another two hours or so [on Facebook]. It came out to almost 12 hours total. So that broke all our records. I think the longest before had been closing in on eight.
TTV: How do you find time to eat? To go to the bathroom?
Meyer: We don’t eat a whole lot. We do try to eat protein stuff to keep going. You’re not an athlete, but you have to act like one there, with persistence as far as not being able to leave the field of play, so to speak. Usually you have just a moment to rotate, that’s when people take a quick break. I don’t think Stacia [Knight] left her position, we counted, for like five-and-a-half hours. She ran the radar; she’s great.
I drink quite a bit trying to keep my voice going, and try to not get too dry or make it raw and sore, so I’m constantly drinking more. That kind of changes my philosophy a little bit, because I’ll be like, ‘Oh wait, I’ll be right back,’ so I’ll have to spin it off to someone else. Eating is just on the fly. A lot of times we don’t during those events; usually those events are four to six hours and we grab a bite before we start it.
TTV: You’re pretty much the most famous public figure in Tulsa right now. What does it feel like to become a local celebrity for doing your job?
Meyer: It’s a good feeling, because you get enough people chewing you out for so many different reasons—staying on the air, wrecking their programming, bad forecast. … There were still a few that thought I was an idiot and all that—you can’t please everybody, and you try to help as many people as you can.
It really didn’t sink in. It just started with those memes … I was having my own little moments of just laughing in the middle of, you know, being stressed. So it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened for me, because it gave me a little bit of a light moment. Everything else is so serious and you’re so intense making sure you’re not misreading the radar. It was a moment that I’ll cherish forever. It won’t happen again. It’s one of those once in a lifetime moments for people.
TTV: Philbrook offered you a day to yourself at the museum, and Nothing’s Left Brewery put your face on prayer candles—did you see those? And someone even wrote and recorded a song called "The Ballad of Travis Meyer."
Meyer: [Laughs] That was crazy! Because this was right after one long, long night. I was worn out, and I felt bad for everybody because everybody had to stay for so long. I came home and I saw that somebody sent [the song] to me, and I listened to it, and it just about—it didn’t break my heart, but it was one of those moments, like ‘Oh my gosh.’ I was happy, but I kinda had a tear in my eye. Like, I don’t deserve that.
I was just really, really touched by that. I don’t know if I was just really tired or if it was just the moment, but that was probably one of the best moments in my life. … Because you go 30 years, and every five years or so someone says, "Thank you—you might’ve saved my life by telling me to get off the sofa and actually go to someplace safe." … That doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s just like everything that you do, everything that you work for just makes it so worthwhile. That you’re actually helping someone.
TTV: Have you ever had any close calls at the studio?
Meyer: About 10 days ago, Alan Crone was on in the morning and that tornado touched down just on the west side of downtown. It just went on the north side of downtown, and they pushed everybody to the basement, to the tornado shelter at Channel 6, and Alan stayed on the air. Stephen Nehrenz, he ran the radars and stuff while Alan was doing the analysis of what the storm was doing, and it just barely missed. … But we do have tornado shelters and stuff like that like every business pretty much does, so we make sure to get everybody to get their rears down there and not just sit there and watch it like normal Oklahomans.
TTV: How does the News 6 weather team keep spirits and energy up during bad weather events?
Meyer: Number one: I hire people that care, and that’s not a slam on anybody else, but I love to have people that have ownership in Oklahoma, and they’re not just kinda passing through looking to just get a job. I want them to have families here. I want them to be invested. So everybody that’s on my staff is either from Oklahoma or extremely close, or has family in the area.
I like people who are invested here, who aren’t just coming through for a couple of years of experience so they can go on to the big market. It makes a huge difference in the psychology of the person. They’re fighting for something. They’re working for something. They’re rooted here. And so I think that adds an extra layer of energy and responsibility to their jobs. … To me it’s a lot healthier, and I get better people because they care. They’re heavily invested in our state. … That’s one of the big reasons I loved moving to Channel 6. They’re still locally owned. God willing they can stay that way for a long time.