In September, the world was riveted by videos of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma—the wind, the water, the damage. Viewers likely gave no thought to the film crews behind the camera lenses. They get just as wet and windblown, but they rarely get to share their own stories. But they have stories to tell…
“Filming Hurricane Irma was madness!” said Mark Weiss. “It’s hard to keep camera equipment functioning in the middle of 130-mile winds.”
“It’s terrifying, leaning sideways, not being able to keep your eyes open because it’s raining so hard,” said Beth Weiss. “You can hear trees snapping and roofs ripping off. It’s like being in a tornado for hours.”
And yet, Oklahomans Mark and Beth Weiss choose to film weather for a living. This husband/wife team, owners of Weiss Productions, has been contracted by NBC, the BBC, and most recently, The Weather Channel. They covered both Harvey and Irma.
“We aren’t storm chasers,” Mark said. “Usually we film after weather events, but hurricanes are the exception because we’re going out with qualified meteorologists who know exactly what they are doing, so we feel safe.”
Although the couple has been married for ten years, Beth just joined Mark as his equipment partner six months ago. “Then, Wham! She got not only one, but two hurricanes, and possibly others during this active hurricane season. And she doesn’t want to miss future ones,” Mark said. “It’s awesome working together instead of me having to rush back home to my wife.”
Beth agrees. “A lot of couples couldn’t work together and still get along as well as we do. I get to make sure my best friend has everything he needs. And that he doesn’t get hit by a flying 2×4 or step off a curb and fall into the ocean.”
“It’s terrifying and invigorating at the same time,” Mark said. “You know the storm is coming and it’s going to tear up everything around you. The mental strain is incredible. Unlike Beth, I’m somewhat insulated because I’m focused on one small section of reality through an eye piece.”
During Hurricane Harvey, the Weisses were contracted as the film crew for Mike Seidel, a television personality for The Weather Channel. Mark describes Seidel as a brilliant meteorologist–but not one to broadcast safely from the sidelines.
“It’s our job to let the meteorologist be the star–and Mike Seidel reports from the eye of the storm, the most heinous part,” Mark said.
“We trudged thru knee-high water with 100-mile gusts. The railing we were standing next to was vibrating. The hotel walls were shaking. We kept saying, ‘Mike, this is getting scary,’ but he said, ‘We have an hour and 45 minutes before we have to worry about this becoming structurally dangerous.’ Sure enough, after we shot the film and went upstairs, the whole bottom floor of the hotel broke away, leaving just 2X4s.”
Mark’s most dramatic weather experience was the time he went up with a Navy aircraft and spent eight hours in a super-cell tornado. He described it as an up and down roller coaster ride in 3gs (3 g-forces) of turbulence that went on for hours.
“And yet these Navy guys were up there ruling the world like John Wayne riding a nuclear bomb. They were calmly shoving sandwiches in my face and saying, ‘You want something to eat?’ I was so terrified I couldn’t move.”
Filming weather is thrilling, but incredibly exhausting. During Hurricane Harvey, Mark and Beth each worked 122 hours in six days. Afterward, the Weisses knew that their film clips brought billions of dollars in relief to hurricane victims.
“We tell the stories America sees, and because of our media, all eyes are on Houston and Florida right now,” Mark said. “But I have lots of my own stories, too. Those stories are for other cameramen and for my grandkids.”