Marcus grad wins Emmy for Iowa tornado coverage

The weather forecast called for severe weather – for the fourth weekend in a row – but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon when the police scanner began screeching with non-stop reports one spring Sunday in Iowa.

As weekend producer at KCCI 8 News in Des Moines, Michelle Schuelke was finishing production of the 5 p.m. newscast and beginning to work on the 10 p.m. broadcast when she noticed calls pouring in for police and fire to respond to a tornado warning.

Quickly, the 2010 Marcus High School graduate picked up the phone along with a reporter on duty to track down a possible tornado on the ground as the meteorologist and anchors began continuous weather coverage.

Soon, she learned the roof had been blown off of a hospital building in Oskaloosa about an hour and a half south of Des Moines. Schuelke immediately sent the reporter and a videographer to the scene with a backpack to begin broadcasting live.

The 22-year-old producer, a 2013 graduate of the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in business, discovered the cell tower was down and sent a satellite truck to help the team on the ground.

KCCI 8 News, like many other television stations, asks viewers to submit photos and videos, particularly during inclement weather. Schuelke was reviewing a submitted video when she realized a driver heading down Interstate 5 had filmed telephone poles being snapped in two like toothpicks and sparks flying as transformers blew.

“That was incredible video,” Schuelke said in a recent telephone conversation recounting the Aprl 27 storm system spawning a tornado that traveled 50 miles across southeast Iowa and 80-mile-per-hour straight-line winds causing damages across several communities. One person was killed in the storm, according to news reports. The hospital building turned out to be an adjacent office building, not the actual hospital.

As the minutes and then hours ticked by, Schuelke steadily worked with her fellow journalists to compile an hour-long program focused solely on the storm’s aftermath – a program that captured a first place Emmy award from the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Schuelke was honored as the sole producer along with Meredith Garman as director, Todd Magel and Laura Nichols as the main anchors, Donna Smith and Alex Kuberski as photographers and Erin Hassanzadeh as reporter.

It is an honor she never expected to receive just more than three months into her first full-time broadcast journalism job as a producer for the television station.

“She’s been out [of college] less than a year … and she’s already won an Emmy,” said LaJuana Hale, who teaches journalism at Marcus High School. “Michelle was a very hard worker,” Hale said, adding she couldn’t be prouder of her former student.

For Schuelke, the day’s events remain crystal clear as she did what comes naturally.

“It was a scary situation for everyone but we still got the information out to them,” she said. “I never thought this would be an Emmy-award winning show.

“By no means did I imagine that could happen,” she said of receiving the Emmy Award – an award she wasn’t able to pick up in person on Sept. 26 as she was working that evening. “I felt shocked. I was just happy to be considered.”

Schuelke’s journalistic interests started at Marcus when she took her first journalism course during her sophomore year and joined the Marcus Organization of Broadcasting her junior year.

Schuelke was honored with several regional awards for her stories with the Marcus Organization of Broadcasting, which fueled her interests in journalism as did Hale, whom she called her “cheerleader.”

While at Marcus, Schuelke shot video of the football and baseball teams and, during her senior year, made an end-of-the-year highlight video for the football team’s annual banquet.

Another person excited about Schuelke’s accomplishment is her mother, Cathy Schuelke, who works as a yearbook advisor and fourth grade math and science teacher at Old Settlers Elementary School in Flower Mound.

“I’m so proud of her,” Cathy Schuelke said.

As for now, Schuelke is back to business as usual, only this time she’s focusing on a different season as the arctic cold front is expected to bring the first wintry weather to Iowa in the form of snow.

And if history is any indication, she’ll be making sure every detail is available for her viewers, not thinking about whether it will end up being another Emmy award-winning show.

For part of the newscast, check out this link:


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