Even non-religious people praised Matt Laubhan’s “genuine human reaction” to what he was seeing on the radar.
Broadcasters who have to report on tragedies as they are happening have a tough job. On the one hand, they have to maintain their professionalism and inform the public of what's happening in a factual way. On the other hand, they're still human and sometimes humanity trumps the traditional perception of what's "professional."
Such was the case for WTVA meteorologist Matt Laubhan, who found himself live on the air staring at a radar scan of a deadly tornado as it moved towards the small town of Amory, Mississippi. He, more than anyone, understood the severity of the situation, and he did his best to convey that to his viewers.
"This is a strong, life-threatening tornado that's going to move either extremely close to Amory or in through the northern part of the city of Amory."
He added, "Y'all trust me too much," explaining that people sometimes take his predictions of where the tornado will go as hard fact, but the reality is that tornados can change directions at any time. "So Amory, we need to be in our tornado safe place," he said.
Just after he told people they needed to be in their shelters, a new scan came in that clearly affected him.
"North side of Amory, this is coming in," he said. And then the reality of how strong the tornado was clearly hit. "Oh, man," he said, leaning down on the table with his hand over his mouth. After a deep breath, he stood and said a brief prayer—"Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen."—before continuing to explain where the tornado looked like it was going to track.
Watch the emotional moment:
Laubhan shared with CNN Business what moved him to pray on live TV.
"I can't say that I was intending on praying," he said. "It was kind of a situation where we knew that something extremely bad was happening, and we knew that it was possible, maybe even probable, that people were being hurt and about to die. I'm very rarely at a loss for words, and I was feeling a little bit overwhelmed, honestly. And it just kind of came out."
He added that many people who were watching live have told him his spontaneous prayer helped them to "realize the seriousness of the situation."
After one commenter on Twitter said that the meteorologist "should have been focused 100% on his weatherman job at that point," others chimed in to support Laubhan's display of compassion and humanity—including many who are not people of faith themselves.
"I'm not a believer. He's just having a human reaction," wrote one person. "There's nothing else he could've done in that moment. Let him cope how he can. From the short clip it seems he takes his job incredibly seriously. The two seconds it took to say that are inconsequential."
"It's his genuine human reaction to what he knows is going to be a horrible event," wrote another. "He's warned people, can physically do no more, so he draws on his faith. I don't pray, exactly, because I don't believe in Micromanager God, but I do think positivity helps even if only the doer."
"I’m not a believer but positive vibes are positive vibes," wrote another. "It was well meant. Give him a break, people."
"Not religious but I found this very touching and showing true concern for people," shared another.
Resident Leah Ann Hubbard told The Independent how helpful Laubhan's reporting was as she prepared for the tornado.
“Everybody watches him around here to find out if they need to shelter for a tornado,” she said, adding that his urgency made her think, "Hmmm, maybe we should take this seriously, maybe we should really get prepared." She pulled out her mattress and hid in the bathtub with her two dogs.
“The last thing I heard him say was, ‘Debris is 7,000 feet in the air,’ and then the lights go off, the phone service dies, and you’re in the dark with the dogs,” she said.
Hubbard's description of feeling helpless as the tornado raged over her town seems to reflect what Laubhan experienced as he saw the tornado bearing down on the radar.
“You know that there is a monster swirling over your house and over your town, and there’s nothing you can do. And you’re just praying for yourself and for everybody else,” she told The Independent.
As one person wrote about the tornado and Laubhan's reaction, "There's tornadoes and then there's tornadoes. Some will take the roof off your house and some will take your town off the map. This was the latter. He knew in that moment that in a few minutes, that town would no longer exist."
The town of Amory was hit hard, but the next-day footage from Rolling Fork, a few hours away from Amory, is utterly apocalyptic. The rare, long-track tornado path stretched across western Mississippi through the night of March 24, 2023, killing 25 people and injuring dozens of others.
Seeing the aftermath from this storm system, it's clear why Matt Laubhan took a moment to pray for those in the tornado's path. When a storm is that powerful, there's really nothing else anyone can do, and his moment of genuine care and concern for his fellow humans was deeply appreciated.