When the power went out late Friday, March 2, the region went to bed, and hoped it would be back in the morning. But residents awoke to more than a foot of wet, heavy snow, damaged trees, downed power lines and no electricity.
Residents in Grand Traverse County were under a state of emergency, but probably didn't know it — unless they had a battery-operated radio and knew what station to tune to.
Instead, people across the region used mobile phones or went to places that had power to seek information on computers — many of them from record-eagle.com.
On Saturday, the day after the storm, newsroom staffers began posting updates to our website at 8:30 a.m. and continued news coverage throughout the day. More than 30,000 online readers (18 percent using a mobile device) learned that more than 100,000 people were without power in the region, as well as early estimates of when it would be restored.
They learned where they could go for warmth and shelter, and what area events were canceled. They were treated to photos of storm damage and some light-hearted "snowmageddon" humor. Via our Facebook page and through tweets, we took reader questions, shared reader photos, and commiserated about the snow.
We even broke news that day about a death at the county jail and a suspicious Thompsonville tragedy.
But despite the 10 stories we wrote and published online Saturday, readers did not learn from us that Grand Traverse County was under a state of emergency. In fact our reporter could not reach Dan Scott, the county's emergency management coordinator, that day, and we found out later that official emergency information was being disseminated only through one media source — a country music radio station.
Scott told the Record-Eagle that most people didn't know about the state of emergency, because they either didn't have a battery-powered radio or didn't know what station carried the message. Both Scott and Traverse City Manager Ben Bifoss agreed that more needs to be done to direct people to the emergency information, but no mention was made of disseminating that information where people already look for it — online.
Clearly, thousands of residents looked to the Record-Eagle's website, so we did our best to provide all the information we could gather, as soon as we gathered it.
Our overall online traffic the Saturday after the storm spiked 77 percent when compared to the prior week, with traffic from mobile devices up 272 percent. As the days wore on with many residents still in the dark, more turned to the Record-Eagle's website. During the three days after the storm, our website received 80,300 unique visitors (almost as many as we normally receive in one month); 11,000 of them used mobile devices.
Our page that contained rolling updates of power outage and shelter information was viewed more than 10,000 times, and thousands read stories like "Region digs out as crews scramble to restore power" and "Outages, closings continue."
When the next storm hits, we hope you, too, will log on to record-eagle.com, either by computer or your mobile device. And we hope Grand Traverse County will share directly with us the information it needs to get to you, its residents and our readers.
-- Jeanne Ehinger is Record-Eagle digital media manager.