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Al meets the Kentucky meteorologist whose tornado coverage helped save lives

Trent Okerson of NBC affiliate WPSD shared what it was like delivering a forecast of deadly tornadoes in Kentucky that helped people rush to safety.

Trent Okerson's motto as a meteorologist for NBC affiliate WPSD in Kentucky is "don't scare, just prepare."

Okerson, a 14-year veteran of the station based in Paducah, did his best to live up to that slogan on Dec. 10 when he helped save lives with a precise forecast of deadly tornadoes that left a path of destruction in the area.

He and fellow meteorologist Noah Bergren drew a yellow line on the map to Mayfield, Kentucky, two hours before a tornado ravaged the town, including leveling a candle factory and killing eight people. He accurately told them the time and the place it would hit.

Okerson met with TODAY's own weatherman, Al Roker, in Mayfield on Friday to describe what it was like delivering the ominous forecast on the day of the deadliest tornadoes in Kentucky history that killed at least 76 people.

At one point, he told viewers to put on a bike helmet or a baseball helmet to protect themselves, calling it a "life-threatening tornado" the likes of which he had never seen before on radar, according to Poynter.

"We want folks to be prepared," Okerson said. "We don’t want to scare them. Our news director says, ‘What do you do for a living?’ Our answer is, we save lives. How do we do that? We track storms."

Okerson was on the air continuously from 6:30 p.m. local time past midnight, providing people the forecast to help save their lives. He credited it as a team effort with his WPSD colleagues Bergren and Kaylee Bowers.

"It was just overwhelming to know how bad of a storm this was," he said. "And we just had to make sure that we found a way to give folks that sense of urgency, to stay calm, but take action."

The urgency was particularly driven home to Okerson because he is a longtime Paducah resident, so his family, friends and neighbors were among those depending on his broadcast.

"To have that sense of community and to know that folks’ lives are going to be changed, it was just an overwhelming experience," he said.

A viewer named Robert Lowery who evacuated his home with his family minutes before the tornado destroyed it sent the station a video message afterward to thank them, according to Poynter.

“They (WPSD) saved my life, my brother’s life, his wife, my mother, every one of them,” Lowery said. “It if hadn’t been for them, I would be laying there dead.”

Okerson had just had visited with a group of sixth-graders in Mayfield only a day before the tornadoes hit. All of them survived, but some lost their homes.

"They were on my mind the whole time that we were on air that night," Okerson said.

Al helped bring some hope to Mayfield and the surrounding areas on Friday by announcing donations of food, Christmas gifts for children and other essential items by Kroger, Walmart, Bananagrams and Lowe's.