01/11/2013 at 04:00 PM EST
All Hannah Storm wanted to do was cook dinner.
But when the flame on her gas grill blew out – and she reignited the gas – there was an explosion.
"You could trace the path of the flames up my neck," the ESPN SportsCenter anchor tells PEOPLE in its new issue. "I could barely speak I was in such pain."
Storm, 50, suffered first-degree burns to her face and neck, and second degree burns to her hands and chest in the Dec. 11 blast.
With her eyebrows burned off, and hair half gone, she could tell there had been damage to her face – but didn’t know how severe it was.
"I knew intellectually that I'd eventually heal, but one of my first questions to the EMT was, 'How's my face? Will I ever be able to work again?'"
On Jan. 1, just three weeks later, she proved that she could, returning with heavy makeup and hair extensions to host the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
"Getting back on air was a huge deal for her," says her husband, sportscaster Dan Hicks. "It was an important step."