Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weather Or Not

During last weekend's three-day outbreak of severe storms, it became clear to me that there are some aspects of meteorology that are becoming bloodsport. As the reports of tornadoes kept coming in, many of them duplicates or updates of initial reports, the tornado count was climbing like the "ka-chings" of a cash register during rush. Reports of "catastrophic damage" and EF5s, "violent" tornadoes, and debris balls on radar filled my Facebook feed like termites in a crumbling wall.

I love severe weather, but not at all because it tends to destroy things. The thing is, I'm not sure everyone else feels the same way anymore. Should I take the exclamation points in a status update to mean alarm or rapture? I fear it is the latter.

The beauty of deep moist convection is in the visual grandeur, and the physics. The collateral damage is our, at times, perilous existence. Severe weather can destroy lives, even end them. So seeing a radar screen of supercells with "chaser convergence" surrounding these things like vultures observing the latest kill leaves me in a morally ambiguous zone.

I understand that most people who chase storms do it because they appreciate the beauty behind these storms. I admire that feeling, and share it. But now, I believe, this admiration coexists with something else. Adventurers waiting for their next dollar. Receiving money for the latest tornado video, which shows somebody losing everything because of it, is an ethical quagmire to me. Broadcast companies extend their hands full of stash at the nearest sign of a rocky clip of debris spinning around. Something doesn't sit well with me given this reality.

I have mentioned many times my ethical dilemma with storm chasing. I have already vowed never to chase on high risk days again, after the calamitous rural traffic jam on 19 May 2010 in central Oklahoma. And I continue to see these drool-laden clips of revelatory excitement from destructive tornadoes, again and again and again. I just don't know anymore. I love the science behind tornadoes, and they do look quite beautiful. But I see a big downside to them, and I can't help but feel ... well, conflicted by the latest brouhaha on YouTube showing shaky video of a house lifted off its foundation. Enough already.


With the "miracle" of social networking, meteorologists have, more and more, warned others of impending danger via Facebook/Twitter, etc. I don't know why, but I find this trend increasingly annoying.

For one thing, it seems concerning to me that people would be on Facebook during a tornado warning. I would hope they were not online at all, but rather in a place of safety. Of course, it is naive of me to expect everyone to be doing this, but then again, my fear is that people will come to depend on Facebook during times like these, when I think their interests should be elsewhere (online or off).

The other thing that bothers me about it is that there seems to be a lot of overwarning going on. Alerting people that they are in a tornado watch/warning is fine, but exaggerating the risk seems doomed for the "cry wolf" syndrome. Seeing someone say a tornado watch is in effect, followed by "city X" is in "grave danger" during the next few hours is ... well ... a bold statement. And I'm not sure people will take it too seriously if they receive no such grave danger.

Then there are the "five-minute" updates of warnings, followed by "take shelter, take shelter"! If the warned people haven't taken shelter by your third of fourth update of the storm, Darwin is stirring.


I've mentioned this before, but please, for the love of "God", refrain from the default, robotic, meritless statement proclaiming "prayers to the victims of the tornadoes" after showing video, radar data, etc. of your adventures enjoying them. It screams hypocrisy, and I find it simply deplorable. I am sure many if not most of you mean the words, but they sound as hollow as their actual worth. First, virtually no one affected by the tornadoes will see/hear your prayers on Facebook/YouTube. The very people you offer them to won't even be aware of them. Secondly, they do NOTHING, and I mean that in every sense of the word ... NOTHING ... toward actually helping them. Instead of offering your prayers, donate some money/time to volunteer groups, the Red Cross, etc. Do something meaningful.