Friday, April 20, 2012

"Weather Tourism and Storm Reporting"

States like Kansas and Oklahoma try hard to bring tourists into their states. So, when tourists come and spend money storm chasing what happens? Some local officials complain!  Just scroll down on this blog.

I suggest we reframe what we do as "weather tourism" or "weather tourism and storm reporting." That would emphasize the positive benefits.  What are they?

  • Badly needed $$$ to the rural economy, especially in the High Plains. The four local officials who have publicly complained about "out-of-state" people need to realize that storm chasers buy gas, snacks, meals, and sometimes stay in rural motels. Do you really want to drive that business away? I suggest local chambers of commerce speak up on this issue. 
  • Do you really want the most qualified people to find and report tornadoes not visit your area? That is not to say that official storm spotters are not qualified. They are. The problem is that, by definition, storm spotters are in fixed locations and there isn't always one where needed. The actions by storm tourists were vital in the Joplin tornado. If, after chasing away the storm tourists, do you want to risk a storm striking your jurisdiction with little or no warning?
  • Briefing local officials. I have briefed local police on a number of occasions and I know other storm tourists have as well. Do you wish to cut off that source of information? 
  • Calling in reports of damage and rendering assistance. Again, vital in Joplin, Greensburg and other tornadoes.
In the Eagle story and in comments this morning there seems to be an element of "you storm chasers get out of our way so we local officials can chase storms." If my perception is correct, is that the highest and best use of people trained in law enforcement (police) and search/rescue (fire)? Why not let the chasers chase and preserve fire and law enforcement for dealing with the storms' aftermath?  

4 comments:

  1. "There seems to be an element of 'you storm chasers get out of our way so we local officials can chase storms."

    You probably remember that in the pre-chasing era, local law enforcement were the primary sources of reports or confirmation of tornadoes and other severe weather. Some of them may not be quite ready to give that role up!

    Back in the early 1970s, in the dinosaur age of rotary phones and Ma Bell, I can remember seeing emergency numbers listed inside the front cover of my parents' phone book, with headings such as "Fire," "Police," "Ambulance," etc. Under the heading "Tornado" would usually be a blurb like this: "To report seeing a tornado, call your local police or county sheriff's office. They will relay your report to the National Weather Service."

    The notion that ordinary "civilians" could report tornadoes directly to the NWS themselves was, apparently, not considered. Filtering reports through law enforcement was, at that time, probably assumed to be the best way to weed out false reports; but now that the forecasting tools NWS itself uses (radar, etc.) are available to just about anyone with a wireless connection, that isn't the case.

    Elaine

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  2. Elaine, I'm certain there is truth in what you say. How much, I'm not sure. I spent time with a Kansas EM discussing this issue this afternoon and will be talking with another EM Monday.

    I want to fix any genuine problems.

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  3. Mike -

    Do you think looky-loo's and chaser-chasers are more of the problem than the actual trained spotters? It seemed like on the news stations in Wichita on Saturday and days after that gawkers were creating problems for everyone.

    But you know just as well as I, that if you get a steam engine running down a track parallel to a highway, you are going to have the same traffic problems from people chasing with video cameras. Do we run those people off also?

    Mike B.

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  4. I agree with Mike B - it's the untrained, non-weather-savvy "camp followers" who really cause most of the problems. Not to say that NO pro or semi-pro chasers do stupid things like not pulling over far enough or leaving their doors hang open while shooting storms or whatever, but for the most part, I think these folks realize their behavior matters and that whatever part of their livelihood they make -- or simple enjoyment of storms -- through their chasing activities depends on them following the rules, longterm.

    And as for the concept of law enforcement being depended upon as the sole arbiters and reporters of actual severe events, I have one word: "Sheriff-nado." Yes, it's a stereotype and no, not all law enforcement officers are tornado sighting impaired. But let's face it: It's not their main line of work, it shouldn't be, and they just don't get enough experience to be reliable at it. I mean, come on -- it takes trained spotters and even meteos YEARS to become seasoned enough to make accurate identifications, and the smartest ones I know regularly exercise extreme caution in making a positive ID of a tornado before reporting. There's a reason terms like "sheriffnado" come into use.

    Thanks for the great blog post!

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