In the wake of a tragedy, there is the natural human desire to "do something" -- we want to somehow make it better to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
The first thing I'm going to suggest to everyone reading this posting is to grieve as best we can while helping the Samaras and Young families and friends. Some the chasers involved in the accidents Friday evening may, sooner or later, suffer from PTSD. Please keep a watch out for it and urge them to get help if they show the signs.
But, that is where I believe we should stop for at least six months and let the shock heal.
Why? Because, in the immediate wake of a tragedy or atrocity like September 11th, the desire to "do something" often leads to something that is terribly counterproductive.
After September 11th, both R's and D's in Washington said we needed a Department of Homeland Security (DHS). I believe it is the most counterproductive agency ever created by the federal government. Why do I bring up the dysfunction at DHS? Because, just last week, DHS at the Windsor, Ontario, check point stopped a huge shipment of Canadian relief supplies headed to the Oklahoma tornado victims! DHS was protecting the U.S. from Canadian charity. See what I mean?
So, in addition to suggesting a time for emotions to start to mend, where does storm chasing go from here? Based on several messages received since 2am asking me to comment, here are my thoughts.
Storm chasing began at the University of Oklahoma in 1972 (that story is here, if you are interested). From then until 1996, storm chasing was a largely unknown activity, primarily dedicated to research. It all changed when Twister came out. Suddenly, everyone knew about storm chasing.
In the final scene of the movie, the tornado suddenly changes direction and the protagonists find themselves running for their lives with no good options. As depicted, they were lucky to survive in a barn filled sharp farm implements.
I believe the director, Jan de Bont, meant that scene as a cautionary tale. Unfortunately, some -- especially in the media -- seemed to view it as an instruction manual. Friday, a minority of chasers, especially associated with the media, literally drove right into tornado.
In spite of Friday, storm chasing has done a tremendous amount of good the last forty years.
|Doppler on Wheels storm chase team, Clearwater, Kansas, May 19, 2013|
Those calling for "regulation" in the wake of this tragedy are well-intended but misguided. People die climbing El Capitan in Yosemite. You don't need a license to climb Mount Everest. Those activities are adventures (just like storm chase tours). People knowingly take a risk.
Besides, law enforcement is not qualified to determine "good" chasers from "bad" chasers and "safe" situations versus "unsafe" situations. Law enforcement was unhelpful in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse (note: not a criticism, just stating a fact). There is even a report that law enforcement cut off the means of escape (southbound U.S. 81) south of El Reno Friday evening. I can cite other times where law enforcement was counterproductive around extreme weather. Again: My intent is not to criticize law enforcement; I'm sure they are well-meaning. It is an issue of qualifications.
Storm chasing, on the whole, has saved far, far more lives than it has cost. But, that balance will tip quickly if things do not change.
I suggest we go back to the pre-Twister model of storm chasing: Respectable distances, at least two paved escape routes, storm chase teams as opposed to individuals. Stop trying to out "extreme" the next guy. Make sure that your goals include getting vital information to the NWS. Otherwise, what is the point?
But, any regulations, laws, etc., need to wait until well after this storm season is over and people have had time to think through all of the implications and practicalities.