Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Issue of Learning the Wrong Lessons


I'm watching an interview with a Sandy survivor who lost her daughter and husband. The survivor was asked why she didn't evacuate. The reply, "We survived Irene, Gloria, 'Noreasters." This is a tragic, tragic story and it is one that meteorologists hear over and over. I wouldn't be doing my job without commenting on it with a goal of keeping these tragedies from recurring.

Here in Wichita, I hear, over and over, "We had a tornado in '67 and I survived it. Why should I go to the basement today?" Yes, we did have a tornado in the Prairie Village neighborhood of Wichita in '67. While the Fujita Scale did not exist in those days, it appears to be have been an F-0 or F-1.

This is known to meteorologists as "learning the wrong lesson." Surviving a weak storm does not mean you can survive the next storm. Especially since storms are of different intensities.

One of the cues people should rely on is what meteorologists are saying. I've shared some of my words of caution and safety on the blog the last week. You'll recall I posted this personal plea from Gary Szatkowski the head of the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. We were certain it would be much worse than Irene and said so.

Focus on these words:
These words were prophetic: This is exactly what occurred to the woman interviewed. She talked about how, once rescuers got to her, what should have been a 3 min. walk to the ambulance took 45 minutes. There was so much debris the firefighters carrying her on the stretcher didn't know what they were walking on. Would the next step be on top of a swimming pool and all of them crash through the debris and drown?

By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, the early warnings of Sandy saved at least thousands of lives (it may be tens of thousands had its last minute turn been unforecast). 

Today's weather enterprise, the National Weather Service, broadcast media, and private sector weather companies do an amazing job with major storms. Whether it is you or a loved one, I urge you to take modern storm warnings seriously. If told to evacuate, do so.

And, if a hurricane, blizzard, or ice storm warning is issued or if a "particularly dangerous situation" tornado watch is issued, step up and make sure you can take care of yourself for 3-7 days. Freshly refilled prescriptions, car's gas tanks full, essential foods, etc. 

By taking warnings seriously and taking these few steps to take care of yourself, vast, vast amounts of suffering can be alleviated. 

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