Thursday, May 30, 2019

Storm Tourism Controversy, Again

Photo of violent tornado I took while chasing May 1, 2018
near Tescott, Kansas.
As previously mentioned, two vans belonging to Silver Lining Tours were overturned by a satellite tornado as the guests were watching the huge EF-4 tornado in the Lawrence, Kansas, area Tuesday. There were minor injuries.
Via Facebook
To my knowledge, this is the first incident of its nature in the history of storm tourism. Roger Hill is conservative and, if I wanted to take a tornado tour, I would not hesitate to book one of his (or any of the other responsible tour operators).

As expected, this brought out the usual complaints that storm tourism and storm chasing should be outlawed and that it is somehow unethical. Here is just one.

Let's see: Fewer than 1,000 people climb Mt. Everest in a given year. Eleven have died in just the last two weeks. "Putting people's lives in danger for a buck." A storm tour costs a tiny fraction of scaling Everest.

There are thousands of yearly storm chasers/tourists, not counting researchers. How many have died?
2019: Zero
2018: Zero
2017: Zero
2016: Zero
2015: Zero
2014: Zero
2013: 1 (3 researchers died)
2012: Zero
2011: Unclear. No known chasers died. There are rumors 2 locals died near Tuscaloosa.
2010: Zero
2009 and before: Zero

So, with numbers in just the past decade far in excess of 20,000, the most fatalities due to being struck by a tornado is 3. The researchers, with full knowledge, put themselves in extreme jeopardy to place research "pods" in the path.

My point is that storm tourism is extremely safe when compared to some of these other sports.
My first comment about blocking the roads into Linwood: When a 1-mile wide EF-4 is headed toward your community the streets should be empty! No one should be in a car during a tornado warning.

Second, do marathons block streets? Yes. Do marathons kill people? Yes.
The statistics show storm chasing is far safer than marathons, climbing Mt. Everest or SCUBA diving. Should we outlaw those?

I believe that one source of misunderstanding about the relative danger of storm tourism is the misunderstanding by many in the public that tornadoes are caprious. They are not. With the combination of current meteorological science and good Doppler radar coverage we pretty much know where the tornadoes are and where they are going to be. Regardless, to be sure, this storm chaser ( @usweatherexpert) always reports important storm conditions to other meteorologists and the public on Twitter via AAwx (where AA = the state abbreviation).

I do agree that what we call "the locals" can be a problem. I have had locals recognize what I was doing (in the middle of nowhere) and they began following wherever I drove. One of them parked partly blocking one lane of the highway. I'm not saying the pros don't do these things occasionally but the correct way to handle it is to give traffic citations to them.

Now, a final point. I have a philosophical problem with person X telling person Y how to live their lives (unless person Y endangers person Z). America is much less free than it was when I was growing up on the 50's and 60's. A little of that is to the good; most of it is bad. When I was growing up, one did not need a license to braid hair, for example. Tornado chasing, by helping researchers confirm the value of Doppler radar, by helping improve storm warnings, by confirming whether weather conditions agree with the storm warning or forecast, has done tremendous good. Far more than I would have guessed that evening in 1972.

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