Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How Meteorology and Broadcasting Save Lives

This is an informative video that shows the value of local radio and television in the May 20 Moore, Oklahoma, tornado. As readers of Warnings know, I got my start as a television meteorologist in Oklahoma City.

The video indicates just how important meteorologists and local broadcasters are in saving lives in natural disasters. The point several of them make is correct: Without the excellent warnings, the death toll in Moore would have been far higher. Part of their coverage (as you'll see in the video) included live video from storm chasers. We learned at the AMS meeting in Nashville last week that at least some audience research indicates that live video of a tornado is the number one thing (even more than radar) that convinces people to take shelter during a tornado.

You'll recall that eleven days after the Moore tornado, storm chasers were killed near El Reno, Oklahoma, and there was a national controversy about storm chasing. As it turns out, the data three of the chasers were gathering when they were killed may be very useful in tornado research -- which could lead to saving even more lives.

Last Saturday night, a performer in "Ka," a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, tragically fell to her death during a performance. No one is calling for the show to be shut down or complaining that it is "too dangerous." I believe that is how it should be. There are going to be risks in just about anything that is worthwhile or adventurous.

But, consider: There is little "societal good" to that show other than the enjoyment it provides to the audience. In contrast, there has been tremendous good -- in terms of lifesaving tornado warnings -- to storm chasing.

As recently as last week, people were still calling for "regulating" storm chasing. That is a bad idea if for no other reason enforcement would be a nightmare (everyone has the right to use the roads). If you watch the video, I think you'll agree rather quickly that storm chasing has value in demonstrating the threat to people in the path of the tornado. Time for our politicians to move on from storm chasing to truly important issues.

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