Watching the weather over this last week with its tornadoes and sudden severe weather events that killed people, sucked them from their cars and destroyed homes and structures made it clear that the weakest link in the path to safety for everyone is in the lack of common sense, knowledge, understanding and social context of individuals making decisions.
People in Oklahoma literally clogged interstate freeways in their cars during the time tornadoes were coming down upon them. Early reports from the Moore, Oklahoma tornado earlier in the week had indicated that many people held the belief that tornadoes would not affect large populated areas because they thought there was a “bubble” or heat / air current bubble of some kind over cities that made tornadoes go around them or be dissolved before hitting cities and suburbs. To find that idea believed by many in an area so prone to tornadoes is horrifying. That many people believed a couple days ago that they could outrun tornadoes dropping into and tracking across their city by getting on the interstates in their cars – is even more horrifying.
The National Weather Service and media outlets from The Weather Channel and CNN to every local news station made it clear that these storms would produce tornadoes specifically in the areas where they did form and tear up everything in their paths. It was not unknown information, but between the day of the Moore EF5 tornado and the next set a couple days later, people interviewed in the area under new threat of tornado acted very cavalier about it saying a couple notable things – one, that they had lived in Oklahoma and know about these storms and what to do – and two, that they were going to go on as if nothing weather related was in the way of that because they had to continue living their lives without being afraid of it all the time. However, there was one other prevalent idea, as well that came through in people’s attitudes, comments and interviews – that they did not have a safe room or storm shelter in their house although they knew the only safe place in these tornadoes which are common to their region – is to be below ground in one.
That said, there were a number of deaths and many, many injuries caused by people being in their cars when those tornadoes hit this week. There were flooded streets that people tried to cross anyway which caused those in the fast moving water in their cars to be drowned and rescuers that drowned trying to get to them. There were injuries made worse and possibly even fatalities as a result when clogged interstates where people were hurt could not be accessed by emergency personnel because of the massive standing traffic there.
A woman on the Weather Channel today being interviewed about the tornado that hit her home said that their storm shelter put into the foundation when the house was rebuilt had cost very little – around $2500 and yet, since the 1999 tornado that decimated Moore, Oklahoma – apparently very few homes were rebuilt with those storm shelters or safe rooms. Along with that, with over 1.6 million homes in Oklahoma for instance and tremendous numbers of other structures for business, industry, government, schools, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, hotels, malls, etc. – there are fewer than 12,000 total storm shelters and safe rooms throughout the entire state that FEMA records having helped to install or build.
Individual homeowners from the point in 1999 when it was known the kind of vast and massive damage that could occur from tornadoes until 2013 – fourteen years later, have made choices to not invest in that protection of a storm shelter or safe room and despite all knowledge to the contrary – have believed they would be safe sitting in a fiberglass bathtub in their bathroom or in some small interior closet during a tornado – or in their car. All of that fails the common sense test which any look at the devastation of homes from these tornadoes offer to anyone. The hospital in Moore, this week had the entire second floor ripped off of it – how could it have been built not to properly withstand these storms? How could any school in the states commonly affected by tornadoes, not have a safe room available to the 600 or more students and faculty who must be there for significant portions of their day, every day even during times that these storms can develop tornadoes and drop them on their schools?
To be honest – I’ve watched it become fashionable in my lifetime for people to ignore the dangers of weather, whether it is a blizzard, a flood situation, flooded streets, hurricanes, storm surges, swollen flooded creeks, lightning, sudden extremely heavy rain events, extreme heat events, sandstorms, wildfire and exceptionally dry conditions, landslide possibilities and although it isn’t extreme weather – earthquake dangers. I watched New Yorkers walk to the store during the heaviest winds and rains of it because they just had no respect for what those wind gusts could drive into them or across them without warning. I’ve now watched helicopter pictures on the tele of massive numbers of people on several interstate freeways in a traffic jam in Oklahoma City while tornadoes descended upon them tossing their cars into a twisted heap of metal, injury and even death.
There have been horrifically countless times across our entire country where people have driven into flooded streets to end up swept away with its currents into even more flooded areas when they should never have been there in the first place and there have been plenty of warnings to “Turn Around – Don’t Drown.” I watched videos and news accounts during massive sandstorms in Arizona as people drove into them intentionally trying to get a better look at it to put on YouTube and out of curiosity with clearly visible in their videos – many others driving around doing the same thing – and then reports of cars overturned, traffic pile-ups and other unnecessary losses of life, limbs and property as a result. They should’ve never been out there – just as people went into the NY Harbor before the Hurricane coming in upon them to kayak despite the chaotic waves and currents known to be there before the storm even made landfall.
I’ve watched people in New York tell everyone from the news and weather experts to individuals who have experienced tornadoes, hurricanes and storm surges that their knowledge of New York took precedence over anything anyone could say to add to that knowledge and those things would not impact New York City in the ways people were telling them ahead of time. No one could tell them any different in any manner that made any sense to them – without them discrediting that information – and I watched the same thing happen this week as reporters spoke with people in Oklahoma prior to the storms dropping more tornadoes on top of them. They know about tornadoes and flooding, there isn’t anything that can be added to that knowledge since some times in the past when a tornado spawning event occurred, it went around them or because some of the times that the National Weather Center called tornado warnings in an area, those events were minimal in damaging only a few things a bit, such as tearing some roofs off down one stretch of road or knocking over some barns or flooding a few streets with a few inches of water which quickly retreated.
In some of the information used by local and state officials to assess the risk of tornado events to areas of Oklahoma – (and there are the same things for every other area of the Midwest and Deep South) – the numbers are so skewed in their statistical interpretation that it makes it look like those events would be somewhere in the neighborhood of “unlikely” rather than “likely”. But, common sense says it is likely that these storm events will spawn tornadoes and even flooding throughout all of these states of the Midwest and Oklahoma, in particular since that state has the most serious tornadoes and the highest number of those serious tornadoes every year since records have been kept. It is a set of known facts that storm shelters, properly reinforced basements and safe rooms can and do save lives. It is proven by countless studies made by engineers, scientists and academics that the only safe place to be during a tornado is under ground in a storm shelter, basement, storm cellar, or in a reinforced safe room. It isn’t a maybe.
It is also known that driving into flooded streets is wrong for life and limb. It is known that hurricane and tornado force winds can drive any and every thing into car windows, into walls and into the human body. It is known that any car, truck, 18-wheeler, heavy crane, heavy equipment, farm equipment, bulldozers, SUV, any vehicle can be sucked up into the air by a tornado, can be swept off by moving water, can be overturned and crushed by tornadoes and strong winds – these are definitely NOT SAFE places to be. And yet, people ignore that and believe that to be unruffled by it all and to not take cover or even to go get in their car to go drive around during the extreme weather means that they are somehow doing the right thing.
It used to be that we could not predict the weather well enough to warn people. And, admittedly some events unfold faster than others with tornadoes that is true in one way, but not in another since the storm cells that create those tornadoes can be interpreted as having that danger before the fact now. Landslide dangers are known after wildfires and heavy rains, flooding can be expected by any reasonable person after heavy rains locally or regionally where those events are feeding into streams and rivers.
But more so – our media outlets tell of these things nationally conveying them to every area of the country whether it is severe dry, wildfire dangers in an area, swollen rivers that are likely to be flooding in the days ahead, massive storm cells approaching that can and likely will produce tornadoes, lighting, hail and heavy rain – and between every manner of media outlet these are being conveyed to the public. And, yet, people at their workplaces are coming home into events saying they didn’t know. Truckers and other drivers are seen driving directly into the tornadoes on the ground (in videos that can be seen from the news and on YouTube where fellow drivers clicked it with their cellphones).
This week two women likely drowned and their rescuers including a sheriff and Fish and Game officer in Arkansas drowned trying to save them when their vehicle should have never even been in that situation at all. Pictures show that people were driving around Oklahoma City well into the night despite traffic lights being out and some streets severely flooded and amidst continuing heavy rains after tornadoes had ripped through several areas. There is no good reason that they would have been in their cars running around in it and more accidents were caused by them doing it than even the storm itself caused.
Those things among others like the 22 year old mother who left her two children for eight hours locked in her car while she worked which killed one and critically injured the other – along with a vast number of other children’s deaths from this same thinking that caused people to leave them locked in their car rather than taking those children into wherever with them – give me a very bad feeling that none of this can be fixed. campaigns to let people know of these dangers and the actions to take that will insure their safety against these dangers are either being ignored or discredited – maybe everyone thinks that doesn’t count for them or that it isn’t fashionable to take things that seriously. A person I met at the Memorial Day weekend barbecue said he used to be safety conscious but not so much anymore – he had decided to just not worry about it. And, although he was talking about these larger events like the storm surge and hurricane Sandy – I said that I just can’t help caring about safety and choose to do so – then I went and put the potato salad sitting in the sun onto a bowl of ice and moved it into the shade. But then, I’m the one that is crazy – I can’t afford the luxury of being stupid too.
Oklahoma Twisters’ Deadly Lesson: You Can’t Run, So Hide
The twisters and heavy rains that swept through the area Friday evening flipped cars and trucks on interstate highways and swept up vehicles in deep flood waters.
The National Weather Service confirmed today that at least five tornadoes touched down Friday around Oklahoma City. The strongest of the tornadoes registered as an EF-3 south of El Reno.
Officials said today that at least seven of the nine people killed by the storm were in their cars, including a mother and her baby.
“They were traveling on the interstate and their car was sucked up into the tornado and they were sucked out of their car,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said.
Virginia single mom left 2 young kids in car for 8 hours as she worked motel job — toddler son died, baby girl is critical
Aired May 30, 2013 – 19:00 ET (the day before massive tornado event with 19 tornadoes confirmed)
We have breaking news on the program. Coming up at the top of the hour, more storm warnings across Oklahoma today, including the town of Moore which was so hit by the deadly tornado earlier this month. We’re going to live to CNN’s Chad Myers who is in the middle of it, chasing a storm with a possible tornado on the ground near him. Ominous weather, look at that.
Aired May 30, 2013 – 19:00 ET
CNN Newsroom –
Aired May 30, 2013 – 15:00 ET (Thursday)
We’re going to get a break in as we’re following this breaking news. Samantha mentioned two active tornado warnings in Oklahoma, and it’s heading toward Moore, many of those neighborhoods in Moore, as you know, hit and leveled. People lost their homes, some lost lives in that EF-5 tornado last week. (etc.)
I want to bring in Jim Routon. Jim Routon is on the phone with me, because he lives in Moore, Oklahoma. Jim, you survived that EF-5 tornado last week. Thank goodness your home is still standing. I understand you were just helping friends with cleanup today. Where are you right now?JIM ROUTON, RESIDENT OF MOORE, OKLAHOMA (via telephone): Right now, I’m located just east of Briarwood Elementary on 19th Street and Santa Fe. And we’re just down here.
Had several people that — friends of mine that have lost their homes and we were just down there kind of helping with the cleanup process and cooking some food for the cleanup workers and the utility linesmen and stuff like that.
BALDWIN: So you’re helping out. Are you in your car right now?
ROUTON: I’m taking her and my daughter, J.C. (ph), and my two nieces, J.C. and Lexi (ph), over to the church, to Central Church of Christ, to volunteer to help pass out some supplies and medical supplies and food and stuff like that.BALDWIN: So it sounds to me, Jim, that you have a full car, and you are going on as business as usual, despite what we are reporting with these active tornado warnings and the storm heading towards Moore.
(It is worth reading the entire transcript of this one from the earlier tornado warnings in the text being broadcast and discussed to the rest of the conversation with this man who was so cavalier about the dangers even after the experience with the Moore EF5 tornado earlier in the week.)
Aired May 30, 2013 – 15:00 ET