Tornado Deflections

Image of tornado with flying words by Jasmine Mulliken

(I plan to get back to politics after this post on the recent tornadoes in the area. I think it’s important we build more private and public storm shelters here. We absolutely need laws and incentives that will help us to do so.—Kurt Hochenauer )

The criticism faced by local KFOR Meteorologist Mike Morgan for suggesting on air that people in the path of Friday's tornadoes should drive away from them is merely an anti-intellectual deflection.

It’s tragic because we need an honest discussion here about tornado safety. Instead, we roast some television weatherman and ignore obvious arguments, such as the need for storm shelters in all Oklahoma homes and schools.

Criticizing Morgan or whoever allows us to ignore a difficult reality about our state. We’re the epicenter for Tornado Alley, but we don’t even protect our children at schools. We build homes that are death traps. We have great “Oklahoma spirit,” but only after more than 40 people are dead and hundreds more are injured.

According to media reports, Morgan told people last Friday to flee from approaching tornadoes. That supposedly led to a mass exodus, congested roads (“a parking lot”) and then to death and injuries. Really? Lost in all of this is that he even HAD to recommend such a course of action because of the huge lack of shelters here.

Let’s be clear: It’s not intellectually sound to embrace edicts about tornado safety. Shelter in place? Drive away? It depends on a broad variety of factors. Do you have a shelter? Where is the tornado or cloud set that will likely produce one? Where is the dry line? Are other wall clouds forming in the area? What time of day is it? What time of year is it? What is the temperature? How near are major thoroughfares? Will the roads be crowded? Where can you go? That’s just a short list of questions.

The point is that if we embrace one particular view about tornado safety, we put ourselves at risk. What’s so insidious about tornadoes is that they strike quickly and become erratic. Our response should be the same. We should respond quickly to a tornado warning and take the particular (“erratic”) precautions dictated by the particular storm and the accompanying weather.

I urge everyone to ignore anyone who clings to blanket statements about tornado safety, such as “you should always shelter in place.” It all depends on the context of the storm or storms bearing down on you and what type of shelter, if any, you might have.

This is not a defense of Morgan by any means. In fact, I think tornado safety suffers here because storm coverage is relentlessly commercialized by our television stations, which crave viewers and money. If a big tornado strikes and there’s great video, well, then that works out quite nicely for our local stations, doesn’t it? They might launch self-serving programs to raise money for storm victims after they capture that great video, but they won’t support a comprehensive program to build shelters in this area. That might mean fewer deaths and less urgency to provide coverage, fewer viewers and fewer advertising dollars.

I wonder what the overall, local television news ratings would be here if we didn’t have such crazy, violent weather in this place.

So my point is that all this is a typical deflection that I’ve seen over and over again here. We’re arguing over what some guy said on television and not the reality. Meanwhile, time marches on, and all of it goes down our collective memory hole until the next tornado strikes.

As I wrote in a recent Op-Ed in The Washington Post, let’s build underground shelters everywhere here. Let’s require them in ALL homes. Let’s require shelters in ALL schools. Let’s construct our buildings with stronger materials and tie them more strongly to foundations. Let’s actually do something this time instead of making ourselves a national spectacle of ignorance and victimization.