Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Now I'm worried this is going to get ugly.

At Eschaton yesterday and today, there were too many comments blaming the people of Moore, Oklahoma for the loss of life in the storm.  At the time, the death toll was reportedly 51, and expected to rise (the New York Times was reporting it at 91); the toll now has been reduced to 24, 7 of them children who drowned in a basement while seeking shelter.  The complaints were about things like lack of basements (which is not a storm shelter; and there are good reasons people in Oklahoma don't build them) and community storm shelters. Given the devastation of Moore, and the fact the tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes and 20 miles (Sen. Inhofe is right, that is extraordinary), the loss of life is truly minimal; although no person's death is minimal.  Blame was laid on governments that don't require shelters and Senators that deny climate change.  I thought it was an odd response, but I fear now this will become a trend:

By the way, here is the City Of Moore's official FAQ page about storm shelters and the like. I may be wrong, but this fairly reeks of defensiveness. The explanation for the lack of storm shelters seems economically prissy and more than a tad lame—people won't use them because they won't leave their pets behind? So, therefore, we don't build one? Really?—and the cruel irony of this tornado is that people were warned specifically not to "shelter in place" but, rather, to get in their cars and drive like hell. There is considerable real-time audio from local radio and TV to that effect. And this is a masterpiece of You're On Your Own, Jack:

 "What if I live in a mobile home?"

This means that you have additional responsibility for your safety, and that begins much earlier! Mobile homes typically do not offer good shelter from thunderstorm winds, and that means you should find shelter elsewhere—perhaps the house of family or friends. You need to plan your actions long before thunderstorms arrive, and leave early...don't wait until warnings are issued or the sirens are blowing to leave."
Except that link doesn't go anywhere.  This is the City of Moore webpage on storm shelters, and this is what it says:

Non-Desirable Locations

If you don't live in a "reasonably-well constructed residence" - such as a mobile home - then we certainly would hope that you plan to leave your home and find shelter in a better location. This requires advance planning on your part! It also requires keeping a much sharper eye to deteriorating weather conditions! Have a family emergency plan, and don't hesitate in activating it. If your plan is to leave your home for better shelter, DO NOT WAIT UNTIL TORNADO WARNINGS ARE ISSUED to leave for shelter!
And what about community shelters?  Well, that's a longish bit, but again, it doesn't say what Mr. Pierce says it says:

"Community" Shelters
The City of Moore has no community (or "public") tornado shelters. This is due to two factors: Overall, people face less risk by taking shelter in a reasonably-well constructed residence! There is no public building in Moore which has a suitable location for a shelter. Yes, there is less overall risk by sheltering-in-place than by going to a community shelter. The average tornado warning time is generally only 10-15 minutes. That's just not enough time for a person to receive the warning, make a conscious decision to leave their home, gather the few things needed (family, keys, etc.), lock the house, get into the car, drive to a shelter (including possibly experiencing a traffic jam of others trying to get to the same shelter!), get out of the car, and make the way into the community shelter. In this scenario, there's a far greater likelihood of getting caught in your car when the tornado strikes! And experience proves that cars are NOT the place you want to be during severe weather events! On May 3, 1999, one of the most violent tornadoes ever recorded struck central Oklahoma, including the northwest part of Moore in its path. Warning for this event was outstanding - one research survey suggests that over 95% of the people in central Oklahoma knew of the tornado and its location. While many people evacuated, many others took shelter in their homes. The vast majority of these people...in fact all but three in Moore...survived! Their homes were destroyed, but the people survived. Emergency management and weather warning professionals see this as a testiment to the tornado safety rules have been advocated for years: "In homes or small buildings, go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris." May 3rd was an extremely unique event weatherwise. There has never been such a strong and violent tornado ever in the recorded history of the City of Moore. Statistically, there is only about a 1-2% chance of a tornado - of any size - striking Moore on any particular day during the spring. But of all tornados that do strike us (again, not very many historically), there's only a less than 1% chance of it being as strong and violent as what we experienced on May 3rd. Put another way, there's a very small likelihood of Moore being struck by a tornado. There's an extremely smaller chance of Moore experiencing another "May 3rd" type event. If we are struck again, it will very likely be by a much less intense storm. Sheltering in your residence - assuming it is a reasonably-well constructed home - is the best option. The opinion of our emergency management severe weather professionals is that community sheltering is not only not possible in our situation, but not advisable.
The highlighted bit sort of gets to my point:  people in "tornado alley," especially in the Plains states, do know something about surviving tornadoes.  I should also point out that the residents of Moore did have about 15 minutes notice that the storm was coming.   And I would note that one of the schools that was hit was actually a "reinforced building" meant to be an above ground shelter; and all the students in that building survived, despite the fact the building was destroyed.

Let me add, after experiencing the "traffic jam" that ran from Houston to Dallas during the run up to Hurricane Rita, the idea of a panicked race for shelter is not an idle concern.  Had that hurricane hit Houston instead of Beaumont and Lake Charles, the effects would have been devastating for those people stuck in their cars.  Sometimes "shelter in place" really is the best advice.

I'm more than a wee bit disconcerted by this desire to "blame the victims," especially when the victims are politically NOK.  This storm didn't strike Oklahoma because James Inhofe is a "climate denier" any more than God sent the storm to punish Oklahoma (or America in general) for its "sins."  And the loss of life is terrible, but the survival rate is a tribute to the people who live in this particular harm's way, and who know how to survive these storms.  These people have lost their houses, their property, in some cases their children and families; and we are going to start picking on the local government for not requiring what we think would have been adequate shelter?

Are ideas and things really that much more important than people?


  1. Blaming the victims is nothing new. All who live in areas where a natural disaster might strike are fools, and whatever grief or misery follows after a disaster - well it's the fault of those who chose to live in the wrong place.

    Where are the safe places? The list of forbidden areas may be longer than many would expect.

  2. All who live in areas where a natural disaster might strike are fools, and whatever grief or misery follows after a disaster - well it's the fault of those who chose to live in the wrong place.

    So it's not just me, then?

  3. Those of us who don't live where tornadoes are very common should expect people who deal with their aftermath more often would know something about it we wouldn't.

    What you were dealing with at Eschaton wasn't much different from Pat Robertson attributing storm damage to the sins of a region, only it being an atheist paradise, the sins the Eschatonians identified were different ones. I wonder, on the basis of the particular sins common to New York City, what punishment they'd believe that would attract. I wonder what would happen if someone went there and pointed out what they've got in common with Robertson. Maybe the wages of arrogance is isolation and impotence.

  4. Sometimes I find the comments at Eschaton toxic, so I don't read them often. Don't help people in desperate need because they vote for people who don't want to help people in desperate need. How is that so different from wanting to help the deserving poor but not wanting to help the undeserving poor?

  5. How is that so different from wanting to help the deserving poor but not wanting to help the undeserving poor?


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