Thank You Mister Idiot Eastern Newscaster

Let me begin this post with 3 caveats.

  1.  I am tired. I attended a series of meetings in Washington DC on Thursday. This meant flying East Wednesday, doing meetings all day Thursday, then flying home Friday. There is no way to get into and out of Oklahoma without connecting flights which means you’re in transit for 8 or 9 hours.
  2. I came home yesterday and stepped right into more weather. My bag is still packed and sitting where I put it when I walked in the door.
  3. I am an Okie, and I love my home.

Now. I’ve dispensed with the caveats. Let me begin the real meat of this post, which is a defense of my fellow Okies.

During last night’s storms a lot of people took to the roads to try to get out of the way of incoming tornados. I’ve been listening to eastern newscasters explaining to the whole wide world what a bunch of dummies they were for doing this. I even heard one prominent newscaster ask why people don’t move away from Oklahoma with its terrible weather. 

Ok, Mr Eastern Newscaster who doesn’t know come here from sic ‘em, let me try to ‘splain a few things to you.

First of all, last night’s storm didn’t behave the way these things usually do. A storm that begins outside El Reno will usually move in a certain track heading northeast. This big bruiser turned and headed south. Worse, it kept trying to spawn tornadoes over its very considerable girth and length. It was like playing a fast game of whackamo to try to keep up with them.

We have some excellent storm chasers and weathermen here in Oklahoma with great technology to back them up. They fought hard to keep everybody informed, but there was so much information and it was so odd that it was confusing. Unfortunately, every little radio station has now got their own storm guys and a lot of “storm chasers” are nothing more than young men in souped up jalopies placing themselves in harm’s way and exaggerating what they see. There were some goofy reports out there with the good ones.

The major problem people had with this storm is that it didn’t make sense. It seemed to be coming at everybody, everywhere. A lot of people — and I mean a lot of people — tried to get out of the line of fire of the incoming storm. This ended up overpowering the capacity of the roadways.

The result was that thousands of people were sitting ducks. They would have been trapped in their cars if a tornado had hit them, and that’s one of the worst places to be. The flooding that came with the storm was not predicted and a lot of people lost their cars in that. I am surprised that more people weren’t killed by the flooding and high winds.

Among the other things I’ve seen on the news this morning is talking heads telling people here that they should “shelter in place.” That, in retrospect would have been a good idea last night. The tornadoes were the kind that you could survive (there is no surety for anyone above ground in a tornado, but the odds were good) but the flooding was serious. However, there was nothing in the warnings people were hearing that indicated this at the time. People were told that the tornado that hit El Reno was a “violent tornado” a mile wide. That sounded like a killer tornado. There were no visuals of it because of the rain. People responded to the verbal descriptions.

There isn’t a big margin for error with these storms. You may have time, but you won’t have much time. Whatever you’re gonna do, you’ve got to do it quickly.

The only people who were killed last night were those who got caught in their cars. So last night shelter in place was good advice. However, based on the reports that were going out, it didn’t sound that way. As I’ve said before, there are tornadoes and then there are tornadoes. A tornado that’s a mile wide and with what one weather caster said were high wind velocities is not a shelter in place tornado. The fact is, it turned out to be different than it sounded.

Contrary to the blather I heard on the tv this morning, people do successfully get out of the line of fire of incoming tornadoes all the time. This is a big part of why the May 3, 1999 tornado only killed 44 people. That storm was on the ground for over a hundred miles. There was tons of warning that made sense and people just got up and got out of its way. I personally know a number of families who ran and saved their lives. Their homes were gone, but they were fine. The same thing happened with the May 20 tornado of a couple of weeks ago. People got out. And it saved their lives.

The problem last night is that there were so many tornadoes and so many warnings of impending tornadoes that everybody in the whole metro felt in imminent danger.

What happens most of the time is that smaller tornados are funky. They pop up and then they go away. They do goofy things. They’re harder to run from than the big ones that come down and stay down. We had funky tornados last night. Running from those is not a good idea. You really are better off to shelter in place with those. However — and I want to emphasize this — that wasn’t what it sounded like early on. A mile wide tornado with high wind velocity sounds like another, more deadly, kind of beast.

The advice to shelter in place which is blaring out at us over the airwaves from those East coast studios is good advice if the tornado is bearing directly down on you. It’s good advice if you’re in a solid structure and it’s a smallish tornado. It’s lousy advice if you have a long window of warning on a big tornado that is tracking clearly. It’s also bad advice if you’re in a mobile home or an automobile.

My advice to Mr Eastern Newscaster is to get his rear end out of the studio and come on down here and try it out. Let’s see how he does with it. After he rides out a couple of these big fellas, maybe he can give us some intelligent opinions about living in tornado alley. At the very least, he may learn some humility.

Now, I’ve people in my district who are in distress and need my attention. I probably should thank this newscaster. I was feeling too tired to face the day. But he’s revved me up and got my blood pumping.

So thank you Mr Idiot Eastern Newscaster who knows nothing but thinks he knows everything. I was tired, but now, I’m completely energized.

As for moving away from Oklahoma because we’ve had a couple of storms, you can forget that. I am insulted by the question.

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  • Joseph T. Richardson

    As a resident of Alabama’s tornado alley, I concur heartily. The main difference between storms in Oklahoma and Alabama, as far as I know, is that Oklahoma is a bit flatter than Alabama, and you generally have a lot more warning of oncoming storms than we do.

    • hamiltonr

      Joseph I know you’ve had some devastating storms there. Warning can be the difference between life and death. Our warning system here is the product of generations of work. I hope that Alabama can find a way to get something in place. As for us, I think we need to start taking shelters more seriously instead of relying on the warning system so completely. Thanks for commenting.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        Is that the excuse? That the warning system is so good that we don’t need no stinkin’ shelters?

        • hamiltonr

          No. It’s more a matter of denial and how much these things cost. It’s the same reason that people chose to ride out hurricanes and eat junk food (my personal weakness.) You just don’t think about your mortality unless the thought is forced on you. At the same time, people do pay attention to warnings here. Very much so. I do think a lot of people are going to have them put in now. This one-two punch has probably guaranteed that.

          • tedseeber

            I hope so. It would bring so much meaning to the loss of life for it to happen.

            I’ve long thought hurricane prone areas need to either be depopulated, or have similar building codes. We’re late to the party out here in Oregon with earthquake preparedness as well- actually had one infamous bridge in Portland that had a sufficiency rating of 2 (out of 100), was limited to 40,000 GVW, was normally used heavily during Rush Hour, and was built where it was in the 1890s because “the river is narrower here” due to a slow moving eternal landslide on the west bank.

            They’re finally getting around to replacing it (and doing some work to stabilize the hillside- for the last month my wife’s parents grave has been rocked by early morning explosions, they’re up on top of the hill) this year- but still using the old bridge (moved 100 feet downstream onto temporary pilings) for a temp.

  • hotboogers

    I, too, am from a tornado-prone part of the country. Now I live in the mountains and our biggest potential disasters are wildfire and earthquake. It’s been a learning experience. People from the coasts and the mountains just don’t understand tornadoes. How could they; it’s entirely outside of their lived experience. When I hear such nonsense spouting from their lips, I just listen and think “uh-huh” as though I’m listening to my teen daughter’s friends opine on international arms treaties or something. They just don’t know. Many of them just don’t WANT to know, which I discovered after a few attempts to educate. What I find really disturbing is the devolution of the “news media” people from readers of prepared and researched articles down into off-the-cuff opinionators.

    • hamiltonr

      Too true. Thank you.

    • tedseeber

      It does make me wonder if massive wind farms to cool the air when the breezes blow (and get electricity) could be a partial answer. Our own plains area here in Oregon now has more generating capacity than Bonneville Dam due to windmills.

  • Pamela O’Keefe

    Amen! I’m a long time Mid-Westerner, from farther up north (North Dakota and Nebraska) and we don’t get nearly the tornado activity you guys do down there. But, yeah, people who only have armchair advice should probably not broadcast their “help” to those who are actually living it.

    I’m thankful for the great weather knowledge that comes from OU. A piece of my heart, in the form of my oldest, lives in Norman attending OU, and we were on the phone as the weather was bearing down north of Norman and into it. We cut our conversation short as he went to seek shelter. He’s fine today.

    I’m happy that his adopted state has such a great rep as you. :)

  • beautifulnrich1

    Great article !!
    God Bless Oklahoma !!

    • hamiltonr

      Thank you.

  • pagansister

    Again I was thinking of you and the folks in OK yesterday. Certainly are getting more than your share of nasty weather. Here in the sunny state of Florida we’re getting advise on being prepared for hurricane season, which begins today. Tallahassee is 2 hours away from the Gulf, so we don’t usually have direct hits, but the reduced wind and rain that comes instead. Stay safe!

    • hamiltonr

      Thanks. Here’s hoping we have a mild hurricane season.

      • pagansister

        Mild hurricane season would be great AND the major reduction in the horrible weather in your part of the world! Enough is enough already! :-)

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    We’ve been praying for OK since the first big tornado his Moore. My husband and I used to live in the TX panhandle, and no, you can’t comprehend how terrifying those monster storms can be until you’ve lived through one.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    I was sad when I heard the news, and I prayed for your people. But newscasters of the current generation learning humility and alternative viewpoints? God can make miracles, but can’t do the absurd.

    • hamiltonr

      Thanks for your prayers Fabio. They were needed.

      I fear you’re right about the newscasters. :-)

  • JessicaHof

    it would clearly be too much for these people to express sympathy for those afflicted with this second crisis in a month. Where do they find them? Glad you are safe Rebecca.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Doesn’t Shelter In Place kind of presuppose that you HAVE a shelter? And didn’t we just discuss this how wishful thinking has prevented Oklahoma local governments from *requiring* storm shelters in new construction?

    I can’t blame those who died for running, they probably were incapable (for various reasons) of sheltering in place, and after watching a tornado just a week ago utterly remove a school gym and kill 9 kids, the panic is understandable.

  • stardreamer42

    Why doesn’t he just move away from the East Coast with its hurricanes, killing blizzards, and ice storms? Why does anybody live in California with all those earthquakes?

    Seriously, there is no part of the country that doesn’t have its own variety of natural disaster. And the ones in other parts of the country always sound much worse than the ones you’ve learned to live with!

    • hamiltonr


    • tedseeber

      Yeah- ain’t no such thing as an early warning system for quakes (I’ve survived 2 6.5s the same year when I was in my early 20s).