Let me begin this post with 3 caveats.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.