Good morning, everyone. I have got 457 votes as of this morning. Talk about wow! I’m just so amazed that so many people are willing to support me in this. I think that when it got to around 200, I realized I probably would be OK with it if I don’t win the popularity contest, and by yesterday I was so astounded that I had decided I am actually really content with the outcome, whatever it may be. But don’t stop voting! I’m in this thing until the end, and I’d still seriously love to speak with Neil Gaiman.
Today, I want to talk about the devastating tornadoes that eradicated parts of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
The loss of life in north Alabama is just horrible. I can’t properly express the sorrow I feel for those who have lost loved ones and property. And I want to start this post there, because I’m about to get on my soapbox in a big way. I’ve got two pieces of laundry to air, so bear with me. I want to bitch about the television scare tactics that numb us to the existence of real threats. And I want to bitch slap the people driving around filming these tornadoes on their cell phones and digital cameras.
Come on people. When the tornado is right there coming towards you, the appropriate response is not “hit record and move the car around to get a better angle”. It’s “Take COVER”. And I don’t mean stealing blankets here. Seriously. One of the many viral videos circling the net right now is of this monster wall of whirling wind attacking a mall in Tuscaloosa, ultimately ripping off the roof. And the video is shot from a moving vehicle, the driver constantly reshuffling to allow the camera operator a better angle. What we have here is not brave eyewitness reporting. It’s a couple of Darwin Award candidates attempting to collect their prizes.
And yes, I did watch that one, gaping in horror alternately at the storm’s ferocity and the idiots’ stupidity. There are dozens of videos like this, and they’ve been picked up and circulated by respected news agencies whose camera persons were, quite sensibly, TAKING COVER. It is not acceptable to endorse the risks these thrill seeking fools were taking by assigning their videos the same label as the amateur footage of, say, the protests in the Middle East. The tornado freaks’ submissions need to be labeled “deadly obsession” and their distribution ought to be limited by massive refusal to pander to stupidity.
Yeah. Like that’s going to happen. Even I was completely riveted by the sheer enormity of the whole experience.
To understand why these people will continue filming in storms, we need to look not only at our perpetual need to see proof with our own eyes (preferably in real-time), but also at the media agencies helping the danger-films gain notoriety. Because these are the same agencies that whip the countryside into chaos over thunderstorms. Eyewitness StormVision Reporters break into TV shows and set off panic attacks over even mildly inclement weather. The county officials in charge of the weather sirens feed into this, setting off the horns with outrageous frequency when nothing is really wrong and then failing to blare them when danger is real and imminent.
And this isn’t limited to Alabama. I can remember sitting in the basement in Lexington, KY trying to adjust the rabbit ears so I could see Jeopardy and getting interrupted by news anchors in a pother over the pouring rain. In the last set of these Alabama storms, the ones before Easter, I spent most of one afternoon listening to the tornado sirens, because all of Montgomery County had somehow earned an undeserved tornado warning status, even though the sensation-crazy news anchors were clearly bleating that the action was South of town. But night before last, when the whole damned state should have been under a warning, because those funnel clouds were sighted fucking everywhere, the sirens in Montgomery were silent.
I’m pretty numb to the anchors’ antics and even to those bloody horns. When the pre-Easter storm cell blasted South of us, we were sitting in a frozen yogurt shop listening to the news anchors try to present the message “stay calm” in such a way as to incite the most fear. My husband and I looked at each other and shrugged the whole storm off. Two days ago, we had to do a combined 20 minutes of research before deciding to take the potential threat to our area seriously and hello, if the threat had materialized in that time, we’d probably have been toast.
I’m not suggesting that taking shelter isn’t always the best option. Really, it is. My attitude is entirely too blasé, and it probably should not have taken much research to decide the kids were sleeping in the hall the other night. Tuscaloosa had already been hit by that time, and by five PM, I had already heard that four people in Birmingham died. Plus, I could feel the cloying humidity even in our air- conditioned home. But at the same time, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa are roughly 90 and 110 miles away, as the crow flies. Their weather isn’t automatically destined to land in our laps, even if we wind up getting hit by the same storm cell. I wish I could trust the weatherheads to tell me the truth about what to expect.
Instead, now that there has been a real live worst case scenario, it’s a reasonable bet that the vultures in charge of notifying us about the situation will be on red alert for the foreseeable future. They’re going to be jumping at cumulus clouds and honking their damned horn even more than they ever did before (though not necessarily when doing so would be helpful).
A tragedy of this magnitude should really make people stop and consider what went wrong beforehand. Instead of protesting that warnings went out hours in advance, news stations, and even NOAA ought to consider why that made little difference. They ought to consider the culture of indifference coupled with thrill seeking that news outlets and the internet fully cater to. They ought to figure out a reliable system that only sends out alerts when the threat is both real and reasonably imminent. Maybe then, people would take it seriously. I doubt it would curb the damned fools with the cell cameras, and I know it wouldn’t have prevented a lot of the loss from Wednesday’s storm. But it might get a few of the skeptics to take cover or get some mobile home dwellers to head for a more stable structure in time.