Tornado Paparazzi

I ran across an post the other day in the Washington Post called ‘Our Tornado Voyeurism Problem‘ and it truly was eye-opening.

With all the tornadoes we’ve had lately across the country, it’s becoming more and more of a trend to see people wanting to catch these swirling monsters on video camera or cell phone.  We had an example of that right in our own backyard during the Westmoreland County tornado a couple of months ago.  The video, which even made it to Jimmy Kimmel Live, shows a kid videotaping the oncoming tornado as he talks to his mom on his phone.  Here’s the video:

This is reckless and could be deadly.  In the video you can actually see the funnel coming down.  At that point, shouldn’t you be heading to the basement or a safe place?

Andy Freedman from the Washington Post writes about what he calls the ‘YouTube Effect.’  He continues by talking about a documentary on the National Geographic Channel about the recent rash of tornadoes.

The documentary featured many of the viral videos, strung together with narration by actor Campbell Scott. Although this surely was not the producers’ intent, one thing became glaringly obvious by watching video after video of people recklessly ignoring tornado warnings and rushing to view tornadoes up close, while screaming phrases like “This is awesome!” and “I’ll never see anything like this again!” – this country has a growing tornado voyeurism problem, and it’s one which may lead many to learn the wrong lessons from the recent deadly scourge of twisters.

Call it the “YouTube Effect.” While they are sure to frighten some into taking more tornado precautions next time, these videos will very likely breed more amateur chasers who will run to the car when they hear tornado sirens, rather than heading for the basement.

Andy also found a great blog post by Chuck Doswell, who works for the NSSL (National Severe Storms Laboratory).  Chuck talks about the role that social media has played in storm chasing and how people somehow think they’re immune.

Social media have revealed to me multiple videos so far this year of non-chasers caught up in these events who clearly have no clue about tornadoes, shooting video even as they come close to death. I also see videos posted from storm chasers whooping and hollering with excited joy about the spectacular things they’re seeing in their videos aired on social media (a public venue, after all) — quite evidently unconcerned about the feelings of those for whom these very same atmospheric events have turned their lives upside down.

In this year’s events, I repeatedly hear people in videos saying “I’ve never seen anything like this before!” Well, perhaps that’s true in in the limited sense of having it happen in front of your eyes, but I guarantee that almost all of these folks have seen videos of tornado disasters on TV. Did you think you were somehow immune? What people find so astonishing is that it actually happened to them!! Well, I’ve got some news for you, folks — it can happen to you, and if you don’t think so, you’re gambling your life and the lives of your loved ones that it won’t. If you do nothing to prepare, then you have only yourself to blame for the outcome. It’s time to take personal responsibility for your own safety, folks!!

If you’d like to read more from Chuck’s blog, click here.

Deadliest Tornado Years (NOAA)

Remember, while tornadoes may be pretty cool to look at, they are deadly and the proof is in the outbreaks so far this year.  According to NOAA, there have been 512 fatalities this year.  That ranks 7th in terms of deadliest years for tornadoes.  The thing about this stat is that the latest year in the top 6 is 1953.  That is #6.  The latest in the top 5 is 1936.

Take a look at the graphic to the right to get a full sense of the top 7.  Most of them come from over 50 years ago!

Some stats from the NOAA 2011 Tornado Information website include:

NWS has preliminarily estimated the tornado total for 2011 at 1,314.  This is as of early June.  That number will likely go up as we get deeper into the summer.  Comparing that to the yearly average over the past 10 years of 1,274 and you can see that it has already been a very active season.  The last record was set in 2004.  That was 1,817 tornadoes.

So why have there been so many deaths this year?  I would speculate that the high number is due to where these tornadoes are hitting.  I have to wonder, however, if some of these deaths are from people chasing or even just admiring these storms instead of taking cover.

I’ll be honest.  I think it would be an incredible adventure to go out with some storm chasers.  I do think, however, that I would want to go out with a group of scientists who know what they’re doing and know where to go to be safe.  Doing otherwise is just irresponsible.

Are you one of those people who would chase a tornado or are you the take cover kind of person?  Sound off in the blog and let us know.

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