A historic blizzard. An ice storm that left 1,500,000 people without power. Tornado damage. All from the same storm.
The Blizzard of 2011 was one for the record books. And, even though it was preceded by record warmth in many areas, you knew it was coming three days in advance! The televisions were filled Saturday with forecasts of winter storm conditions.
I was reading a story Sunday my local newspaper’s web site about the pending storm and was amused to find these comments:
I was amused to read that we “never get it right” and that we’d actually get a “dusting.” Just hours later, winter storm watches were issued for a vast region.
|The “dusting” of snow in the Wichita area!
Some people are calling it “The Blizzard of Oz”.
The photo above depicts what actually occurred. The forecasts were amazingly accurate, which leads to a question:
Is there as science that has accomplished more with less recognition than meteorology, the science of weather?
If medicine had reduced deaths from cancer by 90%, do you think that fact would be widely known? Of course it would! Universities and drug companies would issue press releases, Nobel prizes would be given out, and the medical team invited to the White House.
Meteorology has reduced tornado deaths by more than 95%, — which translates (given today’s population) to more than a thousand saved lives a year on average – a stunning scientific achievement that goes almost unrecognized.
It isn’t just tornadoes. We have completely eliminated a once-frequent type of airline crash and we have saved tens of thousands of lives in hurricanes. This is the story I tell in Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather and it makes for gripping reading. But, there is a bigger issue than perhaps meteorologists’ bruised egos.
Take a look at this photo from The Chicago Tribune.
The photo depicts hundreds of cars, buses, and other vehicles stuck on Lakeshore Drive, one of Chicago’s busiest thoroughfares. People were stranded in the extreme cold for hours.
Why were some caught unprepared by the storm?
Here is a theory: The outdated image of meteorologists “never getting it right” lessens the credibility of these urgent forecasts and warnings. So, people are unneccessarily inconvenienced, businesses unnecessarily lose money, and lives are unneccesarily lost.
While Warnings is my modest contribution to changing the way people think about weather, there is only so much one book can do. I don’t know what the other answers might be, but I’m open to any suggestions people might have.