Counterintuitive but important
On tornado chasers, what rocks the headlines, and the unexpected deadliness of cold weather
It goes without saying that severe weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes can be terrifying. In a single outbreak, dozens of lives can be stolen by the violence of nature. The intensity is exactly why storm chasing has become a recreational pursuit for some and a source of television entertainment for others.
■ Yet it is noteworthy that the latest winter storm crossing the United States killed at least twice as many people in one extended event than all of the tornadoes in the entire year (25, by NOAA's count). Heat-related deaths are on the rise, but it's actually cold weather that kills more people.
■ As we pay due attention to the issue of climate change, at least as much attention needs to be paid to matters of infrastructure and civil resilience as will be paid to questions of long-term mitigation. Despair won't do us any good, but it's well worth noting that no matter what is done, even on a planet-wide basis, to halt the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some degree of climate change is likely well outside our control.
■ But what remains very much in our control -- and what can be acted upon locally, rather than just on a massive scale where no individual's contributions will ever measurably matter -- is what we can do to ensure that extreme weather events don't paralyze our ability to conduct the basic aspects of life. Food, water, and energy need to be able to move safely and predictably, no matter how rough the weather. And that's not happening in some places, even right now. Buffalo, New York, is in a terrible crisis after getting trapped under 52" of snow.
■ "Think globally, act locally" is a catchy phrase, but it's also important guidance. No matter how much we can (and should) do to behave as good stewards of the Earth generally, nothing is more important than planning, acting, and spending as necessary to ensure that extraordinary events are met with resilient infrastructure and remain well within our ability to stay standing. It's not always the terrifying events that cause the most harm.