Stay Safe… Except Me

Hurricane Alex has just left the East Coast. Within days it will be a memory, absorbed into the normal flow of extra-tropical weather. As hurricanes go, it was small and its impact to the Carolina’s will be discernible, but small.

Since Alex was never thought to be a huge storm, I didn’t get to cringe at the sight of TV reporters, and weather people, standing in the thick of it all – all the while telling others to stay inside where it’s safe.

I think this is right up there with tobacco companies telling me not to smoke. Where’s the credibility.

I know where this came from. Dan Rather got his TV chops covering a hurricane in Texas. It was because of that very gritty series of on-location reports that he was plucked from obscurity. Good for Dan.

The problem is, all the warnings we give on TV are correct. Hurricanes are dangerous storms. Being in the midst of an open area, adjacent to open water, with a hurricane coming on shore, is going to get someone killed.

I have watched live shots as reporters tilted off vertical, into the wind, in order to stand. In the background of those shots I’ve also seen debris and building materials turned into missiles. That they didn’t find a reporter is only luck.

In a larger sense, aren’t we sending the wrong signal to viewers? It’s a ‘do as I say’ mentality that will entice others into harm’s way.

You might be saying, “But Geoff, you’ve flown through the eye of two hurricanes. Isn’t that a little crazier and a lot more dangerous?”

Thanks. I’m glad I asked that.

Flying through a hurricane is totally different. The planes are specifically outfitted to withstand the buffeting they get. The planes are flown at an altitude where there is no solid debris to run into. And the well trained crews have the benefit of radar and other instrumentation to know where, and where not, to go.&#185

I also won’t criticize tornado chasers. As far as I can tell, no one has ever been hurt while chasing a tornado. These are compact systems with reasonably predictable paths. It is quite reasonable to watch a tornado safely from a distance, if you know what you’re doing.

Back when I did PM Magazine/Buffalo I used to joke around about the fact that you can’t get hurt if you’re in front of a camera and tape’s rolling. Of course that’s just not so. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of the reporters in big storms feel just that way.

I hope this isn’t the year when something tragic happens. That time is coming. It’s not a question of if, but when.

&#185 – Hurricane Hunter planes never fly directly into the eye. They always turn into the wind and cut diagonally to the eye. This makes some of the terrible force near the center nothing more than a ferocious headwind.

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