I’m warning you, watch for those tornadoes!

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Paul Douglas points out, as Item #1 in his thoughtful 6 Take-Aways From The Biggest Swarm of U.S. Tornadoes Since 2011, that “too many people still don’t know the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning. A Tornado Watch means “watch out”… Go about your normal activities but stay alert… A Tornado Warning … means that a tornado has been spotted … It means life-threatening weather is imminent… it’s time to take evasive action.”

I’ll note that the words “watch” and “warning” are, as words, not sufficiently hierarchializable (to coin a term) for this job, perhaps. I mean, yes, it makes sense — what Paul Douglas says makes sense — but there could be warning signs of a thing that never happens, and we all agree that if only the watch had been more alert, the Titanic would have veered to the left sooner, thus sailing forward into obscurity instead of infamy. Maybe we need new words.

Paul notes that a “tornado emergency” is also a term of art, and it means that there is a confirmed big tornado “on the ground and capable of significant damage and loss of life, … issued when a large tornado is on the ground and pushing into a more heavily-populated suburban or urban area.” Maybe extending the definition of Tornado Emergency to mean any imminent threat with greater than a certain likelihood? Or would that water it down?

Paul also points out several other aspects, both falsehoods and important truehoods, about tornadoes, so you should just click through and read, and absorb and remember, 6 Take-Aways From The Biggest Swarm of U.S. Tornadoes Since 2011

Do you remember the old Dick Van Dyke Show episode where they had a contest to come up with a new word for “butter?” Don’t remember that? Neither do I, really, but I’m pretty sure it happened. I can not remember what word they came up with. There is evidence that words like “climate change” and “global warming” don’t spark the brain as much as words like “climate chaos” and “climate disruption.” I think that evidence is weak, and at least one study looking at people’s brains, purporting to show this, seems to have some limitations. The idea here is that the words or phrases are less or more effective because of the way they sound. Maybe, and to a large extent words DO have different levels of effectiveness. But how much a word has ever been heard probably strongly influences its effectiveness as well. But that can be much more subtle and nuanced than people may realize. An oft heard word may numb the listeners and fail to cause a brain spark. But at the same time, an oft-heard phrase can insinuate itself into the truth-ish ether that we all swim around in, causing something to become more real whether it is real or not.

(See more about that topic here.)

Also, there is the “w” problem. Both “Watch” and “Warning” start with the same sound. At least they are not the same number of syllables, and at least they don’t rhyme.

Perhaps there should be three words in alphabetical order, at the beginning of the alphabet, allowing for us to speak of the “ABCs” of tornadoes.

Alert! — stay alert since tornadoes COULD form in your area today.
Buckle Down!! — There is a tornado or possible tornado in your area, assume for safety’s sake that you are in danger.
Crap!!!! — If you are listening to this warning you have not dug deep enough into your hole. DIG DEEPER!

Or something along those lines.

Ideas?

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In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden, now in Kindle or Paperback

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4 thoughts on “I’m warning you, watch for those tornadoes!

  1. “Dig Deeper!” isn’t useful advice for people who live in low coastal areas — S LA & SE TX come to mind. Thickly veneered with sediments, they have high groundwater tables & no basements. With bedrock far out of even frenzied digging reach, “Crap!!!!” is often unfortunately only too appropriate. As is Dirty Harry’s famous remark: “You just have to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?”

  2. There is evidence that words like “climate change” and “global warming” don’t spark the brain as much as words like “climate chaos” and “climate disruption.”

    How much of the problem here is the propaganda from the right that “climate change” was changed to “global warming” only because people weren’t getting on board with the first name? Pushing the notion that both names are merely marketing ploys to scare people (as is the right’s message) has weakened the idea itself in the minds of many people, and since a detailed explanation of the process is by necessity long, getting the message across is that much harder.

    To the tornado stuff: I’ve never understood how people could have a problem distinguishing between ‘tornado watch’ and ‘tornado warning’. Perhaps replacing them with “be on the lookout” and “OK, we’re fucked” respectively would improve things.

    1. Re: “I’ve never understood how people could have a problem distinguishing between ‘tornado watch’ and ‘tornado warning’.”

      To me and I suppose many others a “warning” is often generalized advice: “Take your raincoat, you don’t want to catch a cold” or “Be careful driving today, there’s a lot of fools driving these days.” or “Don’t carry a lot of cash on you.” It is not clearly distinguishable from advice to just “watch (out)” in the same and similar kinds of cases.

      Does everything in the U. S. have to fit on a bumper sticker now? Are attention spans that short? Why not: “Conditions for a tornado exist in your area” versus “A tornado has been seen in your area.” (Or “Do you feel lucky” for the second admonition.)

  3. “Take your raincoat, you don’t want to catch a cold” or “Be careful driving today, there’s a lot of fools driving these days.”

    It is not clearly distinguishable from advice to just “watch (out)” in the same and similar kinds of cases.

    Maybe. Perhaps some of it is generational — I (and, I assume, Greg) grew up with “tornado watch (warning” distinction, and long term familiarity has set in.

    It is difficult to anticipate the greatest levels of stupidity of the public about these things, as Jamie Simpson (meteorologist) found out recently:

    https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a27613375/ohio-weatherman-bachelorette-tornado-warning/

    Sometimes it seems that for the people who react like those people did this old joke

    “All the time I spent learning ‘stop, drop, and roll’ as a child led me to believe being on fire would be a larger part of my adulthood than it has been”

    might not be relevant.

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