Mike Smith has a new book out – “When the Sirens were Silent” – where he talks about the tornado disaster in Joplin, where 161 people were killed, because, Mike seems to say, they didn’t heed the warning sirens that blared as the twister was coming, and then he blames the system. Because, as we all know, we should never have to take responsibility for anything, ever.
Mike’s new book has gotten quite a bit of attention, from such places as the Washington Post, BS and other places, and some very nice reviews around both the internet and printed publications. While there can be no doubts about Mike’s qualifications when it comes to weather (he’s a meteorologist, has his own company in the field, is a member of some nice societies and teaches people about the stuff), there are a few other problems with his book.
Mike knows weather, but he’s apparently less attuned to the way man and machine works together – or at times against each other. The problem for Mike is false alarms. False alarms, he seems to claim, has “trained” the citizens of Joplin to not react to the real warnings as well, making them think that there’s simply nothing to be afraid of. This is a very, very common problem – when was the last time you reacted to a car alarm by thinking some car was actually being stolen, for example – but it’s less of a machinery problem than a real life, human problem.
Blaming the system for your own lack of reaction to that system’s execution of its man made instruction is nothing more than denying responsibility for one’s own lack of action in the face of a clear warning of danger. And yes, I know – that sounds cold. Freezing, actually. There’s really not much I can do about that, since it’s true.
Mike may not be as impartial as he would like us all to believe. He has his own company – AccuWeather – and he spends some of his words bashing the federal weather services, pointing out that he thinks they rely too much on computers and “logarithms”, while his own company, he says, avoids that same “mistake”. He is the head of a company that is in direct competition with the people who made the current warning system. That should be a warning lamp to you.
Misleading the reader is also a problem that Mike should look into. In fact, the siren’s weren’t silent in Joplin on that day – they sounded twice and about 25 minutes apart. Residents were warned of the impending disaster, but the residents chose, to an extent, to believe that the sirens somehow weren’t “real”. The sirens sounded with at least 24 minutes of warning before the tornado struck, which is twice the time you can expect in any case, providing plenty of time to get out of Dodge, as it were.
Old Fairy Tales?
We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf. That’s fine. The Joplin disaster has been blamed on the tendency of people to ignore the real warning when it follows a series of false such, false alarms and whatnot. While it’s a valid premise, and false alarms should be avoided as much as humanly (and “machinely”) possible, there’s really no excuse for letting the real warning pass by without action, just because you “think” it may be another one of those pesky fake ones again. It got the boy in the wolf story killed, and it will likely get you hurt or killed as well.
Mike Smith’s book is worth a read, and it reads quickly too, which is a huge plus. Mike has a way of being forward and easy when it comes to explaining the technical terms that invariably comes up when scientists talk about weather, and a 65-page paperback shouldn’t be daunting to anyone over the age of 8. Worth a look, but looking at other sources than the main competition to the NWS is highly recommended.