Last Friday, we Okies experienced another anxiety-filled and nerve-wracking night, hunkered down in our storm cellars or covered in blankets in our bathtubs. Prior to getting in our safe spots, most Oklahomans were glued to the television, whether it be tuned to Mike, Gary, or that guy from Channel 5 nobody knows other than by the moniker: “Rick Mitchell’s Replacement”.
Personally, I’m a Channel 4 girl. So I was watching Mike Morgan at the station, Emily Sutton yelling for directions, and Reed Timmer getting pixely weather coverage in the Dominator (did you know he’s a scientist and has his PhD from OU?).
As the storm got more severe and the weather team could see that, yes, this was going to turn into a full-fledged tornado, Mike Morgan encouraged everyone to get to their storm shelters, closets, or bathtubs. As the storm got worse and the tornado grew, everyone could tell this was going to be a pretty big cyclone.
That’s when Mike Morgan gave some more advice: “If you can’t get underground, you need to flee.”
I wasn’t here for the May 20th tornado, but 99.99% of my family and friends were. They said that Mike gave the same warning then, and it saved their lives. This time, it seemed as though his advice may have cost a few (at least, that’s what many people are alleging. See this article from Yahoo News).
Now, I don’t watch Channels 5 and 9, so I don’t know if Gary England or Rick Mitchell’s Replacement said something similar. But I can’t help but feel as though Mike is being the scapegoat for traffic build-up and injuries.
So before we get pitchforks and torches and storm the doors of KFOR, let’s look at all of the facts:
1. The May 20th tornado scared us all.
Because of what happened a few weeks ago, and the damage that is still visible, we’re all still very shaken (and rightly so). I can honestly say that, as a born and bred Oklahoman, my anxiety levels always rise around April 30th. I know tornado season is coming up. And after a catastrophic event like the F5, we’re all looking for ways to be safe (especially since storm shelter companies are back-logged until October!) and if outrunning a tornado were my only option against staying and possibly dying; I’d have fled too.
2. Many large companies let their employees go home early on Friday.
I know for a fact that Chesapeake Energy closed their campus early on Friday, amongst other companies, big and small. Which, I think was the right thing to do; let these people get home before the storm actually gets too bad so they can make arrangements (pick kids up from daycare, make sure they have batteries for flashlights and radios, etc.) and get to safety. But because of that, there was also a lot of unexpected traffic and congestion.
3. Not everyone has a storm shelter.
Like I said above, storm shelter companies are backed up for months. A family friend of ours called a storm shelter installation company the day after the May 20th F5 and was put on a waiting list. They aren’t able to get their shelter until October. October! While many Oklahomans (especially those in the Moore/Oklahoma City areas) are getting shelters, not everyone has one. Even with the low interest rate signature loans that many banks and credit unions are offering right now, many people simply can’t afford it. Granted, some shelters (like my parents) were only $5K, which is less than what many people have paid for their cars. But still, I know times are tough and many of us live paycheck-to-paycheck. (Sidebar: when Huff the Hubs and I were on our way to the airport in London, our driver was astounded that storm shelters were not required for every single building and home in Oklahoma. Preachin’ to the choir, buddy.)
4. Many “public shelters” were turning people away.
Thankfully, for those that don’t have their own storm shelters, there are some public ones. However last Friday, many were turning people away or were not open. I can’t tell you how many friends I saw on Facebook said they went to a public shelter and were told that they were no longer a public shelter or that they were closed. Because people were being turned away, this also caused more traffic and back-ups on the highways and back roads.
5. Even in the middle of storms, there are Lookie-Lou’s.
I live directly south of the May 20th tornado’s path. I go outside the apartment and I can see a destroyed shopping center and piles of rubble where a neighborhood once stood. To give you some perspective, Briarwood Elementary is .7 miles from the apartment. According to Google Maps, it’s a 2 minute drive from my place to the school. Needless to say, if I go anywhere, I see the destruction. And you know what else I see? People driving 10 mph with their cell phones hanging out of their windows, taking pictures. For the past week and a half, its been difficult to take I-35 (north or south) because of the rubberneckers. The stretch of highway right in front of the WarrenTheater was, at times, a complete stand-still. From my understanding, people were still driving slow on Friday night, trying to catch a glimpse of the destruction while a storm was headed directly for them.
So, do I think Mike was 100% right in telling people to flee? No. Do I think he was 100% wrong in telling people to flee? No. Right now, I kind of feel like he is “Schrodinger’s Meteorologist”; he is both right and wrong.
I do trust his judgment; he’s been doing this since he was 19 years old. He’s seen more tornadoes than I can even count and knows the damage they can do. The fact that the tornado on Friday night was originally thought to be an F3 and was then upgraded to an F5 (and not just any F5—the widest tornado on record!); I think he helped save many lives by telling people to get out of its path. We’ve all seen what F5’s can do.
My heart breaks for those who were lost in the flood waters as well as in all of the storms we’ve had lately. I can’t even imagine the fear they faced or the grief their families are experiencing.
Having said that…I’m not sure the media should go around blaming the man in the bedazzled tie for some of the events that took place over the weekend. What if nobody had died taking Mike Morgan’s advice? We’d be throwing the man a parade instead of making online petitions to have him fired. Tornadoes and flood waters are going to do what they do best: destroy. They are unpredictable and uncontrollable. We can only hope that we are prepared enough to withstand the storm or be able to get out of its way.