By way of introduction, I was raised in eastern Missouri and spent my first three decades of life in different areas of the Midwest. I have personally witnessed several tornadoes, including one on a very scary afternoon in Sikeston, Missouri. I was living in a duplex rental at that time which had no storm shelter. I had to wait by my car (ready to flee) and watch a tornado slowly bearing down on my location for ten minutes before it finally veered off about a mile away.
My wife and I traveled from Arizona to Missouri two years ago during the month of May. Heading east we saw several large wildfires along the Interstate west of Oklahoma City (OKC), another common hazard for that area that is forecast to worsen in coming decades. Moore is just south of OKC. We stayed in Joplin, Missouri overnight about two weeks before the Joplin tornado hit. The motel we stayed at was spared destruction but the restaurant we ate in that night was totally destroyed in the tornado two weeks later. Heading back home just east of OKC we drove into one of the worst storms I have ever experienced; bad enough that we had to exit the turnpike and wait it out for nearly an hour before the rain abated enough to allow safe travel. We stayed at a motel in north OKC that night and left in the morning, headed west. That night a tornado came within a mile-and-a-half of the OKC motel we stayed at the previous night.
The houses in the area I was raised in all had basements and we had a designated shelter area in our house in the basement and I can remember huddling in it during violent storms when I was young. Fortunately the town I lived in growing up was never directly hit by a tornado. I understand that parts of Oklahoma, including Moore, have geological conditions that make it prohibitive from a financial standpoint to build full basements. Some people, according to news reports, have small shelters built under the concrete in their garage, just large enough for emergency shelter.
Moore, Oklahoma, as we all have been reminded by the news anchors, was hit in 1999 by a devastating F5 tornado with winds estimated at 300 miles an hour, which would be the highest winds ever observed on our planet. CBS News reported the tornado yesterday to be the third tornado to hit Moore since the 1999 event, making four tornadoes in 14 years. Yesterday's tornado followed a path very similar to the 1999 F5 tornado.
Folk wisdom would have you believe that tornadoes and lightning never strike twice in the same place... which is ridiculous of course. Lightning can strike in the same place repeatedly and often does. Anyone living in Moore, OK prior to yesterday should have been well aware that tornadoes have struck their town fairly often. Yet today on a news report, a young man who had sheltered in an interior closet of his house and luckily survived was asked why they had not gone to an emergency shelter when the alarm and warnings sounded. His reply: "Well, we get those warnings all the time."
Moore, OK and the surrounding area get a lot of tornadoes and all the people who live there know it.
Of course an adult is allowed to make bad decisions and ignore warnings and place his own life in danger. This type of behavior is extremely costly to our society, but as we see in natural disasters like Joplin and super-storm Sandy and now Moore, some adults do ignore warnings at great cost to themselves and our society.
But what about adult decisions that cost children's lives?
What about decisions by "responsible" adults like mayors and city councils and school boards and the voting public that cost children's lives?
Specifically, in a place like Moore, why were grade-school children and their teachers left with no alternative but to seek shelter in an interior hallway of their school?
In a town that has experienced one of the strongest tornadoes ever observed and two other tornadoes in the last fourteen years, why would they leave their precious and vulnerable children without durable and specifically designated shelter from a common and deadly weather hazard?
Maybe it is too early to ask this question. Surely there will never be another tornado in Moore, right? I mean, they've had their share over the last fourteen years, right? It couldn't possibly happen again, right? I mean it's not like 98% of the climate scientists agree that extreme weather events are likely to increase in the coming decades, right?
I'm wondering if the mayor and the city council and the school board will decide to construct proper shelter within the new schools that will be built in that city to replace the ones that were destroyed.
Or will they, like their state and federal elected officials, deny the coming reality of more dangerous extreme weather events that happen more often?
I certainly hope that they at least consider of the safety of their children before they approve the construction plans for their new schools.