Observations on Moore, OK Tornado

The Diva and co-author Ann Patton wrote a article for Emergency Magazine on the Moore, OK tornado. Go to this site for the article titled OK Tornado Prompts Discussions on Surviving, Rebuilding, in the July/August edition of the magazine.

Insurance – issues for the Moore recovery

The Wall Street Journal had an article and a video clip this past week about how the insurance companies that cover hurricane and tornado damage are finding ways not to pay out as much or as often as had been true in the past.  Since I do not subscribe to the WSJ, I cannot provide any additional details.  The net result is more personal hardship for property owners in Moore, however.

Here is some additional information about insurance from CNBC, and this article is not kind to the U.S. insurance industry.  See:  Why Insurers May Be Unprepared for the Next Big Storm. Some excerpts follow:

Hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, wildfires … extreme weather is threatening to take bigger chunks out of insurance companies and yet the industry, in the eyes of experts and consumer advocates, isn’t making any preparations … other than raising rates.

“I can’t think of another industry that’s more directly affected by the weather changes,” said Professor Anant Sundaram of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. “They need to get out in front of this. It comes down to more than just raising premiums on customers. It’s being pro-active and thinking ahead.”

Eleven extreme weather events each caused at least a billion dollars in losses last year in the United States. Loss estimates for Hurricane Sandy alone are at $50 billion, of which insurance company damage payouts are said to be close to $20 billion.

 Insurers acknowledge that extreme weather or climate change has become the new normal. But a new survey says that many firms are not prepared for future super storms that could affect their industry, while homeowners and businesses suffer raising premium rates.

According to an industry wide report from Ceres, a non-profit group that works toward better business practices, only 23 of 184 U.S. insurance companies have comprehensive climate change strategies that could help mitigate the damaging costs from extreme weather to the industry and consumers. (Read More: World’s Best Places to Live)

“Insurers are starting to think about climate change from their losses but I’m not sure they realize how much of a financial threat it is to them,” said Peyton Fleming, a spokesman for Ceres.

Another Call for Safe Rooms and Mitigation

Shortly after the tornadoes in Moore, media from all over the nation, as well as many professional associations, are adamant in their call for some mitigative measures so that the repetitive losses of life and property are reduced.  Since the means to do so are known, what is needed is the political will– something lacking so far in OK  None of us wants to watch while children are trapped in their schools and people buried in their homes, if it can be avoided.

From the Post Gazette (Pitsburgh), an editorial of interest: After the Storm; Safe Rooms Need to be mandated in Perilous Places. A few excepts follow; my favorites are highlighted in red:

As always in times of disaster, the humanitarian response of the American people was heart-warming. But the heart must now heed the head. There are obvious lessons that need to be taken if the wells of sympathy are not to be depleted.

Some 24 people were killed by the tornado, including seven 8- and 9-year-old students at Moore’s Plaza Elementary School — a school that had no safe room, just as most of the 1,200 homes damaged and destroyed did not. That is stupid to the point of scandalous. Oklahoma is situated in Tornado Alley and people are accustomed to the danger. According to the National Weather Service, Moore and its environs have seen at least 22 tornadoes killing more than 100 people since 1893.

The state is conservative and fear of overreaching government power is part of the culture. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it goes only as far as it affects other Americans whose tax dollars go to help places like Moore recover.

It rankles that Oklahoma’s U.S. senators, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, have voted against federal funding for other disaster relief, including for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Yes, they had their reasons — concerns for wasteful federal spending and deficits — but a day of reckoning comes for ingrate behavior. In Moore, it came in a terrifying funnel cloud.

Political ideology should have been blown away in this storm. State and local governments in areas at risk should insist on safe rooms, at least in all new construction. The cost might be high, but so is the cost of repetitive tragedy. It is said that God helps those who help themselves; federal aid ought to be predicated on it.

OK is Leader in Disaster Declarations

Seal of Oklahoma.Here are some interesting statistics regarding the no. of major disasters, and presidential disaster declarations, that OK has received over the years.  Those numbers surely make me wonder why the states’ politicians have the views they do re federal assistance!

Oklahoma gets far more than its share of disasters.  Here are the leadin sentences to the article:

Many states get hit frequently with tornadoes and other natural catastrophes, but Oklahoma is Disaster Central.The twister that devastated Moore, Okla., was the 74th presidential disaster declared in the Sooner state in the past 60 years. Only much-larger and more-populous California and Texas have had more.

The state is No. 1 in tornado disasters and No. 3 for flooding, according to a database of presidential disaster declarations handled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And those figures don’t include drought, which is handled by a different agency.

Some Tornado Science and History

Tornado Alley

Tornado Alley

NBC has done a nice job explaining some of the science behind the OK city tornado outbreaks.  And they provide an interesting chart that compares the current events with the deadly tornadoes of 1999, which is the frame of reference for many people in OK. The article is titled Curse or coincidence? Scientists study Tornado Alley’s past and future

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I never get the kind of info I want from the news accounts. Since OK is centrally located in Tornado Alley, I would like to know things like:

  • what type of building/construction codes were in place in OK City?
  • what percentage of the population had a storm cellar or a safe room in their house?
  • how much tornado preparedness information and/or training was provided locally?

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It is worth citing the quote from the Christian Science Monitor that I mentioned in May 2011, right after the devastating Joplin, MO tornadoes:

Yet the stunning death tolls from tornadoes this spring raise new questions about government subsidies for storm shelters, the psychology of warning response, the possibility of limited tornado evacuations, and the argument that tornado warning and response should be considered a national security issue.