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Heed the Advice

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Without a doubt, Southern California, with its predictably sunny disposition, has a habit of elevating the slightest inclement weather to a squall of historic proportions. Thanks to the meteorologists and their fancy-shmancy equipment (eg. the Live Mega Doppler 7000), each year we are greeted with warnings of “Storm Watch 2000-whatever” — much to the ridicule of the rest of the country.

So it is no wonder that many of the comments I have seen on Facebook this week are in this vein.

…thinks it’s a little bit funny when bad weather in California equals a crisis.

…Were [sic] are a tornado watch today? Really? Oh, the media hype…

…only in Orange County would a principal call and remind all the students to go to school because its raining.

However, this weather situation really does merit the warnings as it is creating serious problems and some very difficult conditions. We really did have a tornado touch down in a nearby coastal town. The superintendent of our school district called each household and let us know that emergency protocols were in place and that should parents choose to keep their children home due to weather concerns, to inform the school. Roads near our home were closed due to flooding. And over 1,000 homes have been evacuated ahead of potential mud slides.

These mudslides are a very real possibility. According to Sue Cannon, USGS Research Geologist, “the forecast rainfall for the next 48 hours is comparable with that which occurred during a 1969 storm that triggered landslides, debris flows and floods throughout Southern California, resulting in the deaths of 34 people.” Those areas particularly hard hit during the 1969 storm had been scorched in the fall leading up to the storm as well. This parallelism is providing the experts with the ability to predict, and potentially prevent, tragedy.

What is most amazing to me is the chutzpah (read: audacious stupidity) that some people have in the face of authority-mandated evacuations. They were told to leave and, believing that they know better, are choosing to stay.

Deputy Fire Chief Mike Metro urged “If we do get significant debris flows in those areas, those people are going to be isolated…They’re not going to be able to get out. They’re going to be trapped in their homes. And equally as important, maybe more important, is if they have a critical medical need, we may not be able to get to them. So that’s very important.”

Not only does such stubbornness put the individual at risk, but it also has the potential of putting safety officers at risk should the need of rescue arise.

Perhaps people are downplaying the risks out of ignorance. Perhaps they simply do not understand what a debris flow is or how swiftly it can overtake everything in its path.

Debris flows are one of the most dangerous of geologic phenomena. Debris flows can occur with little warning and rivers of mud, rocks, and debris from the fire can cascade down mountainsides and through channels. As these flows move through channels they pick up sediment and can grow to be tens of feet deep, traveling as much as 35 miles per hour.

“In Southern California, debris flows and floods have over history killed a comparable number of people as earthquakes,” said Dr. Lucy Jones, chief of the USGS multi-hazards project. “These past deadly debris flows highlight that residents should not be complacent, and those with evacuation orders need to leave.”

So…for what are you waiting….an engraved invitation???

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, 21 January 2010 6:36 pm

    Every year people die needlessly because they refuse to listen to emergency services instructions.

  2. Thursday, 21 January 2010 8:58 pm

    are you being evacuated? anything i can do?

  3. Friday, 22 January 2010 8:46 am

    How can anyone forget the lessons of Katrina so soon? Also, I’ve never heard of debris flow. Thanks for the new thing I learned today.

  4. Steven permalink
    Tuesday, 26 January 2010 1:17 am

    Have you ever heard the David Brenner routine about weather forecasting? He said something like “Stick your head out the window and if it gets wet, it’s raining! A nonsensical thing on TV is the reporter out in bad weather. As if we won’t believe the report if we don’t SEE a reporter getting wet, blown by the wind, etc. Luckily, the weather is usually mild, so the reporters don’t get hurt.

  5. Steven permalink
    Tuesday, 26 January 2010 1:33 am

    Some people may have evacuated several times and nothing ever happened, so they may think the government is crying wolf. Or their homes may have been robbed during an evacuation or they may have had stuff stolen while they were at an evacuation shelter. One of the lessons of Katrina was that the shelters ran out of key items, people were cut off from everything, such as news and communications and no one was in charge of maintaining order. Some people won’t even share a room in a hotel or boat, so going out to a public place like a shelter may be a fate worse than death to them. If it were me, I’d keep my most valuable possessions in a suitcase (or several) ready to go and probably make arrangements to stay at a friends house.

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