Here is one last rant and some additional perspective on the sensationalist, fear mongering reports in several USA TODAY network newspapers this week. In 2019, 42 people died from tornadoes. That same year 47,511 committed suicide. In other words, reducing suicides by JUST ONE PERCENT would have saved ten times as many lives (475) as completely eliminating tornado deaths. On average, there are 132 suicide deaths PER DAY – more than the last two years of tornado deaths combined (117), and nearly twice the average annual tornado death rate (69/yr). Now, given that perspective, is this front page justified?
To be sure, any premature death is a tragedy, and weather causes a significant amount of death and destruction, a lot of it preventable. But we have made tremendous strides in warning and mitigation, especially in the area of hurricanes. The articles had some good points – but the melodrama and fear overwhelmed whatever valid points were to be made. I’ve made it my life’s work to try to reduce the impact of natural hazards, so obviously I think this work is important and valuable – but you have to keep it in perspective. Consider: over 6,000 Military Veterans are thought to die due to suicide every year – at least eighty six (86) times the annual average deaths from tornadoes. If I had the skills and knowledge to help reduce that horrific figure I’d drop what I’m doing in a second and change careers.
It’s important to realize that the most insidious and toxic thing about this kind of “reporting” is that factually the article is almost entirely “true” – as noted in the previous post, tornado activity might be shifting, and “The South” is more vulnerable than the Midwest. It just the reports lack context. I can do a screaming headline about “Every Surface In Your Home Is Coated in Bacteria,” show gross pictures of people with necrotizing fasciitis accompanied by sob stories from their families, and without any falsehoods make you afraid to touch your kitchen counter. But in context, all that bacteria isn’t really a major problem for most people with some common sense. I could have used many other examples of things more dangerous or impactful on everyday life than tornadoes, but I just got a note on Veteran suicide so it’s on my mind.
The bottom line is that while tornadoes are scary, by any rational measure we’re afraid of and worried about the wrong things – and “journalism” like this a big reason why.