Monday, November 18, 2013

It's Ratings Gold I Tell Ya -OR- Untold Stories of Untold Bad Ideas

Breaking News...

We have weather. Thanks to climate change, and other factors, we have enough weather to fill large blocks of airtime on the dozens of 24/7 newsfotainment outlets. Yesterday, in Illinois, it was tornado weather. Today, nationwide, the images and sounds of devastation have been gathered, edited, colated, then interspersed with live, on the scene, remotes, we Americans are being "informed". By now you've seen the pictures of the carnage. The Aftermath.

It's a matter of some debate whether the path the November, 17 2013 storms followed is part of "Tornado Alley". The title, introduced into the American lexicon in the science-heavy post-war 50s, describes

an area that experiences frequent weather events that spawn funnel clouds that chew up anything in their path when they transition from airborn funnel cloud to ground-contacting ones. The map has grown significantly over time to include most of the middle of the country.

Proof positive of climate change? A reflection of our induced obsession with weather and weather related phenomena? A large chunk of both along with many other factors? How should I know, I'm a blogger, not a meteorologist, climate scientist, storm chaser or weatherguesser. Well, okay, I'll plead guilty to the last.
Through casual observations of exterior signs and a calendar, I'm able to discern the general conditions and guess the weather outside without having to actually go outside, and certainly without tuning into the weather report from the experts "every 10 minutes on the nines". Admit it you do too.

The maps and charts and radar and trained professionals can be helpful. They can add to your personal observations and aid your ability to plan outdoor oriented activities in advance, but on a daily, hour by hour basis, they are of minor consideration. But that's a rant for another day. Today's puzzler is the seemingly exponential growth of weather-related gut-punches to America's mid-section. For me the area of piqued interest is localized to the "Six-county Chicago Metropolitan Area" which also covers a lot more ground than it did in the 1950s.

Through both casual and careful observation from my position in an inner-ring "First Suburb" of Chicago, I know that territories and settlements north, south and west of the big city have grown out, creating easily identifiable urban sprawl. Lesser urban areas of the state have experienced the same. Ever since my wayward youth, I've known about city, near suburbs, far suburbs, boonies and rural. I've marveled at the nomadic lifestyles constantly urging folks not to settle for green grass when there were cornfields to develop into greener grass utopias. Looking for wide-open spaces then insisting that they provide all the convenience and resources of more densely populated areas. Driven by more land for less money even if it meant a longer commute, urban sprawl invaded the rural landscapes. During the irrationally exuberant boom times, the "Uboughtdafarm" developments, divisions and sub-divisions ran amok and continue, only slightly tempered by the housing meltdown they helped fuel.

In 1990, the Plainfield Tornado exposed the downside of building large tracts of housing out in the boonies. In 1980, that F5 twister would have churned up cornfields, uprooted fence posts and caused power outages to several farms. In 1990, it took 29 lives. spurred a brief discussion of "urban planning" and brought a new focus on weather prediction and warning models that have only improved over time. Does it help to know when thousands of homes and the people who inhabit them are threatened? Of course it does, but when it was known and predictable that those thousands of home were in the very likely path of destruction...?

It didn't slow the developers. It didn't diminish the sprawl. Many millions of dollars were made moving many thousands of people into the known, but unprotected, path of future storms. The crop of new homes were bigger, went up and sold faster than before. Planning was limited to maximizing profit, embracing "growth" for growths sake and all the economic prosperity that came along with all the new residents expanding the tax base. The sales brochures didn't advertise the geographic and topographic downsides. The buyers were looking for utopia and that's the illusion they were shown.

Nowhere in the 24/7 reporting on tragic devastation have the developers been discussed or their wisdom questioned.
What's up with that?

I feel for the victims. I truly do. I can't stop progress. I also can't feign shock and surprise at these recurring nightmares. I suppose that makes me a terrible person... been there; done that. Premise accepted. That still doesn't make ME the bad guy.

1 comment:

amber ladeira said...

I love this post! Do more like this one, please. It isn't a real departure from your usual concerns; I find it pretty informative, insightful, and utterly frank, even though I sort of wish you had stopped your essay after "I feel for the victims." Best wishes to you and yours; Happy Holidays! (--In spite of our oft'-expressed laments re:all the extant entrenched stupidities.)