By Paul Yeager, author of Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities
Cable television is the mecca for over-hyped and sensationalistic programs about natural disasters, and the multiple shows about storm chasers are, in my opinion, among the worst. The shows romanticize tornadoes, don’t deal with the devastation they cause, and make stars out of chasers who are much more interested in seeing tornadoes (and being on tv!) than contributing to science.
Having said that, the Discovery Channel has produced an exception to the standard tornado coverage show with Tornado Rampage 2011, which first aired on Sunday evening.
The four-day late-April 2011 tornado outbreak in the southern United States is considered the most deadly since the 1974 Super Tornado Outbreak, and it was most likely the most filmed, with coverage ranging from professional storm chasers to television crews to cell phones by people trapped in the middle of the outbreak. The footage is gripping.
The show connects the tornadoes with the people who were devasted by them in a way that I haven’t seen on any other tornado show. Some of the stories included a woman and her three children who were in a house that was picked up and moved a block, a young man who survived in a closet while three friends in a main room died, and a young woman who filmed from her car as it was lifted, spun, and dropped out a tornado.
The human devastation of the storm was dramatic, powerful, and important to see since so many other shows feature television-hungry chasers who who see more beauty in the tornado than they see damage in the destruction or meteorologists who would rather be correct about a forecast than be wrong and not see destruction.
Not all chasers or meteorologists are like that, but I’ve been involved in the field for 25 years and, believe me, some are.
It was great to see a show that didn’t focus on this side of the story.