Last Saturday, a 70-mile-hour wind gust ahead of a band of thunderstorms toppled a stage at the Indiana State Fair, killing five and injuring dozens of others. Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) called the disaster a “fluke event“:
This is the finest event of its kind in America, this is the finest one we’ve ever had, and this desperately sad, as-far-as-I-can-tell fluke event doesn’t change that.
Meteorologists responded angrily to Daniels, pointing out that the warning signs were clear to experts, and Daniels should have admitted that greater precautions could have saved lives. Tim Ballisty, a Weather Channel meteorologist attacked Daniels for implying weather is “some magical mystery science”:
Let’s stop bucketing meteorology and weather in general into some magical mystery science that can’t be explained. When a tragic accident due to existing extreme weather conditions occurs, there is a notion to just throw your hands up in the air and say, “well, nothing could have been done to avoid this” or “nobody could have seen this coming” or “it was just a damn fluke”. In many instances, that just simply is not the case and it wasn’t the case in the tragedy at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Powerful, damaging winds were a known threat several days before and during the minutes leading up to the stage collapse. . .
If a known hazard – wind gusts in excess of 60 mph – is approaching, how is the destruction it causes a fluke?
“As seen in the radar images the gust front was a huge threat that to an untrained eye and on a composite radar on your phone is not detectable,” writes meteorologist Brad Panovich:
“What happened here was that either communications broke down or the threat was greatly misunderstood by the officials at the Fair Grounds,” Panovich said. “These storms did not just pop-up or pulse right over the fair grounds which would indeed have been a fluke. There was plenty of warning, if you you knew or wanted to know what was going to happen.”
Politicians try to paint incidents as accidents when they want to avoid questions of responsibility and thus action. But we understand what drives climate and weather sufficiently now that we must acknowledge the consequences of our inaction in the face of threats such as extreme weather.