Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Always Take The Weather With You

I lived for a period of time in the Midwest. Central Indiana, to be precise. Given how I've spent most of my days in various locations scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area, this makes me one of the few people able to order a double non-fat low-whip high-cream medium-sugar easy-foam triple-shot cappulattespresso and say "ay-yup" when the beleaguered barista reads back my order. But I digress.

In Indiana, as is the case in much of the Midwest, the easiest job imaginable is that of weather forecaster. You can throw pretty much anything you want to out there and stand an excellent chance of being right at some time during the day. Rain, snow, wind, warm, still, hot, cold, humid, bone dry. And every possible variation thereof. When it's said if you don't like the weather wait five minutes it's only the slightest exaggeration. I have vivid memories of being outside on a bright sunny day without a cloud in the sky... and immediately heading home because I could feel the atmospheric pressure change indicating a thunderstorm was soon be letting loose. Fifteen minutes later it'd be storming.

On a far more serious note, last Friday, a horrific earthquake struck Chile. Centered offshore, the 8.8 magnitude quake wreaked havoc. As is gradually being revealed, not an insignificant amount of damage was due to the tsunami created by the tremblor.

The Hollywood image of a tsunami being some kind of incredibly high wave devouring ships as it crashes toward shore is inaccurate. It's entirely possible for a ship to have a tsunami pass underneath it without those on board even noticing. The danger comes when the wave, more accurately described as a surge of water, reaches shallow water. Between the speed at which the water is traveling and the sheer amount of water pushing forward, the potential for disaster is great.

The ability to accurately predict a tsunami is limited. Buoys can measure a surge, but only to a point. As one gets closer to shore it becomes easier to tell what's going on, but you're also dealing with a very short time span in which to warn people of the coming peril.

Back to the Chilean earthquake. Given that tsunami activity had already taken place, it was logical to believe more could happen. And not just in Chile. The tsunami which struck several countries in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas 2004 produced measurable effects as far away as Vancouver. Everyone in the possible path of one resulting from the Chilean quake was immediately put on high alert.

And nothing happened.

While there was inconvenience suffered by residents of Hawaii, who after having been informed for several hours to evacuate the beach and low-lying areas were told don't sweat it, this was a very small price to pay compared to what would have been extracted had a tsunami struck. Certainly it'd be nice to have more accurate information if one was or wasn't going to strike. It'd also be nice to know when earthquakes are going to occur. But we don't.

All we can do is be prepared. Living our lives in constant terror of nature's forces coming after us is a useless waste of energy. That said, skipping through life oblivious and unprepared is stupidity on steroids. We owe it to ourselves and each other to, as best we can, prepare for what might happen.

Part of which is making sure we have the right insurance.

Which won't help you be any more accurate forecasting the weather, but at least you'll be ready.

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