Troubled Waters with Super Typhoon Haiyan

As a meteorologist, you delve into the beauty and amazement of weather phenomena, whether it is the fascinating development of lake-effect snow or the furious funnel of an EF-3 tornado. Many, like myself, gazed at the fascinating structure of Super Typhoon Haiyan hours before it made landfall in the Philippines. Through the wonder of the images, the feeling of fear stuck in my gut, realizing that the central Philippines would be devastated in just a matter of time.

One controversy has developed with this storm. Was it right for storm chasers to hunt a catastrophic storm in a foreign country and then leave shortly after?

Jim Edds, James Reynolds, Josh Morgerman are three of these more notable extreme chasers/cameramen. They traveled to the Philippines knowing that a catastrophe could happen and were willing to risk their lives to capture the ferocity of Haiyan. Did they know how strong it would be? Probably not. Typhoons are not rare in the western Pacific and the storm was projected to reach category 4 status early that week. Did they realize that thousands of people’s lives would be taken? Probably not. Was there a net positive effect from being there? Should the have gone? In order to decide this I’ll look at it from both a meteorological standpoint and a human standpoint.

Meteorological

  • Storm chasing has grown immensely in the U.S., and the thrill of seeing a tornado or hurricane is something that you’ll never forget (after all I work with a storm chaser).
  • Many hunt storms to apply their data to research, measuring wind speeds, rainfall, storm surge, etc. for future analysis. Will there be a lot of research from what these guys recorded? Maybe.
  • Financial profit can be made off of videos/pictures/research, and in the world of alow-paying field of work like meteorology, any way to make extra money is tempting.
  • Hurricanes are so large that you generally cannot even see the structure of the storm aside from satellite/aerial images. So why bother?

Human

  • Why would anyone spend thousands of dollars to go to a foreign land that they know little about, just to catch some photos and video footage of a potential destructive storm? From the human standpoint, I think most would not think twice about traveling there.
  • Does a chaser’s presence in the Philippines serve as a positive impact in terms of protecting people, saving lives, etc.? From a large scale perspective: No. Small scale: Potentially.
  • If you saw the terror of the dead lying in streets and on the beaches, looters fishing out stores for food and water, and thousands of hungry and frustrated families. would you stay? Morally, you should probably try and help these people.

Was it right for storm chasers to hunt  a catastrophic storm in a foreign country and then leave shortly after? Probably not. I think that the human aspect of this storm outweighs the meteorological standpoint for this event, but at the same time, there is a bit of a gray area, too. Their findings may help with meteorological research and show many how dangerous storms can be, but was the presence of the chasers needed in the Philippines? No. Did their presence help some people to safety in the hustle and bustle of the storm? Yes. According to chaser, Josh Morgerman, on helping several people, “…we didn’t plan to be helpful or think about it, it was just an instinctual reaction to throw the cameras down and fight like hell through the water to drag them out.” I think with disaster everyone’s human side comes out, and that is a humbling thing to see.

However, to go to a foreign land, get treated with respect by the Filipino people, watch disaster happen, and then get first dibs on a plane out of the region in front of thousands of homeless/hungry/needy people frustrates me. The fact that they’ll make quite a bit of profit from their videos and pictures is sickening, unless all of this money goes to helping the thousands who welcomed these chasers into their homeland.

Everyone has their own opinion on this situation, but I’m sure everyone agrees that the disaster that occurred in the Philippines is devastating. God bless them. That is all