Camcorders vs. Safety

Chief Meteorologist Travis Koshko has returned with his take on being "smart" during a tornado.


There are very few things in this world that get me angry. I try to keep my stress level as low as possible so I can enjoy everything that life has to offer. But every once in a while, there's something that comes along that simply infuriates me, gets me so worked up, so agitated, that I cannot help but be vocal about it. This is one such moment.

This morning on Good Morning Charlottesville, we aired a story about the dangerous tornadoes that plowed through the Midwest yesterday. During one of the interviews, reference was made to a gentleman that happened to be in the path of one such tornado who happened to get it on film. His quote: “Well, I did what any smart person would do and grabbed the camcorder...” Needless to say, that quote got my blood boiling - and my stomach turning.

Since I began in this business nearly eleven years ago, I have done my job five, six, sometimes seven days a week with one goal in mind: to protect lives and property. That is the single reason why my colleagues and I not only do our jobs, but occasionally break into programming with storm updates, watches, and warnings. Often times, these “cut-ins” happen to the disappointment and frustration of many because either the specific severe weather event doesn't affect them, or because we're cutting into one of their favorite programs. Doing cut-ins is not something I do to win a popularity contest (in that case I'd fail miserably) but it's the commitment that Brantley, Melanie, I, and my other fellow TV meteorologists make to you, the viewer, to make sure you live to see another day when Mother Nature rears her ugly head. We're here to keep you safe.

So where does my anger come in? It angers me that we've come to a day and age where getting a disaster (in this case a tornado) on film is more important than our own safety, that the first thing running through one's mind isn't, “Hey, we need to seek shelter now!” but rather, “Honey, where's the camcorder?” Years and years of preaching to viewers, friends, and school children to go to the basement away from windows in case of a tornado were in my mind completely thrown out the window because of this gentleman's single soundbyte. According to the gentleman, his definition of “smart” in the event of a tornado was defined as getting as much footage as possible even in the eye of danger. I will say that I do not know his actions that followed his filming of the tornado. How long was he filming? Did he eventually seek shelter? These questions I cannot answer. However, I work day in and day out as a professional to make sure that safety is FIRST on everyone's mind in the advent of severe weather - not the desire to film the severe weather or event while putting one's own life in jeopardy. This is what upsets me so much: the thought of this gentleman protecting his own life was an afterthought to getting a home movie of a tornado in close vicinity that could have sent debris flying toward him. It completely goes against the philosophy by which I do my job.

Now, the main idea of this rant is not to point fingers to blame for the origin of such a mentality. Is it due to the increasing coverage of storm chaser programs on television? Is it the request made by news outlets for eyewitness information and video? Is it several week-long series on cable about the scientific research of tornadoes? There are some who would argue that meteorologists are the biggest hypocrites because “they're the one out reporting in a storm while telling everyone else to stay away and be safe.” That discussion is not for this blog. The main idea of this rant is to simply state that there is NO camcorder available on the market today that can keep ANYONE safe from tornadoes. The truth of the matter is that tornadoes can be deadly storms. The damage done by them can be incredible. When there is a tornado nearby, the safest thing to do is to seek shelter in the lowest level of your home away from windows. If outside or in a weak structure, seek shelter in a more sturdy structure if available. And if you're stuck outside, find a ditch or low-lying area, but watch for heavy rains associated with the tornado that may lead to flash flooding.

As a meteorologist, I URGE you to follow the above advice in the event of a tornado. There are many programs on television and movies in the current day that portray tornadoes in different lights. It is my only hope that amidst the “entertainment” or "information" objective, the real issue of safety is not lost when one finds themselves directly in the path of danger. Please don't put your life in jeopardy for the sake of getting something on film!

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