What can we learn?
Weather warnings were issued, but eight people still tragically lost their lives yesterday following a shocking weather event that has become our most deadly in 40 years. These terrible events should never have happened. So why did so many people miss or ignore the warnings? I have a few of theories. Firstly, MetService is pretty good, in my opinion, at alerting the country to severe weather. They’ve certainly improved a lot over the past few years. But some people feel burnt. For example, the big snow storm that hit Canterbury in 2006 was missed. MetService is no different to any other business… a bit of bad publicity can last a very, very long time. The public are often naturally cynical when it comes to weather forecasts, especially in a country that has such changeable weather…get it wrong once and it sticks like mud.
Secondly, there is a fine line between warning people and crying wolf. Severe weather events, especially slow and clumsy systems like this one, can be very tricky to accurately pin point. We can’t just say Northland and Coromandel when there is the potential for it to affect Bay of Plenty and Waikato. Sometimes several surrounding regions can be lumped in and often only a few are directly hit…of course this leads to apathy the next time around.
Thirdly – the kiwi attitude. We’re pretty tough and have the attitude that “she’ll be right mate”. I think we used to have that same attitude to drink driving…
Finally – the media. I think that we, the media, need to play a far bigger role in accurately promoting weather warnings. Overseas, weather warnings stop shows – on both radio and TV. Here, they are almost mentioned as an after thought or something to make the news a little more interesting. I can’t recall a time when a TV show was interupted by a weather presenter to announce that a major thunderstorm was about to hit a region. In America, this is almost standard. A lot of radio stations ‘dumb down’ warnings by saying things like “well the north is in for some more heavy rain tonight” without really portraying the severity of it…it’s not just a wet day, this could kill people. We also give just as much weight to rain warnings issued for Fiordland as we do for somewhere like Wellington or Auckland. This makes no sense to me at all. Fiordland has rain warnings issued many times every month. To me that doesn’t even need to make the news. If you live there, or are visiting there, I’m pretty sure you’d know to check the weather forecast yourself because you’re entering an alpine area and a rain forest. Every time our news media run stories on such a remote part of the country I think it takes credibility away from warnings that really are something we need to sit up and listen to.
The Radio Network through it’s Weather Watch Centre is working closely with MetService to lead the way in presenting weather news and to ensure we use our industry effectively in promoting severe weather warnings.
Lightning kills more people than tornadoes or hurricanes. Flash floods aren’t a dramtic American term …they really are fast, dangerous and deadly.
Weather forecasters don’t get it right all the time because forecasting isn’t a complete science, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If a rain warning is issued and you hardly receive any rain it’s often not a case of the forecaster being wrong… it’s case of your region being lucky.