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Stormy Sensationalism Causes Unreasonable Fear

  Today’s media outlets love to keep us glued to the tube. While veracity in news reporting is still evident, sensationalism is very much out of hand, causing undo stress and fear to the general public, especially in the area of local news channel weather reporting.
  With over thirty years of experience with group camping and backpacking as a leader in the Royal Rangers, I’ve learned that there is little to fear of bad weather except in very extreme circumstances. In the great outdoors, I’ve endured countless thunderstorms, high winds, rain, and a two-day ice storm without so much as a scratch to show for it. In more protective environments, I have easily survived 3 hurricanes on land, 2 aboard ship at sea, and a full-blown typhoon on the eastern shores of Japan.
  Being a boys scouting organization, the Royal Rangers have an annual camping tradition; the Powwow. In southern Missouri, this district wide event is an exciting opportunity for over a thousand Royal Rangers from across the state to camp in a group setting. Typically lasting all weekend, the Powwow is full of enjoyable games, activities and drama for boys and men alike. The Powwow of this past summer however, proved to be a bit different.
  On Saturday night, shortly after the drama production I was in charge of, word began to spread of an approaching thunderstorm. As I was cleaning up the stage and carefully packing away sound equipment, Bob, one of my outpost commanders, approached me very cautiously. As he began to speak, his demeanor was one of nervousness and concern.
  He began to tell of a phone conversation that occurred a short time ago between a camper and his wife. She had stated the local news had been reporting “very serious” thunderstorms for the Kansas City Area. There was also a storm reported in Joplin. According to the TV weatherman, the two storms appeared to be converging into some type of super storm cell. She had also heard from the news that several areas of town were without electricity and the weatherman had been warning people to stay indoors.
  Bob continued to explain how the boys appeared to be very upset about this news and were in the process of breaking camp in preparation to leave. As Senior Commander of the outpost (the one responsible for making such a decision), I calmly questioned why the decision to break camp had been made without me. Immediately, Bob hysterically launched into a long rationalization about how dangerous storms were, emphasizing the weather reports from Kansas City. When I commented that Kansas City was over 200 miles away, he began to get very disturbed and argued that thousands of people were killed by lightning and tornadoes every year in the United States. When I questioned his statistic, he became even more irate.
  I could see the conversation was quickly getting out of hand. His exasperation escalated when it became evident that I would not agree with his analysis of the situation. I was getting frustrated, and knew getting upset with him would only make matters worse, so I calmly asked him to return to camp, adding I would be along in a few minutes.
  Before returning to camp, I phoned my wife in Kansas City to ask about the severe weather reports. She curiously replied, “What severe weather? We had some rain, but little else.” Next, I dialed the national weather service. There were thunderstorms in Kansas City and Joplin, with the possibility of the two storms converging, but no report of extremely dangerous conditions in the area.
  As I neared the camp, it was apparent the fear among the leaders had spread, as other groups were packing as well. I observed the boys from my outpost running and playing, snacking on food, and obviously having a good time as they packed their camp gear. I felt deceived by the comments Bob had made relating to the emotional condition of the boys. It seemed that he had exaggerated their response in order to obtain my agreement to pack up camp. Since the camp was mostly packed except for the tents flapping in the gentle breeze, I realized there really wasn’t much of a decision left for me to make.
  As I gazed up at the stars in the night sky, I marveled at how easily people can become consumed with fear based upon newscasters whose primary purpose is too keep people watching. In the past ten years, an average of only 58 people have been killed by tornados and 53 people by lightning yearly (NOAA).
  It turns out that it did indeed rain heavily that night, with a few scattered thunderstorms, and a short tornado watch. There was however, nothing to write home about.
  In the end, even though there was no resolution to the situation, good leadership demanded I maintain a calm, level headed appearance in the face of Bob’s frightened reaction to the weather reports.
  Driving home that Saturday night, I was more fearful of being one of the 17,419 people killed by drunk drivers every year, than one of the 438 deaths related to weather (NHTSA; NOAA).