How to Survive the Worst Weather, From Mudslides to Nuclear Winter
The forces of nature can be strong and unforgiving. So how do we arm ourselves against extreme weather? With knowledge, of course.
Dennis Mersereau and the editors of Outdoor Life have teamed up to bring us The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, a book that provides valuable information about how surviving severe weather and environmental phenomena. You can view some excerpts from Extreme Weather in the gallery above.
WIRED spoke with Mersereau, and we mostly chatted about the weather.
WIRED: So how’s the weather over there? Do you ever school people when they try to make small talk like: “Nice day we’re having?”
Dennis Mersereau: [Laughs] I try not to do that as much as I used to, it kind of turns people off a little bit. But it’s a lot of fun when you realize they’re more interested in the weather than small talk.
WIRED: In your book you debunk a lot of weather myths. Is the information you include based on new research? It seems like people have a lot of ideas that are incorrect about the weather.
DM: A lot of these myths have been around for so long, the only one that I really learned about when I was researching this book is that people think that lightning strike victims are still electrified after they were struck. It just boggles my mind why someone would think that.
WIRED: Are there any changes in meteorology technology that alters the way we are starting to perceive weather?
DM: I think Doppler weather radar is the most important advancement we’ve made in meteorology in recent years, even though we’ve had computer models that can tell us the weather pretty accurately five to seven days in advance and all these awesome satellites. But weather radar is an incredibly useful tool because it allows us to see not only the inside of a thunderstorm, you can also see the winds in the storm, tornado formation, or a microburst. Recently they came out with dual polarization, which allows you to see not only where the precipitation is, but also the size and shape of the objects it’s detecting. So you can see the difference between hail, sleet, and rain, or even tornado debris. This is such a big change, and it’s so helpful to us now because if there’s a tornado in the middle of the night nobody’s going to see it, but the radar will.
WIRED: Do local news outlets use these tools adequately to warn people?
DM: When people are able to see something, they take it more seriously. So if they’re seeing a tornado on the map that’s two miles from them, they’ll take it more seriously then just a tornado warning for their location.
WIRED: It seems like the deadliest weather phenomena are the ones that people are apathetic to, when they don’t react (or don’t know how to react) despite being warned. What do you think?
DM: Yeah, I think you’re right. I won’t say a lot of people, but there’s this definite strain of thought that people think meteorologists are hyping something up. A lot of this is the media’s fault because they’ll hype up a flurry or a storm and then it doesn’t happen. Then people will think they were just lying to get ratings. But sometimes that hype really is warranted. Like the flooding in South Carolina, where people have never experienced that kind of flooding before. When the news said it was going to be bad, they didn’t have a reference point for just how bad it was going to be.
WIRED: Do you consider flooding to be one of the deadliest weather phenomena?
DM: The thing about flooding is that the majority of deaths occur in vehicles because people stupidly drive through the flood. They think the car will make it or the water isn’t as high as it is, and then they drive through it and drown. Most of these deaths are completely preventable. In contrast, if there’s a tornado that can wipe out the strongest built building, there’s not much you can do about it. People can avoid going through a flood, but when they don’t they’re risking their lives.
WIRED: I wonder if this attributable to the belief that mankind has come far enough to control the weather, when really the weather still controls us.
DM: Weather control is really interesting because of conspiracies like HAARP and Chemtrails. People even think that Doppler radar can control thunderstorms for some reason. That’s a growing strain of thought, especially on the Internet with people who use Facebook groups and weird underground forums. When Chemtrail conspirators have a protest on Facebook they’ll get 10,000 people saying they’re going to an event, but when you see pictures of the protests there’s only four who show up.
WIRED: I also understand that the topic of Celsius vs. Fahrenheit gets you heated (pun intended).
DM: [Laughs] Yeah, I prefer Fahrenheit to Celsius. I will admit that a big part of it is because I’m so used to Fahrenheit. But if you think about it, Fahrenheit gives you a much better range to communicate temperature. It’s much better suited to air [than Celsius] because Celsius is based on water, but we don’t live in water. Celsius makes sense that 0º is freezing and 100º is boiling, but if the air temperature is 100ºC, you’re dead.
WIRED: If you think about how phenomena like tornadoes or hurricanes only hit specific areas, it seems like certain types of extreme weather are localized. Are there any places in the world we can live to escape extreme weather?
DM: That’s a good question… I don’t think you really can escape extreme weather. If you move to the Arctic there’s extreme cold. If you move to the desert there’s extreme hot. If you move to a mountain there can be 200 mph wind gusts. Even if you live underground there could be a flood that’ll drown you. There might be some areas that have it easier than others, but you can’t escape.
In fact, the publisher asked me to write a blog post for its site when the book published, and I was trying to think of a good lede. I thought of the old cliche attributed to Ben Franklin saying, “The only two things certain in life are death and taxes,” and I said one should be weather. Because no matter who you are, how much money you have, or where you grew up, the weather will affect your life in some way.
Be sure to check out Dennis Mersereau’s writing for Gawker at The Vane
Read this article: