What makes a nation weather ready?

“Be silent, or say something better than silence.” – Pythagoras[1]

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.” – George Bernard Shaw

“The way that we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.” – Anthony Robbins

Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” – Charles Dickens

“Of all our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” – Walt Disney[2]

“A world community can exist only with world communication, which means something more than extensive short-wave facilities scattered about the globe. It means common understanding, a common tradition, common ideas, and common ideals.”

– Robert Hutchins, former president of The University of Chicago

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Wednesday’s panel discussions at the AMS Summer Community Meeting all deal with the subject of communication and a Weather Ready Nation. Should make for an interesting day, for two reasons. The first is the topic itself. The second is the array of speakers. If the ones I don’t know prove to be only half as good as the ones I do, we’re all in for a treat. The array of quotes above? Each germane to a piece of the weather-hazard risk communication puzzle.

Actually, the title of the first panel of the day promises a bit more. It has the title “what makes a nation weather ready?” Hopefully the speakers in that panel will make the point that a weather-ready nation consists of weather-ready communities…communities where the disruption of extremes lasts only so long as the extreme itself.

Here’s an example from our nation’s history that should illustrate the goal. We all know that in 1849, the United States saw a gold rush. In response to the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California, thousands of easterners took their families and their entire worldly goods to St. Joseph’s Missouri, purchased a wagon and a team of horses or oxen, and loaded everything in. As early as the springtime snowmelt and rains would permit – when the soil was finally dry enough to support the weight of the wagons, and the grass tall enough to feed the animals, they’d make what speed they could toward the Rocky Mountains. Delay would prove fatal. If they couldn’t make their crossing of the mountains before the snow started to fly, they might well perish in route.

Today, those same Rockies are a wintertime tourist destination for skiers and snowboarders from all over the country and the world. The residents in the ski resorts and nearby towns have solved all the problems of transportation and other critical infrastructure needed to keep their tourist-based economies humming in the worst of weather. Today’s blizzard is tomorrow’s six inches of powder on top of an eighty-inch snow base. Y’all come!

Now that’s weather-ready.

With intelligent design and city planning, we could achieve the same resilience along all America’s coasts. We could reach the point where shelter-in-place was a viable strategy, where home was the safest place to be and not just the point of embarkation for a family evacuation.

That and other actions for towns and counties all across the country are what is required to make a nation weather-ready.

Nothing less will do.

“If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy


[1] And we thought he was just a geometer!

[2] But I know a communication scholar who’d probably say it’s not quite that simple!

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