Comparing Storms


I received one of those circulating emails the other day and I wanted to point it out. It purports to have been written by an unnamed “county emergency manager” somewhere in Colorado. Here’s the text that this alleged person allegedly wrote; my comments will follow.

WEATHER BULLETIN – Up here, in the Northern Plains, we just recovered from a Historic event— may I even say a “Weather Event” of “Biblical Proportions” — with a historic blizzard of up to 44″ inches of snow and winds to 90 MPH that broke trees in half, knocked down utility poles, stranded hundreds of motorists in lethal snow banks, closed ALL roads, isolated scores of communities and cut power to 10’s of thousands.


George Bush did not come.

FEMA did nothing.

No one howled for the government.

No one blamed the government.

No one even uttered an expletive on TV .

Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton did not visit.

Our Mayor did not blame Bush or anyone else.

Our Governor did not blame Bush or anyone else, either.

CNN, ABC, CBS, FOX or NBC did not visit – or report on this category 5 snow storm. Nobody demanded $2,000 debit cards.

No one asked for a FEMA Trailer House.

No one looted.

Nobody – I mean Nobody demanded the government do something.

Nobody expected the government to do anything, either.

No Larry King, No Bill O’Rielly, No Oprah, No Chris Mathews and No Geraldo Rivera.

No Shaun Penn, No Barbara Striesand, No Hollywood types to be found.

Nope, we just melted the snow for water.

Sent out caravans of SUV’s to pluck people out of snow engulfed cars.

The truck drivers pulled people out of snow banks and didn’t ask for a penny.

Local restaurants made food and the police and fire departments delivered it to the snowbound families.

Families took in the stranded people – total strangers.

We fired up wood stoves, broke out coal oil lanterns or Coleman lanterns.

We put on extra layers of clothes because up here it is “Work or Die”.

We did not wait for some affirmative action government to get us out of a mess created by being immobilized by a welfare program that trades votes for ‘sittin at home’ checks.

Even though a Category “5” blizzard of this scale has never fallen this early, we know it can happen and how to deal with it ourselves.

In my many travels, I have noticed that once one gets north of about 48 degrees North Latitude, 90% of the world’s social problems evaporate.

It does seem that way, at least to me.

I hope this gets passed on.

Maybe SOME people will get the message. The world does Not owe you a living.

The level of anger to be found in this letter might be easy to understand if you can put yourself in the place of a hands-on disaster relief employee who’s trying to get people the help they need quickly without the resources he or she might need at that moment. I’m sure that would be a frustrating job, and I’m sure that person probably needed to blow off lots of built-up steam.

The level of hate to be found in this letter is a different story.

If this person — assuming the text is genuine — really wants to compare that powerful winter storm to Hurricane Katrina, let’s do it. Let’s see what we can find.

Storm to Storm
First, let’s compare the two storms. According to two different news reports, the storm was blamed for 8 deaths in the Pacific Northwest, and/or 12 deaths in four states. I don’t know whether that means there’s a total of 12 or a total of 20. But for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s 20, and then let’s triple that amount, just to give the largest benefit of the doubt. So we’re going with 60, which is probably an inflated number to begin with.

Hurricane Katrina killed 1836 people. There were 705 still missing or unaccounted for last time I checked, so this could bring the death toll to a total of 2541, or roughly 42 times the number of fatalities.

Hundreds of thousands of people were left in the dark in the winter storms. Three million were without power after Katrina.

There’s no clear estimate of property damage from the winter storms. While there were 90 mile-per-hour winds blanketing the area, the main damage seems to be (so far) from house fires caused by people trying to stay warm.

Hurricane Katrina is blamed for $81.2 billion in property damage.

Federal Response
It’s true that President Bush didn’t visit. It’s true that FEMA didn’t send trailers or food. Then again, it appears true that Colorado didn’t ask for any. Governor Bill Owens delcared a Statewide Disaster, which allowed him to pull the Colorado National Guard into relief efforts. The National Guard dropped hay to help stranded farm animals. Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave introduced bills to help speed financial aid to ranchers who lost livestock. So while it may not have come from the Governor, the state did ask for Federal Relief assistance. Some people did demand that the government do something to help them.

And President Bush did sign emergency declarations for Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska — whether those states asked him to or not. That signing paved the way for FEMA to send — if nothing else — financial assistance to the area.

It sounds as if Colorado was better-prepared for dealing with this storm than the Gulf states were. That may have been luck, or it may have been more competent leadership. Still, there’s nothing wrong with asking the federal government for help. There’s something very wrong with pretending it didn’t happen to elevate yourself to a higher status over people who’ve been through worse conditions.

Since this letter originated in Colorado, let’s start with them. The average per capita income in 2003 was $34,561, ranking that state 8th in the nation in terms of highest individual income. Colorado, by the numbers, averages as one of the top ten richest states in the country.

The figures from the three states hit hardest by Katrina, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, tell a very different story. The same 2003 income data shows that Louisiana ranked 43rd, with a per capita income of $26,312. Alabama didn’t do much better, with a per-capita income of $26.503. And the rankings from 2005 show that while income has obviously risen across the board, Mississippi ranked 50th, with $33,569. (Keep in mind, that’s a 2005, not 2003, amount.)

If the eighth-richest state in the nation, by per capita income, needed the same level of assistance after a storm that caused much less damage and less casualties then three of the poorest states needed after a storm that caused a much greater loss of property and life, I think that would be a hell of a story.

Media Coverage
Here’s another example of someone who lashes out at the media not having taken the time to check his or her own facts first. It’s always funny how people who are so quick to find fault with the media’s coverage of something can so easily demonstrate a failure that they’re only to happy to criticize the media for committing.

Did the networks visit? I saw live shots on the Today show. I know I saw live shots on the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News. I’m quite certain that correspondents from CNN and MSNBC were doing live shots from the area, probably to the extent that others were complaining that they were making “too much” out of it. So somebody visited. Perhaps it’s the fact that Brian Williams, Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson didn’t personally visit that this person takes as an insult. If that’s the complaint, it’s unfortunate that he or she chose to skew the facts in making it.

As for coverage, I’ve already cited stories from NBC News and ABC News. The writer mentioned people taking in complete strangers and asking for nothing in return. Well, here’s a CBS News story covering an example of that.

You can continue to search other sources if you wish. Each one has numerous stories on the storm as it moved in and after it moved out. But I think the point is made.

Anger can make us say and do silly things. I suppose this person, who was at the center of a crisis, was entitled to lash out. I hope it helped in some way. But if you see this email cycle around, now that the tempers have stopped flaring, now that we’ve had time for a little common sense, I hope you won’t forward it, since most of it is a lie.

1 Comment

  1. I live in Michigan. The Winter Wonderland. I have lived through winters where the temps fell, the power went out, the bands of snow came one after another….and people were stuck in their house for a week.

    Even in an ice storm where you can hear the branches breaking through the wires, the cars spinning into drifts, or worse to each other, and the distant howl of emergency vehicles….


    You’re right, anger makes people say the insensitive and foolish things. However, written statements take time, premeditation, and thought. No excuse. Except right wing prejudice.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.