Very lucky, as this excellent graphic from the front page of the Tuscaloosa News shows. Note the green area labeled “UA” — that’s the campus, and it just avoided a direct hit from the massive tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa:
As things stand, life at the university has been tremendously disrupted — power out, nearby buildings destroyed, some student housing damaged, final exams canceled, commencement postponed until August, even football season ticket sales delayed — but if the tornado had edged just slightly to the left (or if it had formed a little earlier, and grown to the size it was near Peterson while it was over Tuscaloosa), the campus would have been largely destroyed. Thank God that didn’t happen.
[UPDATE: Since I published this post, it has been confirmed that eight University of Alabama students died in the tornadoes. That's a tragic loss of life, and I hope my use of the term "lucky" doesn't seem flippant in light of the news. My point was simply that it could easily have been -- and almost was -- far, far worse for the university, given the utter devastation just blocks away.]
Here’s another map of storm tracks and death tolls. Of course, this stuff will get much more precise once the National Weather Service sorts it all out, but that will take time, and it’s helpful for us non-Alabamans to see these maps in order to get an initial idea of the disaster’s geography.
The death toll, incidentally, has officially passed 300, though the exact number is hard to pin down. The highest number I’ve seen reported is 313, which would clearly eclipse the Blizzard of 1993 or “Storm of the Century” (highest reported death toll 310; some reports much lower), and might or might not eclipse the Tornado Super Outbreak of 1974 (I’ve seen that toll variously reported as 310, 315 and 330). But the toll is still rising, of course, and the bottom line — as I’ve been saying since yesterday afternoon — is that Wednesday’s tornado outbreak will almost certainly end up as the fifth-deadliest U.S. disaster of any kind in the last 60 years, surpassing the Super Outbreak and trailing only 9/11, Katrina and the 1980 and 1995 heat waves. It also looks likely to be the deadliest tornado outbreak in the U.S. since April 5-6, 1936.
On another note, probably today’s best front page belongs to the Birmingham News:
[UPDATE, 2:00 PM MDT: Since I composed this post, the death toll has risen from 247 to 272. So yesterday's disaster is now #8 on the list below, #6 if you exclude manmade disasters, #4 if you also exclude heat waves, or #3 if you do all of that and you think the listed "Storm of the Century" toll is inflated (some accounts have it much lower). Among natural disasters, only Hurricane Katrina, the 1980 and 1995 heat waves, and the 1974 Tornado Super Outbreak are clearly deadlier -- and yesterday may yet surpass the latter. God Almighty.
Original post below.]
The official death toll in yesterday’s epic, calamitous tornado outbreak is now at 247, including 162 in Alabama alone. Judging by this Wikipedia page listing all “United States disasters” — both manmade and natural — by death toll, it will go down as one of the deadliest disasters of the last 60 years. (And yet, somehow, the media coverage doesn’t seem commensurate with the scale of the catastrophe.) Here are the Top 15:
1. September 11, 2001 attacks – 2,973 2. Hurricane Katrina, 2005 – 1,836 3. United States Heat Wave of 1980 – ~1,700 4. Chicago Heat Wave of 1995 – 739 5. Tornado Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974 – 315 6. “Storm of the Century” blizzard, 1993 – 310 7. American Airlines Flight 191 crash, 1979 – 273 8(t). Midwest/Northeast heat wave, 1999 – 271 8(t). Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak, 1965 – 271 10. Hurricane Camille, 1969 – 256 11. American Airlines Flight 586 crash, 2001 – 265 12. Great Tornado Outbreak of April 27, 2011 – 247 13. Rapid City Flood of 1972 – 238 14. TWA Flight 800 crash, 1996 – 230 15. EgyptAir Flight 900 crash, 1999 – 217
That list includes all U.S. disasters that killed 200 or more people. If we exclude manmade disasters (9/11 and the other plane crashes), so it’s just a list of natural disasters, the list shrinks to 10, and yesterday’s outbreak moves up from #12 to #9. If we also eliminate heat waves, which happen over a longer period of time than a tornado outbreak or a hurricane or a blizzard, yesterday ranks #6 — or maybe #5, given that the “Storm of the Century” death toll is disputed, and by some accounts isn’t even over 100. And of course, yesterday’s toll is still climbing. Conceivably, it could end up trailing only 9/11, Katrina, and the 1980 and 1995 heat waves on the above list — though, for God’s sake, let’s hope and pray not.
(I only went back 60 years, by the way, because once you hit 1950 as you go backward in time on the list, mass-casualty events in this country become much more common. Just from 1940-1950, there were five disasters that killed 200+ people, versus the 15 you see above from 1951-2011. In the 1930s, there were six. And so on. We used to be much more vulnerable to mass-casualty calamities. But in the last sixty years, such events have been thankfully rare — just two-and-a-half per decade, judging by this metric. Yesterday, tragically, we experienced one of the very few to break that modern mold.)
And now, having said all that, let me make a point that runs completely counter to this post. There’s a certain slightly ghoulish quality to these sorts of death toll comparisons, as if there’s somehow a competition to prove that the latest disaster is the worst ever, or among the worst ever, or worse than X or Y previous disaster. I’m as guilty as anyone, indeed much moreso than some, but I also acknowledge the validity of the criticism. I’m reminded of something I wrote back in 2005, shortly after my life was impacted by two major tragedies, one national and one personal: Hurricane Katrina, and the death of my friend Sarah. Reflecting on this very issue, I wrote:
On a more philosophical note, one thing Sarah’s death has reminded me of is what you might call the “equality of tragedy” principle. We sometimes get hung up on comparing mega-tragedies: “ranking” a tragedy like Katrina among the “worst disasters ever,” wondering whether Katrina is really “our tsunami,” comparing the death toll that was to the death toll that might have been, etc. And there is certainly validity to all of these endeavors. Yet, at a human level, experiencing a personal tragedy reminds you that, to the people directly affected, it doesn’t matter whether 10 people or 10,000 people died; what matters is the one person you care about who is ripped away from you far too soon. The grieving 9/11 widow, the stricken Katrina husband, the father whose daughter is killed by a drunk driver, the son whose mother takes her own life — all of these people are, roughly speaking, equal in terms of their suffering. Whether your personal tragedy has a national dimension or not — whether or not it’s “newsworthy” — you still grieve.
Today and in the days to come, thousands of people across the United States will be grieving because of their own tragedies that occurred as part of yesterday’s mega-tragedy — their personal death toll of 1, amid the 250+ others who also died. And thousands more will be grieving totally unrelated tragedies — car crashes, heart attacks, suicides, senseless murders — that have nothing at all to do with the Great Tornado Outbreak, and their grief will be no less real. As we try to place yesterday’s catastrophe in historical context, we should also remember that.
Severe storms are ripping through parts of the South, leaving at least 31 people dead and damaging an untold number of homes and businesses, authorities said.
At least 25 people have died across Alabama, Emergency Management Director Art Faulkner said.
Video showed a massive funnel cloud darkening the sky in Tuscaloosa. “It literally obliterated blocks and blocks of the city,” Mayor Walter Maddox said.
Even as officials assess the damage, forecasters said more powerful storms are moving east and threatening parts of Georgia and eastern Tennessee.
UPDATE: Videos added. And here’s another clip, showing the Tuscaloosa tornado with Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium in the foreground:
And here’s a first look at the aftermath:
With a massive and powerful mile-wide tornado, looking to be an EF4 or EF5, going through two major cities (Tuscaloosa and Birmingham), causing immediately apparent devastation — plus dozens of other tornadoes across the South in what’s being called one of the worst outbreaks in American history — am I wrong to worry that the final death toll will be in the hundreds?
(A single tornado hasn’t killed more than 100 people in the U.S. since 1953, per Wikipedia. A tornado outbreak hasn’t done so since the Super Outbreak of 1974, which this is already being compared to. That event spawned a single-day record 148 tornadoes, and killed between 315 and 330 people.)
More photos here. MORNING UPDATE: As of early Thursday, the death toll is now at 173, and certain to rise further. I’m confident it will top 200, which is why I’m saying “hundreds” in my headline. I just wrote this over at my Tumblr blog:
The scale and magnitude of destruction caused by yesterday’s tornadoes is almost more reminiscent of a hurricane than a typical tornado event. I hope the government officials tasked with responding to this disaster, and less importantly the national media, fully grasp this fact. Watching the incredible and horrifying videos from Tuscaloosa and elsewhere, I don’t know how they could miss it. But after Katrina, I never underestimate the ability of the government and media to miss the bloody obvious when it comes to grasping the scope of a natural disaster. In any event, this is unlike anything in my lifetime — the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, which spawned the famous Xenia, Ohio tornado, is pretty clearly the only analog in recent decades — and the aftermath will be very, very different from that of a “typical” tornado outbreak. It will require a defcon-1 level response from the authorities, and it’s the sort of thing that ought to swamp all the national media noise about insubstantial fluff issues (birth certificates, royal weddings, etc.) and spur “flood the zone” coverage for days. It’s that big of a deal.
Typically, tornadoes, although very powerful — at their worst, tornadoes’ winds easily exceed those of the strongest hurricanes — only affect a relatively small area of land, cutting a narrow path and lasting for a fairly short period of time. So while they might utterly devastate a small area, the damage they cause is limited by the relatively small amount of territory they affect. This is the fundamental difference between tornadoes and hurricanes, from a damage assessment perspective. It’s also the fundamental reason why tornadoes rarely hit cities: not because cities have some magical tornado-repelling power, but because the vast majority of this country’s land area (especially in the most tornado-prone states) is non-urban, and the odds of a powerful tornado’s small path of destruction happening to intersect with a heavily populated area are fairly low as a result.
But when you get a massive, mile-wide, EF4 or EF5 tornado that lasts for hours and impacts four states, as the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado did, the math changes. And, even as long-lasting, massive, powerful tornadoes go, that one took an exceptionally terrible track. And it happened on a day where there were 100+ other tornadoes, at least several of them also huge and very powerful! Simply incredible.
The death toll should certainly be a clue to the highly unusual nature of yesterday’s disaster. I was about to write “it will almost certainly reach triple digits today,” but now I see, via Jim Cantore, that it’s already at 173, so there you go. The near-certainty of a huge, triple-digit death toll was immediately apparent to me when I saw those videos last night. I hope I’m wrong, but I bet we’ll end up in the 300s, just like the Super Outbreak. This is already, by far, the largest death toll from a U.S. tornado outbreak since that one; there hasn’t been another triple-digit death toll since then. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado ends up being the deadliest single U.S. tornado since the 1940s or 1950s.
Just an incredible, terrible disaster for the folks affected. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers today.
UPDATE, 8:54 AM MDT: My confidence that the death toll would top 200 has been sadly vindicated, far more quickly than I expected. We’re already at 231 and counting. I just posted an update over at the late Alan Sullivan’s rare readers’ blog. It includes this:
[P]er Wikipedia, the death toll surpasses that of every U.S. hurricane not named Katrina since 1969, and maybe since 1938 (Camille killed 256 in ‘69; yesterday’s death toll may well exceed that). … [Yet] when I turned on my TV this morning, the first thing I saw was CNN interviewing Reince Prebius about Donald Trump, which is just completely ridiculous. Is it even conceivable that, on the morning after a major hurricane landfall (with a death toll of, say, 30), the cable news networks wouldn’t be doing wall-to-wall coverage? Of course not. Yet here we have something far worse, and it’s being treated like a run-of-the-mill story. What do we have a 24-hour news media for, if they can’t be bothered to prioritize coverage of a catastrophe like this? Perhaps a bunch of Northern media types think “oh gee, a bunch of tornadoes in the South, how original,” and assume the death toll was caused by an abundance of hicks in trailer parks. Whatever the reason, it’s inexcusable.
P.S. Some newspaper front pages from Alabama, via the Newseum:
Some may ask what took Obama so long to request the long-form. I say, it takes time to pull of a good forgery, people! :P
Kidding! (But you know there’s an army of birthers right now, searching this document for “evidence” of forgery, and — thanks to the confluence of confirmation bias and conspiratorial nuttery — no doubt “finding” it.)
P.S. I love how the father’s section has a line called “Usual Occupation” (and how, in 25-year-old Barack Sr.’s case, the answer was “Student” — hahaha), while the equivalent line in the mother’s section says “Type of Occupation Outside Home.” Early ’60s paternalism FTW!
Haley Barbour won’t run for president. So… will Mitch Daniels? I hope so! Barbour and Daniels are close friends, and they share many of the same establishment, big-money type supporters, so the assumption has been that they wouldn’t both run. Well, the ball’s in your court, Mitch!
As I’ve said before, Daniels articulates a lot of conservatism’s good ideas without a lot of its bulls**t (and without, in this admitted concern troll’s judgment, being a RINO like Huntsman). I certainly don’t agree with him on everything, by any stretch. But, as I wrote in that earlier post, “America needs someone like Mitch Daniels to carry the conservative flag. An honest, sane, grownup representative of true conservative ideas. An election between him and Obama would be a real choice.” It’s even conceivable I might choose to vote for him!
Okay, probably not. I’m left of center, as has been well established. I’m 3-for-3 voting for Democrats for president. But me crossing party lines and voting for Daniels is certainly more likely than if Obama’s opponent is the Generic Republican or the Republican John Kerry or one of the wingnuts. In an Obama-Daniels race, I’d really need to listen closely to what each side is saying, and search my own beliefs to try and figure out who I should support. To make an analogy to that map I linked earlier, I’d enter the race personally shaded light blue instead of dark blue, so to speak.
The broad outlines of the projection should surprise no one, and the specifics don’t really matter too much at this early date. For instance, just going by my gut instinct, I might call Florida, Indiana and perhaps North Carolina “Leans R” instead of “Tossup” — but who cares? It’s way too early to project any of the reasonably close states with any level of confidence or precision. As far as I’m concerned, the pink, yellow and sky-blue states might as well all be considered tossups at this point.
Five days later, we actually moved in. Here’s a time lapse showing our entire moving day in just over 3 minutes. It shows the day from beginning to end, starting at our old condo in South Denver, then ending here, at our then-new house.
A lot of things look different than they did then, from the paint job to our new couch — to, oh yeah, a new kid! Loyacita was born less than three months after this (and, lo and behold, we’ve now got another girl due in less than three months). Loyette, meanwhile, was 6 months younger in the video than Loyacita is now, which just seems… impossible.
The title of this post, by the way, is a reference to our mortgage, if that escaped anyone. After a decade of insane hyper-mobility, we’ve switched to the opposite extreme, and fully intend to be those weird people who actually pay off their 30-year mortgage, still living in the house. Technically, I guess that would happen on or about May 1, 2039, since our first mortgage payment was due on June 1, 2009.
Anyway, after the jump, some more notes on the video, copied from this old post.
No doubt you’ve heard about the latest Apple security/privacy controversy, whereby it’s been revealed that iPhones, ever since the release of iOS4 last summer, have been automatically and secretly creating a hidden (but unencrypted) file called “consolidated.db,” which keeps a running log of the phone’s location — apparently using cell towers and WiFi network data, not GPS — timestamped down to the second.
There’s no indication that this data is shared with Apple or anyone else (rather, it is simply stored on your phone and, after you sync said phone, your computer), but privacy advocates are nevertheless understandably freaking out, fearing that the data could be accessed and abused by a jealous spouse, a wannabe criminal, the government, or perhaps Apple itself (at some point in the future).
This feature/bug/breach/plot was discovered by a pair of nerds programmers, who have created a free downloadable program that you can use to look at your own location data on a map. Naturally, in keeping with the trend, I couldn’t resist…
I don’t mind sharing that map (which I’ve helpfully annotated) because, really, you can’t see anything on it that’s particularly private or significant. For instance, you can’t tell exactly where I live, nor even the neighborhood — just that I clearly live somewhere in Denver (duh). Nor does it show any secret travels by yours truly (probably because I don’t have any). It’s pretty unremarkable, really, except for a few basketball and football trips, and professional excursions to Vail and Colorado Springs.
Moreover, what’s really striking about the map is just how freakin’ imprecise it is.
Federal borrowing is on pace to hit the legal limit on the national debt in less than a week. …
As of the close of business Tuesday…the U.S. Treasury [had] the authority to borrow only an additional $25.635 billion before it hits the statutory debt limit. …
[D]uring the first 821 days of Obama’s presidency the debt increased by $3.700223 trillion—or $4.5 billion per day. …
[Moreover,] in the past six days, the debt has increased at a far faster pace… [I]n the six days of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, the national debt increased $56.381 billion—or almost $9.4 billion per day.
At that pace, the Treasury would exhaust its $25.635 in remaining borrowing authority in less than 3 days. …
When Treasury is about to reach the debt limit, the Treasury secretary can take certain extraordinary steps to stretch the Treasury’s borrow-and-spending authority. According to Geithner, however, these extraordinary measures would only give the government another $165 billion in borrowing-and-spending room.
Who’s up for a much higher-stakes game of chicken than the government-shutdown brinksmanship–on an apparently accelerated timetable–with the consequences of a failure to compromise involving a likely double-dip recession or worse?
Like I said… #PANIC!!
(Here’s a good backgrounder (PDF) from the Congressional Research Service on the technical details of the debt limit, the “extraordinary measures” Treasury can take to delay a default, and the various known knowns and known unknowns surrounding the consequences of default.)
Kentucky the #1 overall seed! Gonzaga a #3! USC a #12! Notre Dame in the NIT! (Fire Mike Brey!) Harvard the Ivy champ! Belmont a #8! Wichita State a #10! Jimmer-less WCC rookie BYU a #11! Saint Mary’s a #12! (3 bids for the WCC!) Virginia Tech, finally off the bubble as a #6! Indiana, back in the tourney and First Four-bound! UAB in the First Four again! Butler a #13, needing the autobid to get in! Oh, the humanity!! Oh, the meaninglessness!!
ONLY 327 DAYS UNTIL SELECTION SUNDAY!!! ;)
P.S. But seriously, watch out for Belmont next March. For real this time!
For a purported weather nerd, I’ve been shamefully lax in my blog coverage (or rather, the total absence thereof) of the massive, historic tornado outbreak across the South from Thursday through Saturday — I blame a general lack of free time — but Capital Weather Gang has a good summary, including this illustrative graphic from NOAA:
The Stanford Daily put together a great article outlining one of the biggest non-playoff related problems with the BCS bowls*. Schools are required to sell a given number of tickets, and any unsold tickets must be paid for by the school. The schools have no ability to decide how many tickets they want to sell; that decision is up to the Bowl administrators. In the case of poor UConn, which got sent all the way to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, those unsold tickets cost the school $1.7 million.
Ohio State (playing with five NCAA rules violators and a coach who covered it up) managed to make money, just under $300k. Other schools who gained profits from their trips? Wisconsin ($80k), Oklahoma ($9k) and Arkansas ($5k). Stanford “broke even” according to their AD, but as they and TCU are both private, they didn’t have to supply the figures for verification. The other money losers were Oregon ($300k), Virginia Tech ($400k) and Auburn ($600k).
The various school and conference heads may not be interested in switching to a playoff format, but they SHOULD be interested in telling the BCS bowls to take a hike on mandatory ticket sales. Schools should commit to an amount based on what they believe they can sell, not based on what the bowls tell them to sell. Going to one of these games is supposed to be a reward, not a financial burden.
*I am unaware of how the non-BCS bowls allocate tickets and whether schools are required to sell minimum amounts.
It’s a few days old, but via Jim Kelly, I’ve just discovered David Frum’s article “Two Cheers for the Welfare State.” Frum, if you don’t know, is a former National Review editor and George W. Bush speechwriter, a one-time “true believer” in all things conservative, but who has become associated in recent years with the GOP’s centrist wing. Anyway, I think his article is great, and instead of excerpting it, I’ll just encourage everyone to go and read the whole thing.
I’d be curious to hear what our resident conservatives think about it, or more specifically, about its substance (in other words, yes, I know you all think Frum’s a RINO — but why is he wrong?). Also, any links to good conservative rebuttals of the piece that have already been published (I’m sure they’re out there) would be appreciated.
Why, it’s almost as if this agency of the federal government is trying to use its largely unchecked power of detention, arrest, and general intimidation to harass innocent citizens into silence, lest they dangerously threaten American security by exercising their constitutional right to petition said government agency for a redress of grievances.
This is the part of the blog post where I make a flippant remark in an attempt to be funny, but as a father of three girls (a 3-year-old, a 21-month-old, and one in utero), there’s nothing remotely amusing about this. It just makes me feel sick — and powerless, because for all the online bravado, you know there’s really nothing you can do if you’re the one who gets stuck with a TSA agent on a power trip and a belief that American national security requires the groping of a young child. You can either acquiesce, or you can get yourself arrested, either of which is incredibly traumatizing to the kid. You have no other options.
Welcome to the United States of America in 2011, formerly a free country.
P.S. Yes, “formerly a free country” is hyperbolic. But, unlike many instances where the Ben Franklin quote is mangled and misused, this truly is a case of giving up essential liberty — i.e., the liberty to not be publicly groped, or to not have your children publicly groped, or even just to not live in fear of having your children publicly groped — for a little temporary safety, or rather, the false appearance of fake temporary safety.
I don’t know if you heard, but the UConn men recently won a little something we call March Madness. Or the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship if you have no interest in fun. While the title game itself has been generally regarded as a bust—I choose to characterize it as a master class on defense—it is generally agreed that this year was one of the more thrilling tourneys in history.
This, of course, means we must destroy it!
Before we get too far into this debate, can we all just agree that this fella here is the most adorable mascot ever?
I’m not talking about the idea of 96 teams…although for the record I think that is an atrocious idea that will achieve approximately nothing of any worth besides a longer tournament. What I refer to is this idea that the NCAA tourney crowns a champion, but not the best basketball team in the country. And to this I say…and?
I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged, so I don’t have a dog in the fight that this quote may create — I just think it’s funny:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Brendan Loy is a 31-year-old attorney, erstwhile journalist, and veteran blogger in Denver, CO. He formerly blogged as the "Irish Trojan." Brendan's wife, Rebecca Loy, also 30, is a stay-at-home mom in Denver. Brendan and Becky have three daughters, whose blog nicknames are "Loyette," "Loyacita" and "Loyabelle." More info here. Several others blog here in The Guest Room.
The Living Room Times is named after Brendan's old school newspaper, circa 1993-1999. All viewpoints are welcome and vigorous debate is encouraged, but to combat spam and trolling, you must be registered to comment. You can read the "blog rules" here. View alternate mastheads here.