Framing Dangers

From my 2015 beach trip

Hurricane Michael leveled much of Mexico Beach, which is a place I know pretty well. Spread out over my lifetime, but a rough impression is, I think, I have spent about half a year at this particular town. That would rank it third longest of places where I have lived.

Several people have expressed surprise about this hurricane was as strong as it was. I wonder if part of the problem is communication. This hurricane quickly intensified. A meteorologist I follow from UGA wrote Tuesday morning when it had increased to a Cat 2:

Michael will likely be a Major Hurricane (Category 3 or higher) at landfall.

And on Monday in Forbes:

As I write this, the [Big Bend] region is staring at the very real possibility of a strong category two or major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) making landfall in the Wednesday-Thursday time frame this week.

He was communicating this storm was quickly intensifying and to expect something far stronger than the usual storms that strike this area. People I love live in Valdosta, which was being named dropped over and over as a likely target for the storm after it made landfall. Everyone I know chose to hunker down and ride it out even as the likely winds to hit Valdosta increased through tropical storm to Cat 1 and Cat 2. People with large trees that could cave in the roof of their homes. My wife’s extended family in the Panama City area also chose to stay.

Why? I called my mother to encourage her to come to stay with us because Valdosta was in the path. She didn’t want to leave. My mother described that Hermine was pretty bad, but it wasn’t that bad for them. A tree damaged just a corner of the roof. Hermine was also a Category 1 with 80 mph winds where it came ashore and probably down to tropical storm strength where Mom lives. Thankfully Michael came ashore well west of Hermine and tracked away from Valdosta family, so they were spared the worst part. We still have not heard from most of my wife’s Panama City family.

So, while meteorologists were trying to say, “this is going to be really bad,” people didn’t really hear it that way. Mom is someone who took meteorology courses in college and wasn’t getting the message. The UGA one has a timeline defending that the NWS did enough to provide notice.

4 am Monday CDT (October 8): …  there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall.

He also said:

Yes, the rapid intensification was shocking but there was plenty of information hinting or explicitly stating that a major hurricane (even category 4) was possible.

I guess my point is hints are not enough. The reason why stores have prices ending in 99 cents is that one extra cent difference lowers sales because people tend to have the impression it is more expensive. Saying “3 or higher” pins people to think 3, not 4 or 5. This effect, called Framing, is pretty well studied in how people make poor decisions because of it. Even marketers study how to use it to influence shoppers. Maybe if some behavioral economics experiments are done to see show Framing affects the way people interpret meteorological messaging, scientists looking not to overstate what they are seeing may learn they are inadvertently giving people a different impression than intended. It is a struggle to be sure, to find the correct way to communicate this stuff.

January 15, 2004 RESPOSTED: Did a Stupid Thing

Originally posted January 15, 2004 to Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v3.02 (MovableType and replaced by Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 WordPress).

Back to the post:

Did A Stupid Thing

No, really stupid. About the stupidest thing I have done in years. So stupid that it proves my idea that I am the luckiest person ever. No, really!

Soft sand cannot support weight. Small Japanese cars do not have the traction or capability of getting out of it. So even to attempt to turn around on a dirt road where there is a gate and soft sand between is about the dumbest thing ever. I knew it before I tried it. However, I had just spend 1/2 an hour driving around the middle of nowhere to find a friend’s house using only my recollection of the directions and map from several days earlier.

So my car was stuck and my efforts to get it out probably were only making it worse. This is the worst part in terms of my abject stupidity. Decided to ask for help. Walked down the dirt road to the first house and knocked on the rail leading to the mobile home. The people inside obviously did not hear so I stomped on the step and yelled an inquiry as to whether anyone was home. The lady of the house turned on the light, saw me, and freaked. Her husband was not quite as skittish, but still pretty nervous as he asked me to show him my hands and inquired about the availablity of weapons on my person and car. His dad next door had a tractor that might be able to help so he went to ask. While waiting for his dad, he asked all kinds of more questions.

I did lie here. Told him that I was visiting my friend earlier. On my way home, I realized I left something at the house and was going to turn around to go back over there. Because of the hills and speeds of cars on the highway, I didn’t want to turn around in the middle of the road (this sentence is true). Didn’t want to let these people know that I was out here essentially kind of lost and helpless.

The dad came, asked more grilling questions and asking for specifics. Stuff like my name, where I live, where I work, what I do. While answering the questions, the dad’s dog came up to me for attention. Almost by instinct, I scratched him or her behind the ears. Turns out the dog liking me was the critical factor in whether or not to trust my story. They pushed the car enough back with it in reverse that it was able to get traction. I turned around in their driveway and went home.

Called my friend to let him know what happened and that I am okay.

In talking with one of my assistants this morning, I found out that someone had used a ploy of asking for help to murder a family not all that far from there. Their timidity was certainly understandable. Their bravery in assisting me seems so much more impressive. The guy could have seen me there, killed me and probably not gone to prison. That is why I am still the luckiest guy walking on this planet.

Posted by Ezra at January 15, 2004 11:27 AM


Good story, though. Why didn’t you go to their front door and knock?

Posted by: lacey at January 15, 2004 05:58 PM

Knocked on the railing because I didn’t want to be extremely close to the door. As a black male, I know that white people tend to be a little skittish around “my type”. Them looking out the window and seeing me right there might have been a little nerve wracking.

I did notice that the husband stayed in his truck quite a bit with his right hand on the seat. I really think he might have had something there to take care of me should I have been a threat.

Posted by: ez at January 15, 2004 06:15 PM

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Sales Tax Free Weekend

Mental Note: Avoid all stores until Monday.

The last time I attempted to go shopping during such a weekend, it was worse than Christmas Eve. Stores were in such a sorry state of disarray. Stuff was thrown everywhere. The store floors looked like they had not been cleaned in days. The employees appeared as though they were survivors of a POW camp. Later, I saw pictures of the previous day’s crowds.

It made me feel really good that I do not work in retail.

Open Everywhere

Note for future reference… “Open Everywhere” does not mean literally that the movie will be available everywhere. Guess Georgia Theatre Company has better pursuits for making money like Left Behind or Sugar & Spice before they show highly rated or even anticipated movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. How soon I forget… Movies like The Color Purple and Elzabeth took months to appear here. Looks like I will be going to Tallahassee where they have real theatres any way to see CT,HD.