“Oh, the weather outside is frightful…” Those are words traditionally sung during the Christmas season. But in the spring of 2011, you might not be surprised to hear those words on the lips of thousands of residents across the Midwest and Southeastern United States. These regions have been beset with unusually severe weather manifesting itself in ruinous flooding, damaging thunderstorms and deadly tornadoes. Just two nights ago, my family huddled in our basement during a “tornado warning” waiting what professional meteorologists predicted would be “a line of storms bearing great ferocity.”
That got me thinking, would I rather face a hurricane or a tornado? Of course, the wise among us — Weather Channel storm chasers not included in this group — would certainly answer, neither of the above!
Let’s face it, if given the option, prudent people would avoid both. But often than option doesn’t exist especially for those who live in tornado alleys or frequently experience the eye of a hurricane.
Hurricanes are bad – but they are predictable. Weather radar can spot a hurricane forming as a low pressure system, then becoming a tropical storm, days before it threatens life and property thousands of miles ahead in its path.
A tornado, on the other hand, is sneakier, more unpredictable and statistically, far more deadly. (From 1979-2002, the average annual number of global deaths attributed to hurricanes has been 19 compared to 55 for tornadoes.) As sophisticated as Doppler weather radar is, weather forecasters admit that they can seldom confirm the existence of a tornado, much less predict what it will do, more than thirteen minutes in advance. Why? A tornado may or may not dip out of a thunderstorm’s cloud wall. When a tornado does form, it may be small and brief, or large and sustained. It may stay on the ground for a few seconds or for several minutes. Death and destruction can be minimal or horrific, as was the case recently in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri.
So, what does all this talk about hurricanes and tornadoes mean for leaders?
As a leader, if you receive forecasted predictions of a crisis, you should be preparing for it. People who reside in hurricane prone areas are warned repeatedly to be prepared. The wise listen and respond. Leaders must identify the predictable crisis that may occur on their watch and then prepare accordingly. Some examples of crisis? Absenteeism jumps due to a flu outbreak, a key parts supplier goes on strike, or a major customer cancels an order. It is reasonable to predict that crises like these could happen if we’re watching for the signs.
Leaders should not only keep an ear open to forecasts, they should also keep an eye on the sky for rapidly changing conditions in the economy, customer satisfaction and employee morale. When storm clouds begin to form on the business front, assume that a tornado-like event could result. Panic is not necessary. Prudence and preparedness are. If that unpredictable tornado does dip out of the cloud wall of uncertainty (e.g., an unforeseen lawsuit is filed against the company, an unwelcome suitor proposes a hostile takeover, or fuel costs rise above $4 per gallon), immediately assess the risk and damage. Then, like people are doing throughout tornado riddled areas this week, get out there, do the clean up work and make a plan to avoid related risks in the future.
Oh, if you are wondering — thankfully, the line of weather basically skipped over us this time. A few downed trees. Electricity lost temporarily here and there, but most importantly, no injuries or loss of life. Were we well prepared or just lucky? I like to think it was a combination of both. But either way, we had a storm preparedness plan and we implemented it.
Phillip Van Hooser