People rarely build a house with tornadoes in mind. Some think that developers and homeowners should be more aware of potential natural disasters. (Photo courtesy of the NOAA)
There’s a whole category of disasters people think will probably never happen to them. Major floods, landslides, and earthquakes happen sometimes decades or centuries apart. So, people don’t think about them or they ignore the risks. And, some experts say, that’s why we build or buy houses
in places that really aren’t safe. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Melissa Ingells reports:
There’s a whole category of disasters people think will probably never happen to them. Major floods, landslides, and earthquakes happen sometimes decades or centuries apart. So, people don’t think about them or they ignore the risks. And, some experts say, that’s why we build or buy houses in places that really aren’t safe. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Melissa Ingells reports:
Disasters happen. It’s only a matter of when. The problem is, we prepare for things like tornadoes that happen every year, but we aren’t prepared for a major flood that might only happen once a century. Donald Hyndman is with the Department of Geology at the University of Montana. He’s an expert on disasters.
“People just do not understand the scale of events, they also don’t understand that if in their lifetime there hasn’t been a really major event, that there won’t be a really major event.”
So Hyndman has co-written a new textbook on disasters. He says there’s a lot of pressure to build houses in places that are hazardous. Maybe it’s just a great view, so people build there despite warnings. Or, they think they can stop the ground from moving with retaining walls, or think they can stop floods using levees. Donald Hyndman says that even well built projects just can’t stand the power of nature.
“There is increasing pressure to build in the same lowlands, the same flood plain areas, and the developers say, well, the Army Corps of Engineers has built a major levee or dyke here, that protects people on these floodplains. The problem is, levees break and they always break.”
Donald Hyndman’s co-author is his son, David Hyndman, a geologist from Michigan State University. David Hyndman, says even when a place is a known area for disasters, demand for housing means buildings go up all over again in the same spot.
“There’s always development pressure, and the developers even fairly soon after large floods like some that occurred in California, they keep pushing and the public has forgotten what has occurred and then often the development will be allowed, which causes a disaster afterwards.”
Donald and David Hyndman both say developers don’t help the situation when they build in dangerous areas.
But folks in the housing business say there are plenty of laws to warn potential homeowners, before a house is even built. Lynn Egbert is the CEO of the Michigan Association of Homebuilders. He says that people often ignore the regulations because they want to live where they want to live.
“Consumer desire – consumer interest and desire is the primary reason, even though there are state regulations and federal regulations to put people on notice and protect against the risk for insurance, to locate where they want to locate, which is a property right.”
Egbert says that real estate people and lenders are supposed to let property owners know of the risks. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes people don’t know to ask. And sometimes people think that despite the risks, a disaster just won’t happen to them. Donald Hyndman says we don’t respect how powerful the earth really is.
“Basically, some people feel that they can control nature, or improve on nature, and I’ve actually heard some politicians say we can improve on nature. We can not only not affect the results, those results are typically – they typically backfire. So we really cannot control nature.”
The Hyndmans are hoping their new textbook will help build awareness of all kinds of disasters—but especially the ones that could happen right in our own backyard.
Wind turbines can be both a blessing for farmers, as a source of extra income... and annoying to the neighbors. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Wind farms of huge turbines are springing up along coastlines,
windy ridges and blustery farmland. Most of us see them from a distance.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman recently visited some
of them up close… and has the first of two reports on wind energy:
Wind farms of huge turbines are springing up along coast lines, windy ridges and
farmland. Most of us see them from a distance. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lehman recently visited some of them up close… and has the first of two reports on
If you can imagine the sight… there are 63 wind turbines scattered across the
their huge blades sweeping around, capturing energy from the wind. Each turbine is
high. You can see them from miles around. But it isn’t until you stand directly
80-foot long blades as they rotate in the wind that you begin to appreciate their size…
(sound of wind from underneath turbine)
“This is probably a typical day. They’re probably producing at about 30 percent of
what they are
rated at, and probably on average, for a year, this is what you’d expect.”
Christopher Moore is Director of Development for Navitas Energy. The Minnesota- based
company opened the Mendota Hills Wind Farm in northern Illinois just over a year ago.
Q: “What are some of the highest levels that you’ve reached?”
“Each turbine is capable of producing 800 kw, and there are times when we’ve had the
working at about maximum.”
Moore says the Mendota Hills Wind Farm produces enough electricity to power about 15-
thousand homes per year. It’s the first wind farm in the state of Illinois.
Brian Lammers is a Project Manager for Navitas Energy. He says the location is
ideal since it’s
windy here nearly all year long…
“The wind here is more robust in the fall, winter and spring. So we have more
those months than we do during June, July, August.”
Unfortunately, the summer months are the months that most often experience peak
electricity. Because of that, and because it takes so many windmills to generate
lower amounts of
power, it’s unlikely that current wind energy will completely replace fossil fuel
(sound of turbines)
On the flat prairies of Illinois, the giant turbines are the tallest structures for
miles around. You
begin to wonder about things like lightning strikes…
“We might have experienced one or two last year. The turbines are protected from
entire wind farm is grounded, so if there is a strike typically it will just be
grounded down to the
ground grid. There’s typically no long-term damage associated with a lightning
strike. But as you
can imagine, they’re the tallest structures around so there are periodic lightning
Q “What about a tornado? This is tornado country…what would happen if one came
“I don’t know. These turbines are built to withstand everything but a direct strike
from a tornado,
so I think the same thing would happen to a wind turbine that would happen to any
structure if they were struck by a tornado. You’d probably have some significant
(fade up sound inside turbine)
Inside the turbine, there’s a distinct hum as the blades whirl away at the top of
the hollow shaft.
It’s about ten feet across at the base, and a metal ladder allows anyone brave
enough to climb all
the way to the top.
Despite the hum of the turbine’s blades up close, the sound fades away just a few
dozen feet from
the tower. But noise isn’t much of a concern for this wind farm. It’s in the
middle of a soybean
field and there are no neighbors nearby.
Noise is just one of the aesthetic concerns for neighbors of wind farms. Appearance
The Mendota Hills turbines are coated with a special paint that appears white in
But when the sun’s not out, the turbines appear grey, and seem to blend in with the
Dennis Cradduck has 19 of the turbines on his corn and soybean farm. He says the
hasn’t been a problem. Of course, he’s getting paid by Navitas for allowing the
turbines on his
land. But he says the wind farm has led to an unexpected benefit: getting to meet
across the country who pull off the highway for a closer look…
“We get people almost on a daily basis that drive by on the interstate and see them,
and stop and
want to look at them, and they’re amazed at them, and most—about 99 percent of them
positive comments. In fact, one fellow from North Carolina stopped the other day
and said ‘I wish
we’d build more of these around the country because we need renewable energy.'”
The prospect of more renewable energy is appealing to most environmentalists. But
that wind farms can be deadly to birds. A study by the National Wind Coordinating
found that wind turbines kill an average of two birds per year.
Another concern is that windmills disrupt the scenery. But the only view around
here is farmland
as far as the eye can see. And on this brisk day, it isn’t just corn and soybeans
being harvested: it’s
the power of wind.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.