Judge John Hodgman Episode 123: Emergency Podcast System


Kristin and Justin are a married couple. Kristin says her husband isn't reacting with the proper amount of alarm to tornado warnings in their town. Justin says he's weighed the risks and has his own game plan for tornadoes. Who's right? Who's wrong? Only one man can decide.

We're joined again by the spitfire guest bailiff Monte Belmonte of 93.9 WRSI The River in Northampton, MA. Thanks again to Monte and WRSI!

And thanks to Tim Fargus for suggesting this week's case name! To suggest a title for a future episode, like us on Facebook at Judge John Hodgman! We regularly put a call for submissions.

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Submitted by Kristin:

The following isn't my entire case, but I believe the following strongly supports my position: Essentially, while there are relatively few deaths from tornadoes each year, those deaths are preventable. I believe that warning systems have been overall effective in preventing tornado deaths because people generally heed the warnings.

Evidence taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration's National Weather Service website
Map of killer tornadoes 1991-current.
Tornado Deaths 2008 (note 4 deaths in Kentucky when there was a mere tornado watch).
Tornado Deaths 2009 (note 2 deaths due to tornado in Madison County, Kentucky - which is the neighboring county to our county (Fayette County, Kentucky).
Tornado Deaths 2011 (note 553 deaths total, #2 out of the top 5 years for tornado deaths in the U.S. ever- might I also point out that global warming/climate change is likely to cause a continuing increase in tornadoes.
Tornado Deaths 2012 (note 4 deaths in Kenton County, Kentucky a mere hour or so from our house; 3 deaths in Clermont County, Ohio (I am originally from Clermont County, Ohio, and only 7 miles from Kentucky and 1.5 hours from our house)).
Tornado Deaths 2013 SO FAR....

Kentucky Tornado Fact Sheet - Kentucky experiences, on average 10 tornadoes per year. In 1974, an F5 Tornado hit, severely damaging hundreds of homes, and killing many people.

Submitted by Justin:

My argument is basically a risk-benefit analysis built off of Kristin's evidence.
1) No one has ever been killed in the city of Lexington by a tornado as far as we can tell.
2) Relatively few people have been killed in the state, period.
3) I suspect that most if not all of those who were killed or injured had poor shelter or no shelter at all. It's therefore safe to assume that my chances of being killed in my home during a tornado are close to nonexistent.

However, studies show that there are real dangers associated with sleep deprivation. So it's actually far more dangerous for me to lose sleep waiting in the basement for a tornado that will almost certainly do me no harm at all.


Worth Losing Sleep Over?

I agree Judge Hodgman's judgment was impaired (perhaps because of lack of sleep). The defendant quite reasonably asked (in effect) whether the risk of injury or death from tornado in his Kentucky area was "worth losing sleep over." His wife (the plaintiff) believed it was; the defendant did not. Given the demonstrated risk of tornado in his region (negligible), the conclusion seemed obvious. But Judge Hodgman would not even admit (implicit) evidence bearing on risk-benefit analysis. People generally overestimate unlikely disasters (shark attack, lightning strike, tornado, etc) and underestimate the more likely. Unfortunately, Judge Hodgman's impeccably cool reason deserted him in this case.

summary judgement

It is well documented (http://www.maximumfun.org/content/thousand-clowns-screening-w-barry-gordon) that "A Thousand Clowns" is Jesse's "all-time favorite" movie. Summary judgement in my favor? - jim

a link:


The very nature of tornadoes is such that they MOVE, so pinpointing the actual location of previous tornadoes does not indicate where they may appear in the future.

Bad Judging

Normally, I think the Judge is fair and entertaining, but with this case he blew it, most uncharacteristically. Not only did he render the incorrect judgment, he denied one of the parties a chance to make their argument.

Given the facts presented in the case there are only about 2 deaths in the area from tornadoes a year. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and increase it by an order of magnitude.

According to this study there were an estimated 1,544 deaths per year in the US due to sleep deprived driving.

According to Wolfram Alpha the population of Kentucky as a percentage of the US total during the years of the study was 1.45%. (Also, the total number of deaths in Kentucky due to tornado during the years in question... 2)

1.45% of 1,544 is 22.4 deaths a year.

That means even granting a huge advantage to tornado deaths, driving while sleep deprived is still more dangerous than the tornadoes, a point I believe Justin was trying to make before rudely interrupted because he has no children.

Which makes no sense. The fact that children cause sleep deprivation does not negate the dangers of it, or it's validity as evidence in a case. In fact, it has no bearing on anything other than a parents biased opinion about the dangers of something they personally experience.

This examination only takes into consideration the risks of driving, because that is easily measured. Justin, and his family, while sleep deprived are also probably at greater risk of injury and death from all manner of household accidents and various medical conditions.

Overall this case was a glaring example of poor understanding of risk and statistics and a mockery of the podcast legal system.


I was writing in to make a similar comment, but you said it better than I could. Justin is more likely to die in an accident, automobile or otherwise, as a result of his sleep deprivation, than from anything related to a tornado.

Emergency Podcast System

Great ep. At the very end, this couple said they were in the process of adopting. Before that the husband got a scolding for daring to talk about sleep deprivation when they don't have children. Keep in mind, not everybody CAN have children. And adoption can be a long, painful road of ups and downs. Prior to adoption plans, for all we know, there may have been miscarriages or infertility treatments or both. Nobody's sleepin' soundly then! I just wish sometimes my very favorite and lovable judge would keep in mind that life isn't always a party for those without kids.

Tornado alley, KY?

Maybe I just don't live in the area of Lexington, KY afflicted by such weather, but I don't recall all THAT many tornado warnings in the five and a half years I've lived here...

can see them coming

Apparently the force is strong with this one.