My brother sent me this mocking picture making the rounds on the Internet. I thought it was àpropos in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. The coverage in Washington of the hurricane-that-wasn’t has been absolutely bizarre. It is good to see that this city does not just panic with an inch of snow. We panic with any weather above a flurry or a misting. Folks in parts of North Carolina and other coastal areas have had legitimate concerns (including New York, Vermont and other areas) and Irene’s flooding and power outages were expected to take quite a toll in those hardest hit areas. However, the D.C. coverage was comically ridiculous. I watched one story of how Irene had began “its trail of misery and destruction” toward Washington. General Sherman’s March To the Sea had less dire reviews. I am only talking about Northern Virginia and Washington where the coverage continued in sharp contrast with the actual forecasted weather for our area.
I have been admittedly snarky of the coverage for days, particularly the last 24-hours when the hurricane was a Cat-1 hitting hundreds of miles away. Having lived through pretty big hurricanes in Louisiana, I have a respect for the storms but there was never any predictions of serious rain in my area. For days, I have been checking the various weather sites only to find predictions of two inches of rain and strong winds on Saturday night (with clearing on Sunday). I would then turn on the television or go on the Internet and find live, round-the-clock, breathless coverage of the “misery” and “destruction” coming to Washington. At no time did the forecast predict anything more than roughly a couple inches of rain and high winds. There was clearly a chance for power outages due to the soaked soil and winds, but the coverage in this area was positively apocalyptic.
In addition to ratings, the hysteria did produce record sales at stores as people prepared for the apocalypse with bodies stacked like firewood in the streets.
Everything closed despite the fact that only two inches of rain and some strong winds were predicted. This morning, the coverage continues with reporters showing the same pictures of a couple of trees down to fill time. The rest of the coverage is largely “things that did not happen” stories. My favorite this morning on Channel 4 (NBC) was how in Alexandria the harbor man thought that people who tied up their boats for high tide might have to come back and tie the boats for lower tide. The reporter then went to show how the water has not risen and how high water could have been a problem in causing flooding — if there was high water. As predicted in the actual forecasts for days before the hurricane (as opposed to the news coverage), we had some trees down, some power outages, and rain. Various forecasters (here and here) objected to the overblown claims in places like Washington before the storm hit.
I was not alone in feeling a significant loss of credibility for our local media in the hype leading to the storm — which seemed overtly disconnected to the actual predictions of rain and wind. Of course, at the coast, there were some curious moments such as the reporter who gave a live account while covered in what appears toxic foam.
We decided not to join the apocalyptic preparations and instead invited a couple of the friends of the kids over for a hurricane party and sleepover. Our power went off for exactly twenty seconds, but we had a grand time and watched “Cats v. Dogs” while devouring bags of popcorn. The overkill coverage will only make it more difficult for media and the government to get people to believe them next time when there is a serious threat, in my view.
Of course, most everything is still closed today as we clean up the carnage of blown leaves and soggy lawns in our area. In your view, was Irene overblown?