Monday, August 29, 2011

An Over-Hyped Storm

An Over-Hyped Storm

A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet

A reputable online meteorological service, says none of their reporting equipment on the NC coast recorded over 33 mph winds during Irene’s “assault” on our coast.  At the same time the National Hurricane Center was reporting 85 mph winds. 

Those of us on the ground in NC were wondering when the hurricane was going to begin. 

Some forecasters are referring to Irene as a fake hurricane while others are saying Irene was over-hyped by the media.  I don’t think Irene was a fake storm, but I DO think the media unnecessarily scared the hell out of the public along the eastern seaboard of the US.

Irene had the punch of a strong tropical storm.  Having lived here in Hurricane Alley for just less than fifty years, I have experienced a heck of a lot of tropical storms and hurricanes.  Irene was a pussycat compared to most.

My house did not creak or shudder a single time as Irene drifted over my section of eastern North Carolina.  The highest gust of surface wind I recorded was 22 mph.  I am certain there were gust that were higher, but were not recorded by me.

I would compare Irene to a strong summer thunderstorm in southeastern North Carolina. (We have some duzzies!)  I have experienced and reported on hurricanes striking North Carolina since the early 1960’s and Irene, as I said above, compared to her forerunners -- was a puny weakling.  She was certainly undeserving of all the hype by the mainstream media.

Here in North Carolina, it is second nature to take the necessary precautions when a hurricane is expected.  We don’t wait for the federal government to direct anything. We just do it.  In fact, a spokesman for FEMA was reported as having said that when they arrived and looked over NC’s preparations they could find Not A SINGLE NEED WANTING.  

So, when a Tar Heel tells you that there was a huge gap in the reporting/predicting and the actuality on the ground during hurricane Irene’s visit to our state, then, believe me, something went very wrong.

The mainstream media, in my opinion, did a major disservice to the American public by over-hyping Irene.  It WAS a large storm and an impressive looking storm, but it was never very powerful.  Small tightly knit storms are usually far more powerful than large storms spread out over 600 miles. Think of an ice skater with arms in close to the body spinning furiously with lots of energy and speed.  Then think of that same skater spreading his/her arms out and slowing down with the resulting reduction in energy and speed.  The same principal applies… but not always.  The one thing predictable about hurricanes is …  their unpredictability.

Then, too, Congress is considering a near 40% cut in the budget from which the Hurricane Hunter program is financed.  That would force the brave men and women who fly those highly sophisticated and technological aircraft into the eye of the storms (twice a day) to get vital information for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- including the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, to partially stand down, reducing the number of flights, and badly crippling the program AND NOAA’s ability to read the storms and make accurate forecasts and predictions. 

A hurricane that threatens the nation’s legislative buildings, and the White House itself, could be seen as a “godsend.”  It would surely drive home the point concerning how important it is that the Hurricane Hunter program be left intact.  Understand:  This is NOT an accusation.  It is purely an observation.

For those whose first hurricane experience is/was Irene, especially those of you in the northeast – a word of warning:  Do not judge the ferocity of hurricanes by Irene.

The MsM has lost even more credibility with the consumers of their news product.  Co-mingling news and entertainment is not the best format for informing the public of a natural threat headed their way. As we witnessed, after a few hours, the real information about Irene was embedded in a continuous show that painted a doom and gloom scenario.  It was entirely too much.

Back in my day of broadcasting we made sure we did not create a climate of fear when reporting information on hurricanes headed our way.  We reported the location, speed, and direction of the storm while assuming that our listeners had sense enough to take the necessary precautions.  And they did.

And they still do.  Unfortunately, the media seems to believe we are the dumbest creatures on God’s green earth.  Folks along the southeastern seaboard, especially Florida and the Carolinas, are walking encyclopedias on hurricanes. 

If the major networks want to interview an authority on hurricanes, it is not necessary to have academic meteorologists – just interview an old-timer from southeastern North Carolina.  Where hurricanes are concerned – experience beats book-learning and lab-training every time.

J. D. Longstreet

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