HolyCoast: Hypercane Irene

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hypercane Irene

Although I spent Fri-Mon traveling, it was pretty apparent the big story was Hurricane Irene.  I'd been tracking it on this blog since it first became clear that it would be the ninth named storm, but the first to become an actual hurricane.

What made this storm particularly interesting was the potential to hit the I-95 corridor, an area populated by something like 60 million people.  And of course, that included Washington D.C. and New York City.

Many are now accusing the media of over-hyping this storm, and they may be right.  Certainly, if you're in Vermont or inland North Carolina or other places where the flooding has been extreme, there's no hype at all.  But if you were in New York City, the dreaded storm yielded little more than just a lot of rain.

When I had a chance I watched the coverage from my hotel room and there was without a question a New York-centrism in the coverage.  That's not that hard to understand given that the two centers of the media universe are New York and Washington, and most of the people reporting or producing the coverage lived in those areas.  It almost seemed that the anchors were impatient for the storm to finish with North Carolina so the main event could begin.

Hype also helps ratings, and it was clear to me on Friday that the media felt they had a vested interest in selling the worst case scenario for New York City.  The forecast models had already shifted to show a weaker Cat 1 storm hitting New York, and yet I watched CNN run and rerun an inundation model of lower Manhattan based on a Cat 2 storm.  That wasn't going to happen and the experts all knew that by that point in time.  Why didn't the producers order the change in reporting?  Probably because a scary Cat 2 scenario with 8-12 feet of water in lower Manhattan, flooding in the Ground Zero site, and flooding in the New York subway system was a lot sexier than a Cat 1 situation which might not even flood Battery Park.

And the hype wasn't confined to the media:
Despite Barack Obama’s initial protests to end his vacation early, the Obama re-election team convinced the president to pose for a much needed leadership photo-op in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
This even had to be very disappointing for the Obama campaign people.  He can't go splash through lower Manhattan while consoling displaced New Yorkers.  He can't do much to show that he's more engaged than President Bush was in 2005.  The hype pretty much damages everyone involved.

There's another tropical storm, Jose', currently winding its way across the Atlantic and the track could bring it to the East Coast again.  If this turns into a big storm, how many people will ignore the warnings thanks to the media hype from Irene?

And how many people will start looking at all media reporting with new skepticism?  That's not a bad thing.

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