Monday, July 28, 2008

Hype and More Hype

We all love to make fun of our local weatherman's forecasts. I've been known to emphatically state that our local meteorologist states, the exact opposite will happen. The Weather Nerd brings up some interesting points in A Rant on Hype.

Living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast involves a certain amount of gambling, not just at the casinos. Every hurricane season, we are faced with life and death choices when hurricanes threaten. Do we stay or do we go? Is this hurricane going to be like Hurricane Georges in 1998? With winds just over 100 mph, it wasn't the most fearsome, yet it took 602 lives, mainly in the Dominican Republic. It was a rain producer. In just 6-8 hours, it produced 3 feet of rain along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and caused extensive flooding along rivers. It had stalled.

Or will it be like Hurricane Elena in 1985? Hurricane Elena was a Category 3 storm. It produced widespread wind-damage. I remember this hurricane vividly. My ex and I were supposed to have been married the weekend it hit. It tore the roof off our dining room.

Or will it be like Hurricane Camille in 1969? Hurricane Camille has a nickname, the tornicane. With her 200 mph winds, she was like a tornado spread over 40 miles and her storm surge was one of the highest recorded at that time. It was only 24 feet.

I say only 24 feet because the storm surge produced by Hurricane Katrina surpassed it. NOAA states Katrina's storm surge along the Mississippi Gulf Coast was 28 feet with the caveat that the it is probably higher. It seems the instruments used by them to measure the storm surge was destroyed by the storm surge. We on the Mississippi Coast know it was much higher. The storm surge in Biloxi's Back Bay was 24 feet and that is over 30 miles from where Katrina made landfall in Mississippi. Mobile had a storm surge of 10 feet.

The thing is, we on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in other areas which are prone to hurricanes, never know what we are going to get. We become armchair forecasters and listen to the forecasts, look at the satellite images, and know all too will the difference between a Category 1 and Category 5 storm.

In his rant, he makes the following comment:

Wrongfully debunking “hype” that was actually fully warranted is incredibly damaging because it degrades the credibility of hurricane forecasters in the eyes of the public, for no good reason, and encourages things like this: “Nearly one-fourth of people in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina would refuse to evacuate for a storm if told to, a survey released Wednesday by Harvard University found.” If you ask those people, when a storm is bearing down, why they refuse to evacuate, I guarantee you that one commonly cited reason would be that forecasters overhype storms, and it probably won’t be that bad. This is a meme that has real consequences. Deadly consequences.

One of the bad things about polls is that one needs to know which areas were polled. Hurricane Katrina raked Florida before entering the Gulf of Mexico and setting her eyes on New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Believe me, we along the Mississippi Gulf Coast know that all the so-called hype about Hurricane Katrina was not hype. We saw the satellite images of the beastly Category 5 storm and preparations to evacuate. So did the people in New Orleans and its surrounding areas. Also, many people may have said they wouldn't evacuate remembering how difficult it was to get into the area after Hurricane Katrina.

The death toll would have been much higher than the 1,600 in Louisiana and the 238 in Mississippi if the "hype" had not been heeded. Every time a hurricane or tropical storm threatens, the danger is assessed. Every year people may say they will not evacuate, but they do. The interstates and the highways bear testament to that.

When I lived in the New Orleans area, every year there would be someone from Grand Isle saying they would not evacuate for the next threatening tropical storm or hurricane. And every time a tropical storm or hurricane was bearing down on Grand Isle, those people would evacuate.

After Hurricane Katrina, I wrote that I would not evacuate for the next hurricane. I say that every time and even said it for Hurricane Katrina. I didn't evacuate for Hurricane Georges or for Hurricane Elena but I did evacuate for Hurricane Katrina. I left for sister's home, which is a brick home and 25 miles inland. Mine is a wood frame house and with winds expected to be in the Category 4 or 5 range, I felt it would be prudent to be in a brick home. I also wanted to be with my family.

People do take seriously the threat of hurricanes and tropical storms. There are always a handful of people who refuse to evacuate under any circumstance. You'll usually see them featured on the evening news. And people will shake their heads and gain the impression the majority of people in the area have the same mind-set.

You'll ignore the evacuees who have been sitting in traffic backed up for ten or more miles and the image will remain of that person saying, "I'm not leaving".

Like with any news story, it is always the negatives which gain the most prominence.

I do know this, Hurricane Katrina scarred the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Our eyes were glued to the NHC before Hurricane Katrina. Now, they are riveted on the forecasts from NHC. Even the threat of a tropical depression is greeted with great trepidation. We are scared of any threat and will remain so for a very, very long time. There are a lot of new people who have moved to the area. They did not experience Hurricane Katrina but they see the aftermath. And they listen to us when tell them how to prepare and that preparations should start long before June 1, the start of the hurricane season. Some may not listen. Some who survived Hurricane Katrina may even say to themselves, "It can't be as bad as Hurricane Katrina" and will stay. This is the mind-set that must be addressed for many said before Hurricane Katrina hit, "It can't be as bad as Hurricane Camille". The NHC forecasters do a very good job and getting out the information on the potential areas threatened by hurricanes and tropical storms. These storms are so unpredictable.


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Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate we see little real news now. We see too much emotional sales.