Saturday, September 04, 2010

Air Travel: No Delays. No Hurricane. The Only Heavy Wind Came From the Media Weather-Blowhards

[Web cam image this morning of beach at Eastham on Cape Cod, via Cape Cod Times]

Air travel throughout the country was operating without significant delays this morning, as it did yesterday. The hurricane that had the media hysterics at battle stations all week did not manifest itself. That it would not was obvious all day yesterday, though the hysterics remained at full cry with their disaster narratives despite evidence that this was a fizzled storm.

From this morning's toned-down Boston Globe, via the Cape Cod Times: "`That was just normal 'winter' weather,'" said Norm Frazee, as he patrolled the properties of a resort company for downed limbs and other storm-related debris. 'We get winds like that almost every day in the winter.' Once a mighty hurricane, Earl weakened into a tropical storm and merely grazed the Cape and islands overnight, causing no major damage or power outages ..."

Except for that "once a mighty hurricane" blather, that report has it about right. Yes, it was a real big hurricane ... in the Atlantic Ocean. But this was a tree that fell in the forest.

The trouble as I see it: the media, desperate for ever-new sensations by the hour, latched onto the hurricane-cataclysm narrative early in the week and wouldn't give it up once they hung out their logos and piled up their alarming feature stories and photos. The dereliction was not just confined to the usual television nitwits desperately drawing attention to themselves when the weather changes, as it is in the habit of doing.

The problem was the slavish adherence to a canned disaster narrative. The problem was media overreaction that was partly juiced, sad to say, by authorities with a lot of F.E.M.A. money burning holes in their pockets. The problem was the incessant violent weather language, especially when applied to an event that had not yet occurred: Slam, bearing down, slash, lash, barrel, flee, ferocity, monster. It was the media's stone determination to flog that narrative, even when it was obvious by yesterday that the storm was fizzling -- a fact that the airlines, to their credit, obviously appreciated. Did the airlines cancel hundreds or even thousands of flights preemptively, as would have been standard operating procedure on Thursday and yesterday if a large storm were about to hit their operations on the East Coast? No, they did not.

How many end-of-summer holiday plans got ruined because of the weather hype the media promulgated? How many picnics and gatherings and small-town parades, from the Carolinas to Nantucket, will not occur, as it's too late to re-schedule now that the world did not end? How many people, alarmed by the hysteria, canceled holiday trips? That's a story worth reporting.

Obviously, the coastal population needs to be prepared when a hurricane is on the way. Just as obvious to me, the authorities and the media need to exercise a lot more caution, especially when knowable facts assert themselves, as they had by Thursday morning, to argue for toning it way down and modifying that blasted (oops, the violent language again) narrative.

Oh, incidentally: Some streets in East Coast seashore towns, especially those on narrow barrier islands, routinely flood when it rains. It's mostly a matter of infrastructure -- inadequate storm-drains and the like. The media hate infrastructure reporting -- boooooring and time-consuming! But please, let's not make too much of those photos showing routine seashore-town flooding that's depicted as proof that this was the dramatic, direct impact of a ferocious (oops) hurricane.

By the way, I no longer live on the East Coast. I live in the Southwestern desert in Arizona. Last night, the waning monsoon season here brought a major thunderstorm that crashed down suddenly and dropped an inch of rain in an hour -- in a place that gets nine inches in an entire year. The lights flickered. The lightening slashed (an accurate use of the word here) at the darkening skies over the mountains. Our African gray parrot hollered in sheer delight: "It's raining! See!" Desert washes flooded and the usual handful of idiots got stuck in their cars and had to be rescued because they ventured into a wash despite the signs saying not to enter in a flood.

It was typical end-of-summer desert monsoon weather, and the usual precautions applied. And we didn't need a hysterical weatherman to tell us which way the wind blowed.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here in MA the tv stations and politicians cry wolf so often that they are not credible. The "big blow" build up was like the "blizzard" warnings that have lines out the door for bread, milk, shovels, and ice melter all winter.
Even when the storm was obviously diminishing - the weather folks were still hyping it.