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August 29, 2011

Was Irene hyped? Fall short of its billing?

In the last two days I've heard some commentary about Hurricane Irene suggesting that it somehow fell short of expectations; that it was hyped by the news media beyond what was warranted.

Hurricane Irene damageSo what's going on here? Are the news media at fault for printing (and broadcasting) strong warnings about the dangers posed by the storm?  Are the hurricane forecasters at fault for getting something wrong in their forecasts? Did emergency managers overdo their warnings?

Do they all run a danger of somehow "disappointing" people in a way that will make them less responsive to future storm warnings?

Or is it a bigger hazard to life and property if we (forecasters and media) risk underplaying a storm's potential ? Wouldn't that, too, encourage more people to try to stay in place instead of preparing for the worst and getting out if instructed to ?

Finally, was this storm really a dud?  It seems like millions of outages, trees down on cars and homes, schools closed, businesses shuttered, historic flooding in New England, estimated damages upwards of $10 billion, and 20 people dead could hardly be deemed anything but awful.

Your thoughts?  

(PHOTO: Irene damage in Connecticut. Bertina Hansen, Hartford Courant)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:34 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Hurricanes


If forecasters/media had predicted that this would be a whimpy storm I wonder what people would be saying today? I think this storm was overhyped, particularly in Baltimore, but sometimes you have to yell to get people to listen.

Yogi Berra supposedly said "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Given that several sophisticated computer models were predicting an at-one-point Cat 3 hurricane was pointed at the east coast and 65M people, you err on the side of caution. I thought coverage, precautions, and "hype" were commensurate with the threat. And statistically, I'm sure what we experienced wasn't too far off of what was predicted. I'm sure those that are complaining about over-hype are those blessed without the responsibility of deciding what to do about the risks.

The storm was overhyped, to my mind, largely because the "follow up news" went on and on without any real necessity. There was nothing really worth saying for 36 hours and Baltimore news television said it over and over.

The "Media" and "Meteorologists" are two different entities. The Meteorologists absolutely nailed the forecast. I know because I have a degree in Meteorology and followed it closely. The "Media" did over hype but that's what they do for everything. Could it be there were not more deaths and injuries because the Media over hyped the event? Could be although that can't be measured.

Bottom line is that the ones who complain about Meteorologists being incorrect are the ones that too ignorant to even explain what happened. You stick to flipping hamburgers and let the Meteorologists handle the weather.

I don't think this storm was overhyped for residents of the Eastern Shore who are more at risk in these types of situations.

For those who don't live on the coastal plain, I do think this storm was overhyped. The media unleashed a constant barrage of fear leading up to the storm which led people not living in low lying areas to panic unnecessarily.

We see this same type of thing happen in Baltimore during the winter time with an impending snow storm.

It's the media's job to instill fear because that fear means higher ratings with more people watching the news.

I heard the reporters on WJZ talk down to the residents, using the phrase "not smart enough to stay home" and "nut jobs" to describe folks who chose not to evacuate. Meanwhile, the reporters themselves are standing out in the storm!!! I think some folks have slander suits against the folks at WJZ.

The damage to my roof, my attic and ceiling, and truck all say something other than "dud" to me.

But people are going to foolishly think what they will. I know of one incident where a class was being held in Rockville where the educator refused to cancel it "over a little rain," and wouldn't let his instructors off the hook. Really? Did he actually expect students to show up and wonder where the teachers the middle of a hurricane?

Just because we lucked out a bit on this storm doesn't mean it was over hyped. I think the evacuation of OC was prudent given the number of people who would normally be present during a weekend in August. I don't live on the water but I still took some precautions. I moved the stuff in off my balcony and made sure I had plenty of batteries and flashlights. It turned out I didn't need them, but better safe than sorry!

You make hype sound like a bad thing. Obviously, a lot of people didn't take it seriously even with the hype. Really, anyone who thinks it's hype can turn it off. Since it was a weekend, the only thing it replaced was sports which isn't news either.

FR REPLIES: My question is this: Can something be "overhyped?" I mean, "hype" by definition is excessive, right? So how much excess and exaggeration is okay when you need to get someone's attention, drive home a point and maybe save a life?

If you didn't receive any damage and still had your power it was hype.

If you are like where a slumlord's tree fell down and ripped the power lines from your house as well as broke your fence, and then you have a little bit of leaking in your house it wasn't hype.

It wasn't hype for the people who died...

Ask the people in VA or NC or VT whose homes and livelihoods are destroyed if the storm was a 'dud.' Ask the people who will be going to funerals for the people killed in the storm if it was a dud. The storm was a public safety danger and I have absolutely no problem with the precautions taken. Just because it didn't tear up your house or business doesn't make it any less devastating.

I think Irene was not so much over-hyped, as mis-hyped. We were warned against huge storm surges and vicious winds, not sustained rain and lengthy power outages - then again, flooding makes for better imagery than sitting in the dark.

Still, I would have preferred more coverage of what to expect during the aftermath, and how to prepare for long stretches without power.

The one thing that I never heard come up - how to deal with outages on the outside. Like, telling viewers to treat intersections with dark traffic lights as four-way stops. At least one person, a child no less, lost her life due to an accident at a dark intersection post-storm. Needless.

Everytime I look at weather . com it looks overhyped, no matter what the weather. Houses destroyed, cars upside down, tornado funnels in everyone's backyard. The more they scare people, the more hits they get. The more hits they get, the more money they make. Yes people should be prepared for a storm, but sometimes I wish hits were still what Elvis was cranking out.

The experts (emergency managers, Corps of Engineers, etc.) who were interviewed got it spot on. The reporters who were charged with filling the air were the ones who were hyperventilating, resorting to hyperbole, etc. Perhaps the media would be better advised to limit storm reporting to 5 minutes every quarter or half hour, instead of requiring their on-air folks to come up with something to say/do nonstop.

I second Chris' post about telling people what to do at a darkened traffic signal. FOUR-WAY STOP! If any message got hyped by the media, this should have been it.

The meteorologists got the forecast and the track very close to what actually happened, and should be commended.

BTW, we were warned about the lengthy power outages....but the warning came from BGE "CYA" robo-calls, not the media.

I don't think the media hyped the impact of this storm in the Baltimore Metro area. I recall lots of talk about the ground being weakened by heavy rain earlier in the week, and that lots of trees may fall because of that, and that this should not be as devastating as Isabel was in 2003. And that's pretty much what happened. I think people hear what the media is saying, and it gets "overhyped" in their own brains, causing them to overreact. Plus, everyone was "pre-hyped" due to the earthquake earlier in the week.

I figured we were well west of the center of circulation, so there'd be some strong winds, and lots of rain, so get some batteries and some non-perishable food, and don't park the car under the tree, and ride it out.

FR REPLIES: If you heard that "lots of trees may fall," it's not a wild stretch to recognize that power outages will follow. And I know we wrote about BGE's preparations for extended outages and lots of anticipated repairs.


I'm of two minds on this:

1. Anyone who thinks it was overhyped is not paying attention to anything but what's on the boob tube (guess why it's called the 'boob tube'); and/or

2. Anyone who thinks it was overhyped has not even an elementary knowledge of weather (hurricanes are low pressure systems, meaning the wind goes counter-clockwise around the center of the storm.) If the center of the storm is East of you (such as Irene in 2011), the wind will come from the north, and 'empty' the Bay. If the center of the storm is West of you (such as Isabelle in 2003), the wind will come from the South, and will 'fill' the Bay.

My prediction? The next hurricane will be covered at the same level, but the center of the storm will go West of us (like Isabelle); people will base their 'response' on the 'overhype' of Irene, and then will blame the media for 'not preparing us' for the storm when they get flooded.

Over hyped? Nope.

If you read through the list of casualties, almost 25% can be attributed to foolish behavior -- "playing" in the water, standing outside watching the storm waters rise, sleeping outside in a tent or camper.

If you are living without power this week, the storm was not overhyped. If you have power, but your kids aren't starting school as you had planned, then the storm was not overhyped.

I have to agree, though, that the media possibly failed to point out the aftermath impact. Having lost power for 5 days after Isabel, I knew what to expect. (We lucked out this time -- we are surrounded by power outages, but didn't loose power this time.) I'm surprised by the Maryland natives who are outraged that they are still without power after 2 or 3 days. They clearly don't understand how widespread the damages are.

This isn't a typical summer thunderstorm that knocks out power to a few neighborhoods. I think it is a credit to BGE's normal response ability, that everyone expects that repairs should only take a day or so.

FR REPLIES: If people were taken by surprise by widespread outages, they clearly were not paying attention. And since it's impossible to repair everything instantly, the utilities go about it logically. They repair the damage first that will bring the most people back the soonest. If you're on a circuit where a break in the lines blacked out thousands of homes, you will come back sooner. If the damage affected just your house and a few more, you will be waiting a long time. It just makes sense.

I don't think it was overhyped. Wouldn't you rather have it overhyped and people told to seek shelter than underhyped and had people stay where they were with the potential of more injuries and fatalities. Hurricanes aren't something you mess with and for the people that think it was overhyped are probably the ones who still have a roof over their house.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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