It was little more than a week ago that our front page made light of the impact of Tropical Storm Gordon. In the edition prior to that, we cautioned in this very space about “dire forecasts” that only turn out to be a drizzle can create “hurricane fatigue” and cause people to stop heeding the breathless warnings of weather forecasters.
Gordon turned out to be less powerful than many spring thunderstorms we experience several times per year. Yet schools and government shut down in anticipation of the storm.
We caught a lot of flak from people on our Facebook page for mocking that, many of the holier-than-thous noting that the storm was responsible for a death in Florida and we should be ashamed of ourselves. But days later, when Florence was approaching the Carolinas, the forecasters turned their hurricane hysteria up a notch, saying it was going to be as bad or worse than Katrina — utter devastation. It would be a Category 4 or 5 when it made landfall.
Then as it approached, it weakened.It was a Cat 2.Then a Cat 1. You could almost hear the disappointment in the voices of the talking heads on the tube. They all took the same tact: “It’s still going to be really bad. The worst is yet to come.”
And they were right. The flooding has taken its toll on the region, destroying millions and millions of dollars’ worth of property and Florence is being blamed for the death of at least 12 people. So she was a devastating storm, no matter what Saffir-Simpson’s scale rates it.
But some of the TV correspondents weren’t content with reporting what was actually happening. No, they wanted drama — even if they had to manufacture it. First, there was Mike Seidel of The Weather Channel, dressed from head to toe in rain garb, seemingly battling to keep his footing as the winds raged ... and then two teens in shorts casually wander around in the background, not seeming to struggle at all. Then there’s CNN’s Anderson Cooper, standing hip deep in water ... while a cellphone shot shows the camera crew a few feet away, in ankle-deep water.
Both were viewed and shared hundreds of thousands of times and commented on by millions, probably. Many of the masses lampooning the two drama queens were likely some of the same Facebook warriors who were blasting us a week earlier for having the audacity to call out our local weather-guessers for causing chaos here.
“We’d rather be safe and sorry,” many of our critics wrote, chastising us. Most of them were likely people who were happy to get off work unexpectedly. But what about the thousands of people who did have to go to work but had to deal with having young schoolchildren home on an unexpected — and unnecessary — day off?
We would rather people be safe than sorry, too. Ratcheting up the fear factor every time the wind gusts is no way to make people safer. Neither is showing them that forecasters do in fact overdramatize conditions. It creates the perfect storm for making people disregard warnings. And that, folks, sets the stage for disaster.