On Deadline: Local question -- Was 'Hurricane Irene' news coverage overblown, so to speak? Jay Thorwaldson's Blog, posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus, on Aug 29, 2011 at 9:51 am Jay Thorwaldson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
After watching some days of Weather Channel and other news coverage of Hurricane Irene I found myself wondering, as a journalist, whether the newspeople along the way were doing a bit of hyperventilating in their dire predictions.
I also wanted to see some real storm damage and flooding scenes, not just windblown (or not) local reporters -- including seemingly endless shots of one intrepid journalist being sandblasted on a flat beach, hunched over, trying to talk.
"I think they're just making it all up about the damage and floods," like those who believe the moon walk never happened, I quipped to a friend midway through the coverage cycle, impatient at seeing only a wind-blasted reporter and a few shingles blown partway back on a large building.
The importance to Palo Alto and the Bay Area is that news reports that "cry wolf" deepen the level of people's skepticism about such warnings. That is especially true of longer-term warnings of potential impacts climate change: rising sea (and bay) levels and increased volatility of our traditionally benign Central California coastal weather.
"Increased volatility" means that with just a few degrees of warming of the Pacific Ocean it could cease being pacific and generate hurricane-force winds and heavy rains, in addition to increased heat and aridity in the food-producing Central Valley -- which one prediction called a Death Valley effect.
Climate change is a long way off, it seems, and we have so many immediate things about which to worry, like jobs and deadlocked state and national leadership.
Yet having lived some years in the Santa Cruz Mountains I've seen first-hand what wind gusts of 40 or 50 miles per hour can do to the trees there: large firs, bay laurel, madrone -- especially in rain-soaked earth. I've also seen many big trees fall in calm spring weather following rains, as warmth draws heavy sap up into the treetops. There's good reason many residents carry chain saws in their vehicles.
If a real blow of 80 to 100 miles or more per hour hits those mountains, think of the old game of Pick Up Sticks. Lots of firewood.
Yet both the predictions of sea-level rise and increased volatility of weather depend on acceptance of the notion of climate change -- about which there are plenty of skeptics. One friend of mine ridicules the notion. But if he's wrong and we ignore the many climate-change warnings, I once replied to a scoffing e-mail he sent, there will be catastrophic consequences. Yet if the climate-change "Chicken Littles" are wrong it will be no big deal, a passing non-news story.
I don't suppose those East Coast residents who lost homes, friends or family members feel the advance coverage was overblown.
And much of the news was based on warnings of officials and the massive forced evacuations -- a remarkable story in itself, especially in New York City. No one wanted to get caught short, as with New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina's claiming of 1,800 lives.
Few today know of the great Galveston, Texas, flood of 1900, in which between 6,000 and 12,000 people died, most from drowning and mostly attributable to lack of advance planning and inadequate warnings. We're a nation of short memories.
It's hard to say how many lives, injuries, homes and businesses were saved by the extensive preventive boarding up and evacuations, or careful "hunkering down" (a repeated phrase by the on-site journalists) by those choosing to ride out the storm. Yet I began to wish the journalists would do more hunkering than hyping.
The coverage reminded me of a classic exchange in the film, "Shipping News," some years back. A grizzled older reporter was instructing a newcomer about what news is about. He tells the newbie to give him a headline about clouds building up across a bay. "Clouds form along horizon," the newbie ventures. Nope, the veteran rejoins: "Storm threatens village."
But what if the storm doesn't arrive? Then it's, "Killer storm spares village," the veteran growls. He could be referring to Greenwich Village today, even.
And yet. … There are renewed expressions of concern about the potential consequences of ignoring the inadequacy of our bayfront levees in the south bay, and the thousands of acres of homes and businesses that would be impacted by just an 18-inch rise in sea level within the next few decades, and a 22- to 55-inch rise by the end of the century. Coupled with land subsidence from over-pumping groundwater a half century and more ago, large areas of the south bay are at risk of serious flooding.
The San Francisco Bay Conservations and Development Commission (BCDC for short) is blunt about the threat on its website, www.bcdc.gov.ca.
"The Bay is rising and this is projected to continue," it warns. "In fact, today's flood is expected to be the future's high tide. Areas that currently flood every ten to twenty years during extreme weather and tides will begin to flood regularly. These areas are home to over 160,000 residents, critical infrastructure, diverse habitats, and valuable community resources." It then outlines its "climate change plan."
BCDC's proposal to expand its jurisdiction beyond 100 feet from the bay has elicited vigorous opposition as well as support. The debate is raging primarily in a below-the-news-radar fashion.
There's also a recent website backed by a coalition of labor and business groups pushing a levee-construction solution: www.bayrising.org.
New York City and much of the East Coast lucked out this time around. But good planning and preparations helped, along with people heeding the warnings. Will the West Coast do as well when our turn blows in?
Jay Thorwaldson is the former editor of the Weekly. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Most of the people posting video on Youtube have “boots on the ground” and are not professional “journalists” … so they actually took the videos they upload.
> "Increased volatility" means that with just a few degrees of warming
> of the Pacific Ocean it could cease being pacific and generate
> hurricane-force winds
OMG! Now we’re into science fiction. Definitely the domain of “journalists” ..
> I don't suppose those East Coast residents who lost homes,
> friends or family members feel the advance coverage was overblown.
Most of the homes lost are in perennial flood zones—particularly along the North Carolina coast. The people who build here don’t need news coverage—they need insurance. Every year these storms come (sometimes in the winter too—called “Nor’Easterners”) .. homes get blown down, or flooded, and the people build them back again. In short, they deserve what they get!
Homes are also damaged from winds too, but generally just those homes that have allowed trees to grow too close to the structures. This one is a hard call—since most trees can grow for hundreds of years, and not fall over, or get blown over. And then all of a sudden—boom, the tree and a hurricane meet—and the hurricane wins.
The 7/24 coverage doesn’t make the storm go away, it only reminds those that decide to stay in harm’s way that it’s their choice.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Aug 29, 2011 at 10:23 pm
I think it is all down to perspective. I didn't pay too much attention to the coverage as it didn't affect me personally. But, if I lived closer and was about to be affected by the storm I would have watched more closely and probably feel very different.
Since we live in earthquake country, we know that we don't get warnings. Those who live in hurricane country do have the opportunity of forewarning and appreciate the opportunity to do what they have to do to keep themselves and their property adequately ready. If we could have the same forewarning of earthquakes I know we would appreciate the time to prepare ourselves.
Therefore, I think that the fact that there is technology available for these natural disasters is good. If the storm doesn't live up to the hype or the coverage is supposedly too much, then it is better than having too little.
If you are not interested in the event, then why spend the time watching? If you are in the way of the storm, then no coverage is too much.
Posted by Thanks Jay but I disagree, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Aug 30, 2011 at 5:34 am
Climate changes. We have nothing to do with it. SunFlares are decreasing, so we are cooling, and have been stable or cooling for 10 years. Ice melted on Mars during the sun flares increase, nothing to do with us, everything to do with flares. The earth changes its tilt, shifts its heat/cold cycles, the earth goes through predictable cycles of change. Every 30 years for the last 120 years we have had dire predictions of either freezing to death or heating to death, depending on the cycle. I am looking for the story of Lady Liberty being covered in ice sometime in the next 10 years, like there were in the 70s..and the 40s..and at the turn of the century.
Because of the "rest of the story" behind climate change, I have gone from a 'believer' to a skeptic. Far too much data to support us having nothing to do with climate. One blown Volcano throws more junk in the air than all of our world's "emissions' for years. One wildfire throws more trash in the air than all of our fireplaces for years. I believe it is high human arrogance that tries to believe we can affect our climate, combined with a tremendous desire by some to control the rest of us.
As for the "hype". Yes, there was a lot...I was amazed, having spent some time in hurricane country, how much hype there was. We lived in an area that expected 3-4 real hurricanes every fall. We prepared. Of course, we were used to it. Sort of like the northeast and snow.
On the other hand, I can't blame the reporters. They are employed by folks who pull their puppet strings to keep them employed. The bosses listen to Hurricane Center, which is a govt agency. I am done with Govt Agencies. Too much politics involved. Centralization of "information" leads to cherry picked info sifted through a political lens. I can't help but feel extreme skepticism over the hype in this storm....
The real pity is that if there really is a big one that is coming, now folks won't believe it. In response, Dr. Atkins Web Link is setting up a national weather "rating" data base for weathermen. I think I will like that. An independent, not associated with government, source for weather news.
Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus, on Aug 30, 2011 at 9:13 am Jay Thorwaldson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Good comments and dialogue.
As for "I disagree" on climate change, again, if you're wrong and we do nothing in the way of preparations for some type of sea-level rise and weather volatility for 20, 30, 40 years then the results will be catastrophic locally, nationally and worldwide.
But if those who accept the widespread concern among responsible scientists and observe the acceleration of polar ice and glacial melting are wrong and we have DONE SOMETHING that turns out to be unnecessary then OK, it's a wasted effort -- but not catastrophic. Consider it an economic stimulus? -jay
Posted by Parrot, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Aug 30, 2011 at 6:42 pm
"and if push comes to shove, some land might need to be abandoned to the sea. None of these situations would be catastrophic."
Ask the folks in Alameda, New Orleans, Manhattan or so many coastal areas. Are you nuts? Or just have no ideal of the value of land?
"what happened to science as the basis of making predictions about the future?"
Well, pal, thanks for the tip.
Uh-oh, it says here most real scientists, as opposed to wannabes who post anonymously on blogs after a session with Pharmacy Major Rush Limbaugh, say climate change is man-made change. Time to pull out the wild conspiracy theories!
So we agree - what happened to listening to science?
Posted by Hurricanes-Come-Hurricanes-Go, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Aug 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm
> it says here most real scientists,
So.. care to post a link to a list of "real scientists" who claim that "global warming" is "man made"?
There are only a handful of so-called "climatologists" around, since this is a fairly new field of inquiry--barely twenty-five to thirty years old--and by no means is there 100% agreement on this rather controversial point-of-scientific-view in their numbers.
By the way .. has the author of this article ever offered up his background as a climate scientist, or his background in any kind of science? Or should we look to Al Gore, who is now claiming that if you don't follow his teachings that you are "this generation's racists"! Yeah .. now that's got to be some of the best scientific reasoning put forth yet--and this guy has a Nobel Prize in "science"?
> Ask the folks in Alameda ..
Before those folks were living water, the land was unoccupied by humans. The local Alameda government gave them permission to build there--based on its zoning code. So, if the sea rises, then the Alameda government would need to rescind the permission to build/live in those zones, and would certainly have the option to buy up the land that might have to be surrendered to the sea.
While humans don't have a "right" to live anywhere they want, the Dutch have done a pretty good job building dikes to reclaim land from the sea. So, maybe there is a lesson to be learned, if the costs of abandoning the land turned out to be too expensive. However, people have walked away from their homes in the face of rising water in the past, so it's not an impossibility in the future.
> Time to pull out the wild conspiracy theories!
Well .. people opposed to anthropomorphic global warming ideas generally don't dwell in the domain of "conspiracies". It's the other side of the argument that is always accusing Exxon, or BP, or Bush, or Rush Limbaugh, of conspiring to ... well .. it's kind of hard to follow their arguments, or their logic .. most of them are poorly educated, and certainly not the kinds of people who have managed to graduate from a credible educational institution with a degree in a hard science. No .. they just like to attack people personally .. when they have nothing much to say.
Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto, on Aug 30, 2011 at 8:00 pm
I didn't think there was too much hype, given the ridiculousness of the news today. Given the storm's huge swath & incredible damage potential, I think there was a lot of attention along w/vehemence, to prevent another Katrina so that residents would evacuate AND so there wasn't the appearance of gov't, from local to nat'l, of resting on their laurels & not doing enough.
I found the coverage actually helpful so that I could be aware of the circumstances of loved one's back east, as well as disruptions that affected local airports, business and commerce.
Posted by Thanks, but Jay I disagree, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Aug 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm
Jay, your point is well taken. There is always the possible price of action, or inaction.
However, to flip the argument a bit, if the anthropogenic climate changers are wrong, it would also be catastrophic to liberty and economies not just here, but around the world. Think of how bad it is already in our economy. Imagine much worse, around the world. Think of the tremendous loss of liberty and by extension, capitalism in this country, which had us as the powerhouse of the world in economic development. Think of the displaced people, the suffering, from the implementation of oppressive laws that kill businesses, jobs. We see a microcosm of that now..imagine much more.
Even Al Gore bought beachfront property. Can't believe much if even he didn't buy into the "rising ocean" stuff. If we really believed the oceans would rise etc, we would simply stop building on ocean front.
And, there is the fact that our climate has 30 year cycles that go back more than humans have existed, let alone before industrialization. We are entering the cooling 30 year cycle now and have been for the last 10 years. Climate change happens. We don't control it.
But, let's assume for a moment we do have an impact...let's assume we affect 5% of the climate. Let's assume we want to stop that impact. What price is "worth it"?? Would ( and I am being silly here, but to make the point, I want to do this) that we decide that killing half the world's population would do the trick.
Would that be an "oh well, no harm done" if we are wrong? That is the question and one which I am answering, yes, we would have done a lot of harm for no reason.
Not saying we should "dirty our air" on purpose. Am saying we are already are so much cleaner than even 30 years ago, so much cleaner than the rest of the world, that we are a very small amount of the air pollution that is put out by humans, that no matter what we do, we affect nothing.
Along the same lines, the "what is the worst that can happen' question, many in favor of going into Iraq, with the heavy risk of Saddam being able to quickly ramp up and produce WMD and use them, given his history of already having them and using them, decided it was "worth the risk". Worst case scenario, Saddam holds all oil hostage, threatens nuclear war, if we don't do x,y, z, sending the world into starvation and death from a world wide huge depression ...many decided the risk of that happening was worth the war. Frankly, I was one of them. The "worst that can happen if we are wrong" thinking was "some people die, but then there are 60 million free people with a Constitutional Democracy". If we were right, we also eliminated one nutcase threat to the world and avoided many more deaths from Saddam. For right or for wrong, it was the same logical thought process.
Or, to put it in another realm. What price life in cars? In reality, to save lives, we should all drive tanks, right? But, at what cost would such a decision result? How many would lose transport at all from not being able to afford it? Of course, there are many more costs than this, but just making a point.
We, as humans, make cost:risk: benefit analyses all the time. And, in this case, my cost:risk:benefit analysis is to say, no, the economic and liberty devastation from never ending "standards" is not worth the "maybe in 30-40 years" scenario, especially in light of the falsified data, the bad science, the horrific computer models which are only as good as the designer and data input. The latest hurricane scare is a great example of how wrong we can be, how much we don't know.
Or, another example. DDT was banned on bad science and emotional hype. We knew then and we still know that DDT used to kill mosquitos saves lives. Millions of dead folks from malaria would really have liked to have DDT used to eradicate the mosquitos that infected them. At the time, the question was "what harm in banning it?" Well, millions dead, for no reason. Millions more suffering.
Well, engineers out there have many examples.. No need to continue. It is a 95% rule. If the best knowledge you have determines a 95% chance of being "right", you stop there. 95% probability the bridge won't collapse with max load..ok, it is good.
My best evidence is 95% "right" that we can't affect, in our nation, climate change. Given over 90% of the "greenhouse" is water vapor, and of the remaining 5% humans contribute less than 1%..along the lines of a pencil line drawn on a football field, then I honestly believe to do more is to destroy human endeavor for no reason.
So, I understand how you are thinking. I truly do, but in the estimation of many, if not most, of us, we don't see the risk of being wrong very high. We do see the risk from the economic loss and liberty loss. Very hard to recover from such massive takeover.
Posted by Parrot, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Aug 31, 2011 at 4:03 pm
"So.. care to post a link to a list of "real scientists" who claim that "global warming" is "man made"? "
Happy to. Care to post a list of the thousands of scientists that DISPUTE climate change, that are NOT funded by the extraction industries?
"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. The UN General Assembly endorsed the action by WMO and UNEP in jointly establishing the IPCC.
The IPCC is a scientific body. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. It does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters.
Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis."
Posted by Parrot, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 1, 2011 at 10:18 am
I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!
Who filled out little petitions like the ones outside a Safeway, they checked a box claiming they were a gosh dern, holy smokes, dadgumit real, no, I swear, REALLY a real, real scientist!
Okay, we're ignore that this hoax started as an Exxon funded project in Oregon a decade ago. And the dreadfully archaic web design from 2003 or so. Man, one forgets how ugly the original websites looked!
We'll ignore that there is no verification, review or stringent standards that any real scientist would insist on for his/her work.
"only .1% of the individuals on the list of 30,000 signatures have a scientific background in Climatology. To be fair, we can add in those who claim to have a background in Atmospheric Science, which brings the total percentage of signatories with a background in climate change science to a whopping .5%.
The page does not break out the names of those who do claim to be experts in Climatology and Atmospheric Science, which makes even that .5% questionable [see my section on "unverifiable mess" below]."
Wow. So let's look at some of these cards sent in, starting with the letter "A":
"What you'll quickly find is either no information, very little information or information substantiating the fact that the vast majority of signers are completely unqualified in the area of climate change science.
"Munawwar M. Akhtar" - no info other than the fact that he is a signatory on the petition.
"Fred A. Allehoff" - no info other than the fact that he is a signatory on the petition.
"Ernest J. Andberg" - no info other than the fact that he is a signatory on the petition.
"Joseph J. Arx" - no info other than the fact that he is a signatory on the petition.
"Adolph L. Amundson" - a paper by Amundson on the "London Tunnel Water Treatment System Acid Mine Drainage." [PDF]
"Henry W. Apfelbach" - an Orthopedic Surgeon
"Joe R. Arechavaleta" - runs an Architect and Engineering company." "
Hocus pocus - we got us a conspiracy supported by 31,000 real SCIENTISTS!!!!!!!! Well, sorta 31,000. And sorta scientists, well, not really. Well, we were able to cash Exxon's checks, so it's all good!
Posted by Perspective, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 2, 2011 at 6:09 am
Parrot: I love it, love it, love it...using a Huffpo blog to support your emotion on the 31,000 scientists pretty much says it all. You got scared about that petition, and ran to MamaHuffington to find some talking points to use.
BTW, your petty denunciation of "web page design"..um..well..ok..I finally get it. I thought I was dealing with someone a little more mature.
Oh well. That was a waste of my time. Have fun! It is all yours!
Posted by Len Filppu, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 2, 2011 at 10:04 am
Didn't Dan Rather get his big journalistic break into network news after he risked life and limb to cover in the wild a hurricane hitting Texas? One Texas-sized version goes he chained himself to a tree. Do you recall?
Posted by Parrot, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 2, 2011 at 11:03 am
No, I did a google search and in about a tenth of a second it gave me a couple hundred thousand choices. Try it sometime. All the kids use it these days.
I took the top result that had lots of links to supporting facts. Clearly, after reading it and it's supporting evidence, all you could do was blast the website, not the facts (Huffington.)
It shows that petition is a crock and you know it. Attacking the messenger is admitting it.
The web design - are you serious? It's a starter kit template from some old off-the-retail-shelf package like Frontpage's 2002 version! The point is, most people attempting fraud try to cloak it in something less obvious - it screams "we can't bother with verification, review, stringent standards or even presentation, since Exxon forgot to send the last check."
"MamaHuffington"? I don't get it. Is that an attempt at wit or an attempt at insult?
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2011 at 2:27 am Alice Schaffer Smith is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
The odd thing about so much coverage is that it numbs people . Once the storm is over, the chaos which is left isn't so newsworthy. The digging out of the muck, sewage and debris from flooded septic tanks along the Connecticut shore is a real health hazard and very smelly, but who is writing about that. Or questioning why they don't have sewer pipes in the 21st century built to withhold flooding (predictable) and instead rely on septic tanks where it is predictable that they will get flooded?
One Red Cross friend pointed out the devastation in rural/poor areas where the Red Cross has stepped in and provided food and shelter to countless people. Yet, the American people had not stepped up to the plate to help provide much needed financial support to help fund these efforts.
Most Americans are not prepared for disasters: flu, flood, hurricane or earthquake. Buildings on the East Coast aren't built to the same standards as the West. Why not? When earthquakes can happen any time any place.... Coverage of the lack of preparedness isn't sexy. Doesn't sell advertising space. Doesn't appeal to voyeuristic Americans.
Those are my rambling thoughts about media in weather emergencies.