With Florence dithering off the North Carolina coast tonight, the usual uncertainty about what a hurricane will do prevails among professional weather forecasters. No question it’s pounding the NC beaches north and south of Wilmington, but here in Raleigh, practically nothing.
Well, almost nothing in Raleigh. Whispers of wind, then a slight gust. Some spats of tropical showers.
I want to shake my fists at the skies and yell, Come on, then! Give me all you’ve got, for God’s sake!
Sorry, it’s been a long week, and a lot of us are suffering from storm anticipation fatigue. Here is the way one cartoonist portrayed our collective angst:
The Raleigh/Durham Airport is open, but warns that Friday could see a lot of cancellations depending upon what Florence does. As of 9:00 PM ET Thursday, tomorrow looks like this at RDU:
- Air Canada: No flights on Friday.
- Alaska: No flights on Friday.
- American: A few early flights on Friday, then no flights through early Saturday.
- Delta: Operating a near normal schedule Friday.
- Frontier: No flights on Friday.
- JetBlue: Limited flights on Friday.
- Southwest: No flights on Friday.
- United: Limited flights on Friday
No one really knows, though, because Hurricane Florence is not expected to move much for the next few days:
We’ve had concerned friends and family calling from all over the country. They’ve all been inundated with news reports that Florence is poised to unleash disastrous wind and rain damage all over NC, including Raleigh, much like the cartoon depicts above. I assured them that Raleigh is not under water, still has power, and no trees have yet pierced the roof.
So what really gives with these reports of hurricane trouble and woe? One friend posited that it seemed to be an orgy of Fake Weather News, characterized by ridiculous exaggeration and hyperbole.
I get what he’s saying, and I’ve thought about that, too, this week. But I think the hurricane news disaster frenzy is unintentional, and, to a large extent, almost unavoidable.
With seven decades of experience with hurricanes, I realize how elusive accurate hurricane forecasting remains. It shouldn’t be, you’d think, but it is. Everything about hurricanes defies science. PhD meteorologists can’t accurately predict their track even when the storms are right under our noses, as Florence is right now, and those learned pros don’t get the force right, either. Just today, for example, the National Hurricane Center said Flo would strengthen when it got close to land, and yet it weakened. They have repeatedly gotten most things about Florence wrong, and that’s the best forecasting our country has to offer.
Another problem is the timing of reports. Most things posted online are based on forecast data at least a few hours old, and since hurricanes are so volatile, by the time we read something, it’s already way wrong. That phenomenon is even worse for storm news that gets printed in the newspaper. It’s seriously in error by the time we read it.
It isn’t like reporting on what a president said yesterday or on a vote in Congress. Weather reporting is elusive and time-sensitive. Weather reporting is always about what was, not what is. So it’s never correct.
Then what are news sources to do? The National Hurricane Center is a prime source, and everybody goes to it. But the hurricane doesn’t care about NHC forecasts. The storm does what it does, more often than not making fools out of the most experienced of meteorologists using the coolest tech and software models available.
The result is mass confusion. I imagine that news outlets have a love/hate relationship with hurricanes. Dramatic weather events sure grab eyeballs, but unless you are watching the storm in real time, the information is almost instantly out of date.
Too, perhaps catastrophic hurricanes like Katrina in New Orleans and Maria in Puerto Rico have inadvertently ratcheted up our collective expectations, establishing a hunger for incessant disaster reporting that news media seek to feed.
Maybe. But when the wind stops blowing and the skies clear off, the thrill dies, and the media moves on, with little follow-up coverage of the unexciting hard work of good people cleaning up and rebuilding.
I just hope that, when it’s over, Trump doesn’t come to North Carolina to toss out paper towels.