N.B. on Irene

I am one who said Irene was over-hyped, and this article shows that it was — only in it’s obsessive concentration with New York City — but Irene was one of the costliest hurricanes ever. Kris and I kept wondering how the good folks were doing in North Carolina, and then we wondered about New Hampshire. N.B. at The Economist has this to say about the over-hyped issue:

I am glad I wasn’t arguing that the storm was overhyped, but I’m afraid I may have missed the point, too. Although Irene did not cause massive damage in New York or Washington, other places exist, too, and the storm hit many of them hard. In fact, Irene may end up proving to be one of the ten costliest disasters in American history. TheNew York Times has the story:

Industry estimates put the cost of the storm at $7 billion to $10 billion, largely because the hurricane pummeled an unusually wide area of the East Coast. Beyond deadly flooding that caused havoc in upstate New York and Vermont, the hurricane flooded cotton and tobacco crops in North Carolina, temporarily halted shellfish harvesting in Chesapeake Bay, sapped power and kept commuters from their jobs in the New York metropolitan area and pushed tourists off Atlantic beaches in the peak of summer.

The flooding in Vermont, in particular, is one of the under-covered stories of the past week. Amtrak was forced to suspend train service in the state because four crucial railroad bridges were unusable in the wake of the storm. Nearly three dozen other bridges were “swept away” entirely, according to the Times. If Irene does turn out to be as costly as the early estimates suggest, the people who implied it was overhyped or not as bad as expected will have to eat crow. I’ll start: $7 billion-$10 billion is a lot of damage, and at least as bad as I expected. Sorry.

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  • Thanks for posting this; having lived through Katrina, Rita, and stayed home for Ike, there’s no hype in the hype to be safe, and be wise about: one’s life, the lives of your families and neighbors, and your livelihood.

    Say what you will about hype, but here’s no hype: Nature bats last. You really never know what will happen until afterwards. Obvious enough, to be sure, and perhaps we’ll all have some sobriety in our pre-storm comments. I kept saying to friends on the right coast before Irene: Don’t duck: Run! None of us knew what kind of damage would follow.

    Now, our prayers need to continue for everyone from North Carolina to Vermont. Like the folks in Louisiana and Mississippi who don’t live near major urban centers with major media coverage, they need help. They’re not thinking about the pre-storm hype.

  • Deets

    I certainly feel for those in NY and VT, but living on the Eastern side of Pennsylvania, I feel that it was over-hyped. Worse yet was the fact that my congressman is seeking (sought) federal disaster relief. It rained hard; we lost power; a few buildings were flooded; many basements took water. All those things add up to a nuisance in my area. Not a disaster. Unfortunately, the hype continues and in perception, it is a disaster in this area, too.

  • I understand what MikeK is saying, but over hype this time that under performs means next time people will say that they don’t need to do anything. One of the issues with Katrina and most other storms are the people that refuse to leave when they need to. If you ask them, almost every time they will say something like ‘it is never as bad as what they say, I’ll be fine.’

  • Amanda F

    I definitely don’t feel that it was over-hyped. TI think the real story in this is that the hurricane ended up being a lot weaker than they had predicted it to be.
    The NHC gave the best forcast of their current ability, and the politicians were wise to heed their warnings (although one could make a case for some media panic and over-hype)
    I’m no expert, not by a long-shot, but I took an undergrad meteorology class in the year 2000 and we had a unit that focused on some scenarios that have had experts worried for decades. I only remember two scenarios on this list. One of which was the New Orleans situation which unfortunately came to pass. The other one was the New York city and vicinity storm surge scenario. Supposively, it won’t even take a major hurricane to cause a major disaster due to the ocean geography of this area. I really think they dodged a bullet on this one, and when you see a gun aimed at you and millions of people, you don’t just cross your fingers hope that it “blows over”, you get people evacuated.
    The NHC admitted post-storm that they don’t have a great grasp on hurricane strength forcasting. They have improved leaps and bounds on hurricane track forcasting. I hope they get the funding they need to improve this (they have been getting slashed.)

  • Ann F-R

    We just heard, today, that power has finally been restored to all the folks who lost power here in MD (hundreds of thousands of customers). We’re grateful it wasn’t worse where we live.

  • For those who argue “it’s never as bad as they say,” this story needs to be told, and told often. Because, often, “they” don’t “say” just how bad things really are for so many people that perhaps don’t live in the “big cities.”

  • DRT

    It took a week for many people around here to get power back. I have two generators so the only thing we did not have was AC, and if it was hot enough I could have swung that too.

  • Unfortunately, the damage to Vermont will be in the millions. The storm and resulting floods wiped out several highly traveled tourist routes through the state at very beginning of the lucrative fall tourist season. In addition to that the state was just beginning to harvest crops that had been long in growing this year due to floods from heavy snow and spring rains in May & June this year. This flood rivaled historic floods of 1938 and 1927 in the state. To say it was over-hyped may be true for NYC and Washington DC … but for the people of Vermont, NY and NH there wasn’t any hype in the world that could have prepared them for this.

  • Damage to Vermont will be in the billions, not millions. The storm did not just wipe out highly traveled tourist routes, it shut down just about every road in the state. 700 homes were destroyed. This is the kind of event that ends a lot of life as we know it and is a turning point in history. Yes, the hype did not reach that level.

    I do think there is a theological aspect to all this. That old saying, “People propose, God disposes” applies. What is a greater reminder of our small place in the larger scheme of things than such a storm. We humans have tried as hard as we can to fight for our sense of control and all they hype is part of that as we collectively and individually try to live a myth that we are in charge.

    Of course the other side here is that old testament prophetic theme. We know that the climate is warmer and more unstable than it was and we have prophets telling us it is our own fault because we have ignored natures laws and God’s commandments to care for and steward the earth. But Israel was caught up in their idolatry and so are we. The time will come where we are figuratively hauled off to Babylon and weep for what we have lost.

  • If you focus too much on the forecast of wind speeds, which is what the standard Saffir-Simpson scale is based on, then yes, it was overhyped in some quarters (read, the national media) and for some locations (read, the big metropolitan locations). But, as this storm has proven once again, hurricanes have other hazards associated with them than wind. In this case, the flooding was the biggest catastrophe, but winds will get media attention over flooding rains almost every time, at least as far as hurricanes are concerned.

    Now, I for one agree with keeping the current hurricane classification scale more-or-less wind based. Most of the time, the wind (and associated storm surge, which depends on the wind) is the most significant hazard, especially for the higher-end hurricanes (think Andrew, 1992). But, as we’ve seen with Irene (and as Texas saw with Allison in 2001, and the Northeast U.S. saw with Agnes in 1972), flooding can sometimes be the most significant impact of a storm, even though it may be “just” a Tropical Storm by the S-S scale.

    In short, it’s an issue of communication, and it’s one of the areas meteorologists can improve on, no matter what their stripe.

  • In addition, as Amanda F (4) pointed out above, our ability to forecast hurricane tracks far outstrips our ability to forecast intensity. In addition, it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly which locations will receive which amount of rainfall, which is often critical for these high-end events. Let me tell you, we definitely need the steady funding to improve our understanding of these high-end events. Though we are making steady progress, the research often takes many years to mature into operational forecasting improvements, but I have no doubt we will eventually be much better than we are now, if history is any guide.

  • Brian Rutherford

    If you think the storm was over-hyped, you live someplace other than Upstate NY. In the region surrounding Albany, entire towns were wiped-out with flooding. A family friend’s basement filled with water in 3 minutes and two of his cars are in the bottom of a resevoir. In another town, one side of the street is now gone. An entire grocery store in another town has disappeared.

  • Terry

    I didn’t exactly find the warnings to be over-hyped, nor the preparations and precautions. We must be wise and prudent.

    However, I thought the media worked very hard at hyping an ongoing story, trying to make it huge, perilous and frought with danger that did not exist at the every turn they were talking about. The hype to make a story and keep viewers seemed evident to me. There was a lot less that was news before we had to fill 24-hour news coverage.

  • Vermont has been destroyed. It will take 3 years to make temporary fixes to the major roads and bridges, and 10 years to make permanent fixes.

  • Just a follow-up…

    Of course, there will always be those people, for whom having survived a natural disaster, will learn of another on the horizon (like a hurricane), and presume that they will make it through that one as well without any difficulty.

    This was the case with Katrina, especially with Rita, and Ike proved to be an important corrective to both for residents of Houston and East Texas.

    Nevertheless, people will incorrectly assume that they will not merely survive, but thrive beyond such disasters. No one wants to be Chicken Little, but as the fall arrives in the Gulf Coast, the tropical storms & hurricanes move increasingly to the west, and so we can expect that more “over-hype” will occur in the name of safety.

    And, we will most likely learn after the storms pass of people who thought, “We rode out the storms before, and we thought we could do it again…”, and they do so with *avoidable* consequences…

  • Great responses so mine will be brief. I was on the East coast during Irene and do not feel the hype was unwarranted in terms of notifying the public to take as many precautions as possible. However, I take issue with the tendency of current day media to instill fear and sensationalism no matter what the story of the day is. I could not go anywhere without the news blaring at me – in the hotel lobby, where I was teaching, etc.

    The only news I watch is the News Hour on PBS because they present the stories without the melodrama and hostility that is so indicative of today’s media. The other thing I noticed is that we Americans only seem to tune in if we’re potentially affected. Everyone on the East coast was aware of the pending hurricane. My west coats peers seemed somewhat out of touch because the impact didn’t involve them directly. It makes me wonder how much I tune out of the world because it’s not directly in my face.