Get Real: Hurricane Irene Should Be Renamed “Hurricane Hype”


hurricane-irene6By Patrick Michaels

Over the years the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has employed the world’s best experts on Atlantic tropical cyclones, from “Dr. Bob” Simpson, to the mediagenic Neil Frank and on to the current director, Bill Read.

The lifesaver-in-chief was probably Frank, who indefatigably crisscrossed the nation educating the public to the dangers-hidden and obvious-that accompany these curiously seductive weather systems. His era was one of many innovations, including extensive use of satellites, and tailoring the “names” of storms to the culture where they roam in order to attract attention.

One of Frank’s nightmare scenarios goes like this: A strong hurricane threatens a heavily-populated resort area with few escape routes, such as the North Carolina Outer Banks. Vacationers reluctantly abandon their $20,000/week palaces on Pine Island for 36 hours in an immobile SUV conga line, drenching tropical showers, and no toilets. The storm falls apart or unexpectedly turns away from land. Lotsa folks rent for more than a week, so they return, an equally strong storm shows up, and they don’t leave. The title of this movie is “how to die in a 10,000 square foot house-boat”.

We have just lived through something pretty close to this nightmare. Last April 27, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 41 died because they disregarded a weather warning.

While the number of strong tornadoes is hardly changing (there may even be a slight decline), the number of tornado warnings has increased exponentially as Doppler radar picks up twisting circulations embedded in thunderstorms that could produce a ground tornado.

The number of false positives has so cheapened the currency of tornado warnings that few now bother to interrupt their work when one is given. While the very good forecasters at the National Weather Service were not at all happy when veteran TV meteorologist James Spann blamed a large number of Tuscaloosa deaths on the very high false alarm rates, he had a point.

Now on to Hurricane Irene:

Up until now (Friday evening) Irene has been very similar to 1985 hurricane Gloria, though a bit weaker. But the level of hype-because of its projected path near all of the I-95 major cities-is similar to that of 26 years ago.

See the track here.

When Gloria didn’t kill enough people to suit CBS’s Dan Rather-a serial hurricane hyper who made his career on 1961 Hurricane Carla-he yelled at poor Neil Frank on live TV.

What had happened is that the night before landfall, Gloria took a sudden 40-mile jog to the east. The cyclone slid harmlessly east of the big cities, showing her weaker western side instead of the destructive northeast corner.

Irene has put on a remarkably similar show. Within the limits of forecasting error, Irene’s projected path makes it was impossible to rule out a major disaster. But, as a dangerous Category 3 storm within two days of land, something similar to what happened to Gloria occurred. Instead of going slightly off course, the power of her winds dropped markedly, at least as measured by hurricane hunter aircraft. Because it is prudent to not respond to every little tropical cyclone twitch (such as Gloria’s jog or Thursday’s wind drop), the Thursday evening forecast was virtually unchanged, the Internet went thermonuclear, and the Weather Channel’s advertising rates skyrocketed. From that point on, it became all Irene, all the time. With this level of noise, the political process has to respond with full mobilization. Hype begets hype.

A day later, the smart money is still riding a very Gloria-like track, but with a cyclone that will be weaker than projected. It is doubtful that Irene will even cough up eight bodies (the number killed by Gloria), though power outages east of where the center makes landfall (probably on Long Island) may be extensive.

As I complete this, there’s another tropical depression out in the Atlantic, and a couple more on the way in the very near future. Suppose one of these takes a similar path, except that it improbably threads the needle of the Mid-Atlantic Bight and makes landfall immediately to the west of New York City as a Category 3 storm. How many people will the hyping of Irene have killed?

That’s how Hurricane Hype followed by Hurricane Insanity leads to hurricane death.

I see a solution, in all places, in Washington DC, where a group of crackerjack weather forecasters, led Jason Samenow, have set up the Capital Weather Gang ( It’s become the go-to group for potentially severe winter storms here (including hurricanes), and, because they are serving a smaller community than, say, NHC, they aren’t under the massive scrutiny of a politicized media. Is it time for similar diversity to develop all over the high-stakes world of tropical cyclones?

Or would that be an abject disaster? Consider if there are five competing hurricane forecasters, four suggesting evacuation while the fifth says “stay put”, and the fifth one is wrong. Surely most people would choose to stay, with disastrous results. Given the nature of the Internet, such an experiment is sure to run in the near future.

{ Newscenter}


  1. Yes indeed it was one big HYPE!!!

    Good for the local stores and the weather agencies

    Where was Bloomberg by the real/(snow) storm???

    I guess here it doesn’t cost him money!

    It’s easy to tell people to evacuate since they are paying for it.

  2. I think this Hurricane is different to the 1985 one. Firstly, we had a historic unprecedented amount of rain this month. And secondly there’s a tornado, and extreme level of rain watch in affect. And so you’re right about Irene not really being a factor. But flooding, and tornado conditions are a very serious factor still in affect. And well better the hype and sensation then being sorry that’s for sure.

  3. Floridians are laughing at all this hype. It is a category 1 for NY, but, of course, any storm or hurricane is serious, but here the hype is going overboard. This appears to be more of a ‘political’ storm.

  4. This Irene nonsense is totaly over hypt! This is turning out to be gornish mit gornish! For those rich folks who own palaces next to the water, let them worry about it. Leave the rest of us alone! The media are all apikursim who don’t believe that the RBS”O runs the world.

  5. Chachomim, hizaharu bedivreichem!! It is dangerous to post an article like this when in some areas, people’s lives may be in danger. Don’t give them a heter to disregard evacuation orders!! Maybe there is some hype in terms of the extent of the storm, but do NOT play down the danger to life that is very real in some areas. If, as the article states, there is a likelihood of power outages in Long Island (and that includes large Jewish population centers in the Five Towns and nearby Far Rockaway) and flooding in these low areas, it is pikuach nefesh for people who are ill and are dependent upon medical devices that need electricity. If they were to pooh-pooh the danger and not evacuate to safer places where electric power is assured, they will be endangering their lives. Venishmartem me’od lenafshoseichem – better be cautious rather than risk loss of health and life – and don’t listen to the zilzul of this article and the commenters above.

  6. We need to remember though, that for a couple of days last week, this hurricane WAS a full force LEVEL NUMBER THREE storm; there was also a real possibility that it would even escalate into a LEVEL NUMBER FOUR! Furthermore, it was an — abnormally — exceedingly large storm: Its cloud field was spread out over EIGHT HUNDRED MILES and its violent winds shot out for TWO HUNDRED MILES. And just of now (on Motzoei Shabbos), NINE PEOPLE have been killed by it. Yes, it HAS BEEN a good bit of a monster! (See and

    Boruch HaShem though, over Shabbos, the hurricane went down to Level Number One. This is definitely a very great Chesed HaShem, and we must definitely constantly deeply thank Him for bringing it down and sparing us the full force of this — what was hitherto a — very nasty super-storm.

    But two days ago, no one knew that it was going to go down!!!!

    So, totally correctly, they did what had to be done.

    Every day, when we ride in a car, we hold ourselves into the seats with buckled up seat and shoulder belts. Now, there is only an extremely small chance that we will be in involved in a collision and need to be held into our places by the belts. Yet, we still always use the belts in order to have them in place at the one rare time when we will need them.

    All of our safety preparatons and precautions are like this. We prepare for the very worst possible calamity, but then hope anf pray that it will never happen.

  7. To # 6 – Moshiach is coming: Of course we are mechuyav to take precautions. But that is were it should end. There is no need for all this fear mongering that the wicked media & Bl$$mberg are trying to stir up! They are trying to create a panicked frenzy which is totaly uncalled for. I was in Shoprite on McDonald ave., on erev Shabbos & every shota ben bino shel shotim was loaded up with gallons upon gallons of water. I saw one idiot lady mamesh grab 4 boxes of the 20 oz. Cherrios off the shelf with a frenzied concerned look on her face! I never realized how dumb & stupid humans can be. Those who don’t believe ke hu ze kllal in the Borie Olam! Bl$$mberg is trying to correct his winterstorm blunder by trying to whip up the dumb Democrats into a frenzied state!

  8. First I thought the hurricane was because of the lack of tznius. Now that we see it’s not so bad, my conclusion is that we have just the right amont of tznius. Me k’amcho yisroel.

  9. As a lifetime student of earth science, I’m really surprised that anyone is so up themselves to question the need to protect people by warning them of weather hazards.

    20/20 hindsight is fine after the problem is passed. Before that no one has a clue exactly what will occur or what precautions will have to be taken so they go by what they know from past situations.

    I don’t know if a lot of the people out there that are so cocky know they can’t overcome a 6 foot surge from the ocean. Sure, 6′ doesn’t seem like a lot…but when you consider it’s BACKED UP by the entire 150 mile 100 plus winds pushing the ENTIRE ocean up yours. It’s not so much like a little wave on the beach now, is it?

    Apparently none of you have experienced even so much as an ocean storm, like we have, similar to Winter Storms on the Oregon Coast. A huge storm is not friendly. It doesn’t care about you, your religion, who you know or what you do. A foot of flood water can sweep you off of your feet and kill you.

    I’d think that all of you should be happy that there are people looking after your collective stupidity and drop the bravado.

    Personally I’d listen to ANY weather related warnings that were presented.

    Over my life: Tornados (6), Lightning storms (too many to count), Tsunami, quakes….

    Hype? No. If they didn’t and massive people got killed then who would you blame?

    Just a thought.