HUR TROPICAL STORM BLOGGING VII

Well, the worst of it seems to have passed. I managed to get through it without losing power, Internet access, or DirectTV. Regular blogging will re-commence in a bit.

Update (0826): Meanwhile, add Glenn Reynolds and Gregg Easterbrook to the “this was seriously overhyped” list. Glenn reports,

[A] reader in DC who would rather remain anonymous emails that the closing of the Metro system, etc., has drastically expanded the economic impact of what was, basically, a rainstorm with 40-mile-an-hour winds, and suggests that it’s the result of having too many underemployed disaster-agency bureaucrats around.

Gregg notes,

As the storm of hype continues, bear two other things in mind. First, Isabel is a Category 2 event. Sixty-five worse storms–Categories 3, 4, and 5–have made landfall in the United States in the past century, according to NOAA . The media is so disaster-hype-prone at the moment–partly because disaster predictions keep the ever-larger demographic of senior citizens glued to the tube–that Isabel will be spoken of as some kind of weather event without precedent. It’s been worse 65 times in the last century.

Second, you’ll hear that property damage is unprecedented. This will be cited by hype-meisters to justify the notion of Isabel as a phenomenal mega-event, and cited by enviros to back claims the hurricanes are increasing in intensity. But of course property damage will set new records: property is becoming more valuable. Between inflation, the strong market in housing values and a 30-year trend of building upscale housing in coastal areas, with each passing year, what stands in the paths of hurricane is simply worth more. All the National Weather Service record-damage hurricanes (Andrew, $26.5 billion, 1992; Hugo, $7 billion, 1989; Floyd, $4.5 billion, 1999; Fran, $3.2 billion, 1996; Opal, $3 billion, 1995) are recent. This is a result of rising property values, not rising storm intensity.

This is clearly a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation for meterologists and the press. If they said, “Look, this is going to be a fairly minor storm, don’t panic” there would have been a congressional investigation based on the couple of people who got killed doing something stupid and some significant cumulative property damage. Not to mention that we’re still not at the point where precise forecasting on these things is possible. But, clearly, Easterbrook is right: there were a lot of people glued to local newscasts and the Weather Channel who would otherwise be watching/doing something else. This creates a powerful incentive for drama.

FILED UNDER: OTB History
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.