Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Was Irene Really a Bust?

In the days leading up to Irene, the media was alive with dire warnings about how bad Irene could be. In the days following the hurricane, the buzz is about how terrible of a job the predictions were. Really? Or, rather, I should say "You've got to be kidding me!?"

If you were expecting a monster storm surge to flood into New York City like in the movie, "The Day After Tomorrow" (left), then of course you will be calling this storm a bust. That is Hollywood and nothing like that was ever predicted. The real storm surge predictions were 4-8 feet. In an area unaccustomed to hurricanes, such a storm surge could catch people unaware and prove to be deadly. It does not take much of a storm surge to be destructive. But never, ever was total destruction of New York City actually forecast. Many areas met this storm surge prediction and it was a good forecast.

The forecasts called for Irene to be a weak hurricane or strong tropical storm as she moved over top of New York City. At 9am EDT on Sunday, the center of Irene moved directly over Central Park- a remarkably accurate positional forecast which should be applauded, since one of the harder things to predict about a hurricane is its future position. When Irene moved over, the winds were at 65 mph- a strong tropical storm, as expected. Additionally, Central Park received nearly 7" of rain. That is nearly double the average amount of rain Central Park gets in August. What more do you people want before this is labeled significant?

If you are still not satisfied, we can chalk New York City up to being spared the worst and, if you really wish to believe so, over-hyped by the media (not the meteorologists). But the miss was pretty much only for there. It is extremely insensitive and just plain wrong to say Irene was a bust.

As of this writing, 2.5 million homes and businesses were still without power, 2-3 days after Irene came through. Roads throughout the Northeast are washed out or impassible due to fallen trees. Homes have been washed away. Entire towns have been flooded or cut off completely. Some towns have lost all their bridges. Some of these bridges that were washed out have been in service for over 150 years. Even part of the New York State Thruway remains closed. If this storm was such a bust...such a run-of-the-mill storm...nothing worse than a nor'easter...then why all the unprecedented destruction?

And that is just the material loss. At least 40 people have died from this "over-hyped bust" of a storm. Any loss of life is tragic. Those 40+ deaths translate to 40+ tragedies. Ask the family members of any of those who lost their lives if Irene was blown out of proportion. Perhaps they would have a different perspective.

The bottom line is this: even large weather systems like Irene have small subtitles that are not understood and certainly not possible to forecast. The geography of an area also plays a significant role in what exactly happens during a storm. Just because New York City was spared destruction does not mean other areas were. Look beyond your own backyard, your own town, even your own part of the state. It is easy to forget the sufferings of other and blast the forecasters for crying wolf. Just because the wolf didn't get you this time doesn't mean that next time you will be so lucky.

1 comment:

  1. We had trees down on Rt. 294 almost 3/4 of a mile from the end of the road in West Leyden. Funny thing is that the History Channel had aired an episode of Mega Disasters that showed what might happen if a Cat 3 struck NYC head-on. Also, reports are that I-90 is still closed EB between Exit 34A (I-481 interchange) and 25 (Amsterdam), and WB between Exit 25 and 29 (Little Falls). It took my uncle 7-8 hours to get home, about two hours away because of this flooding.