For those of us who live along the Gulf Coast, we now have an extra hurricane-related preparation threat to worry about. In addition to boarding up windows, moving patio furniture indoors, gassing up the car, stocking up on water and non-perishable food, and otherwise stopping everything else in our lives for two to three days, we now have to endure 24/7 cable news hyperbole.
Preparing for a hurricane before the invention of The Weather Channel, was in some ways, more predictable, calm, calculating—less emotional. In times past, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official, in a government-issued monotone, would announce the current wind speed and pressure and expected track and storm surge every four hours. Something was comforting about big brother giving the facts, nothing but the facts, ma’am.
Now when I turn on the TV—as long as I have power at the house—I suffer a cyclone of sensationalism: video of water covering a road in Tampa, palm trees swaying in the wind, a “weatherperson” standing on the beach with her hair blown about while waves roll in. “Hurricane Experts,” sitting in front of a bank of monitors back at the studio, now freely talk about “historic devastation,” “possible major hurricane development,” “could be the storm of the century,” “seek shelter now (preferably in Wisconsin),” all while TV ads for home insurance, generators, and chainsaws run between tightly choreographed segments.
I am convinced that this weather “news” is more intended for viewers outside the cone-of-probable-landfall than for those of us within. We live in an environment of sound bites and video clips that assault our consciousness every time we connect to the internet. It would be easy, from my porch rocking chair overlooking the bayou in South Mississippi, to believe that all of California has burned to the ground this summer by watching just cable news.
Likewise, all of the Gulf Coast is not underwater, all cars in driveways are not crushed by trees, all tin roofs are not blown off, and all weather reporters have not tipped over while standing in the wind. I don’t mean to minimize the threat that this hurricane, or any severe weather event, poses to individuals and property. I lived through Katrina, I know what damaging wind and surge can dish out. But I do wish that the national news outlets would not over-hype, aggrandize, and dramatize these storms for what I perceive is click-bait for ratings. I know what you are thinking, why don’t I just turn off the TV? I do, and now I hear, “From the National Weather Service in Mobile, the forecast for your area is . . .” in monotone. Just the facts, ma’am.