Waiting for Sally

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.

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3 thoughts on “Waiting for Sally

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  1. We stopped watching The Weather Channel (TWC) because of the sensationalism. Do I really need to listen to Jim Cantore and the Weather team tell me what I can find on local TV? NO. The local weather folks present the same radar images, surge and rainfall as TWC–everyone is receiving the same information from the NWS.
    We too will just wait out Sally and say a prayer for those who will be greatly impacted this storm.
    Great article Alex.

  2. This past summer, we were traveling south down the west coast of California during the fires, and the skies quickly turned from blood red to midnight moonless black.
    We slowly and carefully drove through a logging town and it began to snow huge flakes of ash. The town’s one fuel station hosted cars in queue around it in 3 concentric circles. Pressing on we quickly noticed no traffic passing us or ahead. After driving twenty miles, the sky ahead flickered an ominous kaleidoscopic red. Suddely before us a confusion of fire trucks, highway patrol, and Caltrans vehicle lights blocked our path, and we were told to turn back. The raging fires had crossed the road ahead traveling nearly the speed limit of the highway. There could be no way forward.

    We lamented having driven so far and now have to return not only all the way back, but be forced to backtrack and circumnavigate the state east. Most of the detour roads in this region of northern California Redwood country near the coast were unnavigable by our fifty feet of truck and Airstream. Adding to this, the omnipresence of new pockets of fires blocking our retreat pushed stress levels into post apocalyptic fear.

    Traveling back in space yet forward in time, darkness morphed into dusk, then the relief of faux morning light. Our plague face masks were now doing double duty, reducing the resistance of each smoke filled air breath. Exhausted, we found a layby rest area and hunkered down for the duration of the day. A day that was night, a night, day; An intended journey of around one hundred miles to our destination would become an Alice in Hellland excursion of over three hundred miles.

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