Have the Weather Channel and rest of media overhyped Irene?


Wow. Hurricane Irene -- or maybe Tropical Storm Irene to any New Yorkers reading this -- hasn't hit the Northeast yet. But already -- and yes, I'm mixing my catastrophe metaphors here -- the fallout has begun. News that the sustained winds of what some have billed as "the storm of the century" or "the East Coast's Katrina" have already dipped below 100 mph before the storm even makes its first landfall in North Carolina have sparked what you might call Friday Night Quarterbacking.

Consider what one expert wrote tonight:

The demise of Irene has already begun. There is no visible eye. The storm intensity is down to 99 mph. This would be a low-end category 2 or a strong category 1 storm, while 36 hours ago some predicted a catastrophic category 4 storm. Air Force Reserve aircraft have found that Irene's eyewall has collapsed, and the central pressure has risen -- rising pressure means a weakening storm.

Already on social networks and elsewhere, there's a growing chorus of complainers that the storm has been overhyped, and many are blaming the media -- specifically the Weather Channel, a for-profit venture that flourishes on weather misery  -- for overdramatizing the storm for TV ratings and the dollars that flow with that. It's not just bloggers in pajamas in their mother's basement who are griping; even the Washington Post has joined the crowd of pre-Irene skeptics. It specifically went after the Weather Channel:.

While expressing great admiration for Weather Channel hurricane expert Bryan Norcross, Ryan calls “pretty apocalyptic” his vision for the course of Irene.

Weather watchers with the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang pronounce a similar skepticism. Gang member Dan Stillman: “It’s not going to be unprecedented for North Carolina or even the mid-Atlantic. And given that it will probably be no worse than a low-to-mid-end Category 1 when it gets to New York City, it’s not going to be their Katrina — even though significant flooding and damaging winds are possible, both inland and especially toward the coast, in both the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.”

So...are the skeptics right? Is Irene going to be the hurricane/tropical storm equivalent of all hat and no cattle? My answer is something that seems impossible for anyone living in the 21st Century: Let's just wait and see! It's already clear that Irene won't be the Cat 3 or even Cat 4 monster some were hyping a day or two ago; on the other hand, some otherwise unmemorable, no-name storms have been known to cause lengthy power outages, dangerous downed trees, and basement flooding in my neck of the woods. I'm preparing for those things -- which are pretty bad, "East Coast Katrina" or no "East Coast Katrina" -- to happen again this weekend. So should you.

Still, it will be a big problem, in my opinion, if we wake up Monday morning and learn that Irene was hugely overhyped. Why? Because some day in this century, there really will be "the storm of the century." But if the public officials who ended up looking silly with their hair-trigger evacuations and cancellations of everything from trains to baseball games issue the exact same warnings then, will anyone listen to them -- or the Weather Channel?