Of Weather and Wolves

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Hurricane Irene crossed through Southern New Jersey last night causing a lot of panic, but leaving little damage in her wake. She caused a few downed trees and brought a lot of rain. Reports of tornadoes came and went. A lot of homes lost power, but overall it wasn’t “that bad.” Even my grandmother, who lives not 100 yards from the bay, didn’t flood and her home took no damage (it took my uncle only a half hour to clear the resulting debris from the yard). A lot of people that were questioning the impending destruction are now saying, “I told you so.”

I am glad they were right. I am glad my friends and family are safe.

It is hurricane season, so in time another storm will grow somewhere in the Atlantic and threaten the coastline. If the government doesn’t get lax in their precautions, evacuations may again be advised – or mandatory. People will be warned, but the hype of Irene will be the “reason” to ignore those warnings. People will say: “Oh, please, we’ve heard this all before.” It’s true. We have heard it all before: That’s how warnings sound when threats repeat.

I will agree that it’s annoying. No one wants to be inconvenienced. No one wants to be forced from their homes – or even have it suggested that it is the best thing to do. It makes sense to simply stay indoors when storms come because we are raised that our homes can keep us safe. Plus, people usually take the path that requires the least effort. Sitting on a couch would fall into that category. Then there are people who have “lived through it before.” Add some good old-fashioned stubbornness and naiveté and you end up with a lot of people that think they know better than the experts.

Still, in Irene’s wake there is almost an air of disappointment that she did not live up to expectations. We could blame the hype – but why? Anything on TV has to be presented in a certain way to get viewers. When it is news or weather it becomes irresponsible to sensationalize, yes, but that won’t make it stop (they have commercials, too). Who can we trust to present the news without glamour? I don’t know. But, it’s become our burden to seek out straight reporting. I don’t know if it exists.

Was the storm as bad as they said it would be? No. Could it have been? Yes. Meteorology doesn’t always yield correct data. How can it? Storms aren’t machines created by man; they are spawned by nature. They have no minds and therefore no intent. Experts can only take what they have learned and inform the public of their predictions – sensational or not.

When the next big hurricane approaches the shores it will arrive on the same red carpet, under the same spotlight and with the same carnival barkers and trumpets. People will be urged to take precautions. Evacuations may again occur. Some people will look back on Hurricane Irene and say, “Ah, come on, didn’t we hear this last time?” It’s a reasonable reaction. But, when we are in the line of possible destruction it becomes the job of any weather service to cry wolf.

It reminds me of being a kid, being told to look both ways before crossing the street. It was a warning I heard over and over, whenever I got close to a road. It got annoying. But, I wouldn’t stop that practice just because I never get hit by a car.

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