This weekend the Eastern seaboard of the United States was hit by Hurricane (later downgraded to Tropical Storm) Irene. You may have heard about it. The last few days there was coverage across all media outlets and platforms.
At the Washington Post, we did our part with multiple streams of coverage: Photo galleries, videos, liveblogs, and good old fashioned newspaper stories. Our much-beloved blogging colleagues at the Capital Weather Gang busted out charts and projections in a torrent of posts that carefully followed the weather event.
We were hardly alone. All three cable networks had correspondents reporting live in shore towns like Cape May, N.J. and Long Beach, N.Y. Local television stations in various northeast markets preempted regularly scheduled programming to provide full coverage as well.
As we know now, the hurricane did not end up being as destructive as the most severe projections warned. But before the storm had even left the Northeast, the media attention drew the ire of critics.
Daily Beast contributor (and former Washington Post writer) Howard Kurtz wrote a critical piece that concluded that “cable news was utterly swept away” and “the tsunami of hype on this story was relentless.” Kurtz does make reference to the amount of destruction caused by the storm and of the fatalities, but still opines that there was too much hyperbolic coverage. Others took to Twitter to disparge the non-event of the storm.
Wired writer Ed Yong said on Google Plus:
Reading the coverage of the Irene aftermath, I am painfully reminded that the media (possibly much of the public?) only have two narratives when it comes to disasters: 1) Meh. It wasn’t so bad. Silly media hype. 2) WHY WEREN’T WE BETTER PREPARED??
Meanwhile, the region had to pick itself up from a very real, very damaging storm. In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin said, “We prepared for the worst and we got the worst in central and southern Vermont...We have extraordinary infrastructure damage.”
Willie Geist of MSNBC wrote on Monday that his sister’s house was destroyed by the storm. He quotes the Fairfield, Conn. police chief as saying, “People saying Irene was a bust? Come here.”
Towns were overrun by flooding. Roads were ripped apart. Historic homes were crushed by tree branches. Twenty-five people died. And old covered bridge in Vermont was swept away in a moment by the storm.
It may not have matched the worst-case projection, but Irene left a huge devestating wake of destruction in her path. The storm stood to impact 65 million U.S. residents from the Carolinas up through New England. Perhaps the fact that it only harmed a percentage of that number shows the warning messages worked.