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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 07:42 PM ET, 10/25/2012

Hurricane Sandy’s path to ‘WORST CASE SCENARIO’

The debates are over, the campaigns are hugging their talking points and the polls are moving in micro-increments. In other words, it’s an ideal time for some other news story to sweep in and wash the almost-over presidential campaign to the side for a few days.

Hurricane Sandy is promising to do just that, to judge from the forecasts out there. News mobilization is underway. Shirley Powell, a spokeswoman with the The Weather Channel, notes that five reporters are now busy deploying up and down the East Coast to broadcast news and images from the storm.

Weather.com is bracing for some serious stuff, but it’s not yet forecasting the end of the world:

Though we feel that it’s likely Sandy will hit some portion of the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic coast, there remains uncertainty with where this occurs and the exact magnitude of the impacts. The forecast involves a rare, complex atmospheric setup that will allow the system to pivot back to the northwest into the region rather than simply moving out to sea. [Bold text in original]

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang also treads lightly: Prepare for a “potentially intense storm.”

MSNBC cites a “major potential threat to the Northeast” from Sandy.

The Jamaica Observer observes that “Sandy is not a sweet girl.”

Reuters quotes a NOAA meteorologist who juggles caution with warning:

“It’s going to be a high-impact event,” said Bob Oravec, a lead forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hydro-Meteorological Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. “It has the potential to be a very significant storm with respect to coastal flooding, depending on exactly where it comes in. Power outages are definitely a big threat,” he said.

Boston.com preaches sanity: “If this path holds, this would put southern New England on the side of the storm that would produce very strong east winds. This would cause moderate to major damage along east facing beaches and shoreline.”

Paul Douglas of “Weather Nation TV” imparts wariness on the Huffington Post:

As Hurricane Sandy drifts north it may lose some of its hurricane characteristics, morphing into a violent Nor’easter as it passes the Outer Banks of North Carolina, most likely being pulled inland by an approaching trough of low pressure late Sunday and Monday. Although the precise path is still in doubt, there’s little question that Sandy will impact a wide swath of the east coast, and residents from Miami to Boston need to stay up on the forecast, discuss contingency plans, and be ready to take measures to lower the risk to life and property.

And then there’s Fox News, which breaks from the pack. Meteorologist Janice Dean dispenses with all the hedging (see video above):

If this track comes true, it is the WORST case scenario.. . . Now we still have days to go and a lot of information to kind of input into this tracking, but right now this storm looks like it’s going to be headed for MILLIONS of people. It’s going to be a transitioning system, meaning that “Perfect Storm”-type scenario — a tropical storm that transitions into an extra-tropical storm because a cold front, a very powerful Arctic cold front, is going to interact with this system and draw it in towards the Northeast, a very rare meteorological situation. So, this could be historic, folks. If you live across the East Coast, from the mid-Atlantic up to Maine and eastern Canada, you need to be paying very, very close attention to your local forecast. . . . As we head into early next week — the WORST CASE SCENARIO right now, moving right into millions upon millions of people, and this could cause extensive, catastrophic damage. I’m not just standing here making this stuff up. I want people to really pay attention to this because, again, this could be worst case scenario. . . . Our mouths dropped at the latest tracking that shows this system going right into New York City.

The Erik Wemple Blog’s Weather Apocalypse Meter counted three iterations of “worst case scenario” in a three-minute forecast, yielding the conclusion that this storm could RIP a 400-MILE-WIDE DEATH TRENCH FROM D.C. TO BANGOR. So is Fox News’s language too worst-case-scenario-ish? I passed along Dean’s words to the Weather Channel’s Powell, without mentioning their source. She responded, “We are always mindful of the language we are using to describe storms. This is a serious storm and all people in its path should take the necessary precautions to protect life and property. We are monitoring it closely and have not yet used the word catastrophic.“

Fox News’s Dean could well be right in ringing the bell more loudly than other media outlets. Perhaps Dean and Fox News have better information about the storm and are throwing caution to the (very strong) wind, the better to protect a densely populated region. Another possibility is that the hyperventilation of Fox News’s political coverage blows into its weather coverage as well. Events should clarify this matter.

By  |  07:42 PM ET, 10/25/2012

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