The Washington Post

Frankenstorm Sandy and our weather inflation


It’s a Frankenstorm!

I don’t even know what that is. Sandy combines all my worst fears: giant, flooding storms, characters from “Grease” and ill-conceived portmanteaus.

All I know is that it is definitely coming and we had better be prepared for judgment! They say that every time, but this time they mean it.

The coverage, as far as I can tell from the bunker where I am strapped into an inflatable raft with 40 days worth of supplies, sounds something like this:

“You know how we usually say that a hurricane is coming that is going to completely ravage the Northeast corridor and cause everyone serious, life-altering discomfort? Usually, we kind of mean that. But now we really, really mean it. Gale-force winds! Locusts and hailstorms! If you have anything that you would regret never having said to your local power lines, make time to tell them now.”

“This is a snow-i-cane, a vortex of doom that will suck you in, bewilder you, and leave you stranded and desolate, similar to the experience of watching ‘Cloud Atlas’ in theaters.”

“This storm is so bad that we are being forced to use really, really terrible metaphors to describe it. It is a perfect storm. It is a snow vortex. It is like if an abominable snowman met, courted and wed a tidal wave, and once their careers settled down they decided to have a child, and that child was A FULMINATING STORMBEAST OF RAGE AND DESTRUCTION! IT IS SO BAD THAT WE JUST SLIGHTLY MISUSED THE WORD FULMINATING!”

It is strange when the people who spend their days crying wolf see what they seem to be convinced is an actual wolf.

Almost as bad as any actual havoc the storm plans to wreak is what it’s showing us about our weather language inflation. Our scale currently runs from RECORD-SETTING MASSIVE STORM (slight drizzle) to LITERALLY THE APOCALYPSE (record-setting massive storm). If we make it out of this one, we must demand a reset. This is getting exhausting. My default level of relaxation is a mild panic, and when you actually want to me have a panic I rove around with steam coming from my ears, vital organs bursting under strain.

Look, the Mid-Atlantic is ill-equipped for this. We excite easily. We cancel school if snow is expected to fall but not hit the ground. The closest thing to a natural disaster that has hit us in a while was when we got trapped beneath the debt ceiling.

We know hyperbole. Hyperbole winters here. And summers here, for that matter. We are accustomed to overblown fusses and panics, and to the inevitable anticlimax.

So to describe a Really Massive Threat, we aren't just at a loss for adjectives. We’re at a loss for expletives. We have to resort to all capital letters. HISTORY, we bellow, HAS NEVER RECORDED ANY SUCH THING!

I am currently cowering in a bunker, canning goods. If you asked me to sacrifice my firstborn, I would give it serious thought.

On the bright side, Hurricane Sandy has saved me a lot of money that I would otherwise have spent renting bad horror movies. Who needs horror when you have the weather?

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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