Journalism

The Main Thing I See in Florence Aftermath? Unwarranted Anger

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People always get angry and frustrated when a disaster strikes, but in the Florence aftermath, the levels are high for people who should be happy instead.

“Why did y’all lie?” That inquiry is one those in the media have heard in the Hurricane Florence Aftermath.

The question assumes we intentionally deceived everyone, up to and including the governor, about precisely where the storm was going.

We didn’t lie. Forecasters at multiple stations and multiple networks made it clear that this particular hurricane was wildly unpredictable. That unpredictability began when the storm developed into a Category 2 in the Atlantic at a speed that caught meteorologists by surprise.

It wasn’t any easier to predict at that point.

Initially, it was believed the storm might spin towards the North Atlantic. But then models shifted it towards the eastern U.S. coast. Then, computer models placed the “cone of uncertainty” — the possible range of landfall — as being anywhere from approximately Savannah, Georgia, to the Virginia-North Carolina border.

To top it off, while many models were pointing to a landfall near the North Carolina-South Carolina border (which is what ended up happening), a series of European models had Florence reaching the North Carolina coastline then almost stopping, churning at sea, then turning south and riding along the South Carolina coast before cutting west into Georgia.

Some have accused the media of “hyping” up the storm to “scare” everyone.

That’s part of a general distrust of the media that politicians, some more than others, are only too thrilled to perpetuate.

But people everywhere, whether they care to admit or not, want to know of the threat of severe weather before it reaches them. Most rational people understand, I believe, that weather forecasting isn’t and never will be an “exact” science because of the wildly complicated atmospheric conditions that combine to drive things like hurricanes one way or the other.

The best the media, and in particular the forecasters, can do — at any point — is be as honest as they can be and let people know what they think will happen but also what could happen.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster brought in a meteorologist from the National Weather Service who saw the same models meteorologists at broadcast outlets saw. They made an informed decision based on the possibility of that series of European models that the entire South Carolina coastline was at risk and issued an evacuation order. The next day, when the models began focusing a little more on a North Carolina landfall, the governor walked back that evacuation order for the southern-most coastal S.C. counties.

In the end, the consensus forecast was literally only about two miles off in terms of where Florence actually made landfall.

So why are people so angry?

Some say they shouldn’t have had to be inconvenienced with an evacuation. Some complain that they shouldn’t have had to miss days at school, which may or may not have to be made up later. Some complain that they shouldn’t have lost wages because of missed work.

The missed wages part is perhaps the most understandable. But I’ve received numerous emails from banks and credit cards offering special arrangements if I was directly affected by the hurricane. There will still be a loss for many people. But they could have had an even bigger loss if the storm came closer to where they were.

Before the storm had arrived, you wouldn’t believe how many people — mostly school-age kids — were asking whether they would have school. Some even said they didn’t feel like they should have to be in school if a hurricane was coming. The governor and the school districts clearly agreed.

Now some of these same kids are angry that they got out of school for four days or so. Some are mad because they don’t like the idea of having to make up those days later, although since the governor declared a state of emergency, they may not have to.

The people who claim that an evacuation causes a lot of inconvenience are absolutely right. But a storm that directly impacts their neighborhood, causing damage to property through downed trees, electrical outages and flooding — something our area has seen for three years in a row — is an even bigger inconvenience.

 Call me crazy, but I’m glad Florence stayed away.

The media and local, state and federal authorities could have just not talked about Florence. They could have just ignored it and allowed people to fend for themselves while hoping for the best.

But the people who were really inconvenienced by actual storm damage would have been yelling even louder.

And they’d have a much more legitimate reason to be angry.

Let’s face it: there are really only a handful of scenarios that could have come out of this situation:

  • You over-prepared and the storm did little to no damage.
  • You under-prepared and the storm did major damage.
  • You prepared in line with what the storm did.

The media (and your local leaders) try to make sure you do either the first or third in that list.

The middle item, clearly the worst-case scenario of the three, is what most people didn’t see happen.

I’d say those people are pretty fortunate.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.