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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A surge of exaggeration

The death toll from Hurricane Ike stands at 21 right now.

Not to be flippant, but shouldn’t the body count be 140,000?

I mean, after all, as the storm closed in on Texas’ Gulf Coast on Thursday and Friday, forecasters announced that people who ignored the order to evacuate would face “certain death.”

Not “the chance of death.” Not “the risk of death.” “CERTAIN death.”

“Certain.” Dictionary definitions: inevitable, sure to happen, definite.

That means the forecasters were saying: “If you stay behind, you WILL die.”

Yet, somehow, only 21 people have been confirmed dead out of the estimated 140,000 in the storm’s strike zone who defied the order to leave. (Yes, I know the toll is likely to rise in the coming days, but some 2,000 people already have been rescued. That suggests the final tally of people who lost their lives in the storm won’t be alarmingly high.)

The bottom line here is that forecasters now have overestimated the destructive power of two consecutive Gulf of Mexico hurricanes: First Gustav, now Ike.

Gustav was supposed to be the second coming of Katrina for New Orleans, but it barely bruised the Crescent City.

Ike was supposed to submerge Galveston, bring a 50-foot storm surge, pummel Houston and wipe out vital oil refineries. It was a bad storm, yes, but it didn’t do any of those things.

Often in my blog, I poke fun at forecasters for their inability to predict the weather correctly, but their inaccuracy regarding these hurricanes is no laughing matter. It could have deadly results in the long run. In the wake of Gustav and Ike, forecasters are being criticized by many in the media for “crying wolf,” and that suggests people in hurricane-prone coastal areas are likely to take storm warnings less seriously in the future.

And then The Big One is gonna hit. And thousands will die because they ignored the warnings that so many times before were exaggerated.



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