Blogs > City Editor's Blog

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Goodnight, Irene

I'm willing to concede that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene was more serious than I expected (see previous entry) if the weather forecasters are willing to concede how overblown, and largely incorrect, their buildup was.

First, let's not forget that when Irene formed in the Caribbean Sea, about a week ago, The Weather Channel and National Hurricane Center predicted the storm would skirt across the top of Cuba, turn northward, hit the bottom of Florida directly from the south and then peter out. Yeah, like that happened!

When that miscalculation became evident, they shifted into "May Hit North Carolina" mode, and to sex it up a little, predicted the Category 2 storm could strengthen into a Cat 3 or — gasp! — even a Cat 4!! Guess what: It never got above Cat 2, and it dropped to Cat 1 shortly after hitting North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Then, looking northward, the fear-mongering forecasters — "weather terrorists," a Facebook friend of mine calls them — laid out catastrophic scenarios for New York City, among them that Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and the Battery section of lower Manhattan could be "under water" and that the storm surge from New York Harbor could be so powerful that walls of water could overwhelm the streets of lower Manhattan's financial district.

By late Sunday morning, though, The Weather Channel's hyperventilator-in-chief, Jim Cantore, looked positively mystified as he stood in lower Manhattan amid only minimal flooding and moderate winds from what had been downgraded to — sigh! — a measly tropical storm before it reached the Big Apple.

Virtually ignored, meanwhile, was that here in New York's Mid-Hudson Valley, where the precipitation was forecast to be only moderate and winds were to top out around 40 mph, we got more than 7 inches of rain, wind gusts of over 60 mph, catastrophic flooding in some high-elevation communities, widespread tree damage and more than 100,000 power outages. And, oh yeah, the Thruway was shut down from Albany to Westchester County.

The prognosticators also missed, and the breathless on-air personalities underreported, the storm's widespread impacts in central New England, focusing their Sunday afternoon broadcasts instead on the Boston area and Cape Cod, which were supposed to bear the brunt of the storm but escaped largely unscathed.

It's like these people went into the weekend with an agenda and preconceived notions and weren't going to let something trivial, like reality, knock them off script. They just couldn't bear to admit — or change their reporting to reflect — the fact that this storm was not another Katrina (2005), Andrew (1992) or Agnes (1972).

Irene was bad, to be sure — about 20 deaths, millions of power outages and serious flooding make that fact hard to deny. But I'm still waiting to hear the forecasters say the storm didn't play out at all like they expected.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earl revisited?

Just about a year ago, in early September 2010, a hurricane named Earl was curving through the Caribbean and heading toward the East Coast of the United States.

Forecasters predicted — practically guaranteed! — that Earl would pound the Outer Banks of North Carolina and then follow the coastline northward, delivering a glancing blow to New York City (and us, here in the Hudson Valley) then score direct hits on Long Island and Cape Cod.

In reality, Earl took an unexpected northeastern turn, missed the Outer Banks, missed New York City, missed Long Island and missed Cape Cod.

Now, in late August 2011, we have Hurricane Irene, starting out along the same path as Earl and rendering the exact same forecasts.

I'm just sayin' ,,,


Whole lotta fakin' goin' on

The Great East Coat Earthquake of 2011 (sarcasm intended) struck just as my wife and son and I were leaving Woods Hole, Mass., on Tuesday at the end of our annual Cape Cod vacation. For the record, we didn't feel a thing, despite being a mere 5 miles from Martha's Vineyard, where President Obama was vacationing and where reporters insisted the quake was noticeable.

I bring this up not to make the point that I didn't feel an earthquake, but to comment on news coverage of the event — specifically by New York City radio station WCBS-AM 880, which I listen to often and respect and which is strong enough to be picked up on my car radio on the Cape.

Unaware of what had happened only minutes earlier, I turned on WCBS at 2 p.m., just as we started driving, to catch some top-of-the-hour news. When I heard talk of an earthquake, I assumed it was in one of the typical hot spots — perhaps California, Mexico or Japan. I quickly realized, though, that the news anchors were talking about people in Manhattan feeling the jolt, and then I began to grasp the full story — that the quake was centered in Virginia but felt over a wide area of the East Coast.

Soon, though, it became evident that in the New York City area, the quake had done nothing more than alarm people. There was no structural damage. There were no injuries. The city's airports and tunnels closed briefly, but only as a precaution.

Why, then, did WCBS spend more than two hours talking about the quake's impact (or, rather, lack of impact) in and around New York City? More than two hours — with no breaks for other news, sports recaps, stock market reports or the features with which the station usually fills its time. It was All Quake, All the Time, and often with nothing more than the same sound bites being repeated.

If the station had been covering the quake's impact in Virginia, where the Richter Scale reading was a rather shocking 5.8 and some real damage occurred, or in Washington, D.C., where spires atop the National Cathedral broke off, that would be one thing. But instead, the anchors and reporters spent more than two hours focusing almost entirely on an area where the event had absolutely no impact and where the shaking measured a measly 2.1 on the Richter Scale. In California, quakes that measure 2.1 rarely get even a paragraph in the newspapers. They certainly don't get two hours, or even two minutes, of coverage on all-news radio stations.

My point is merely this: The news coverage of an event should be commensurate with the magnitude of the event. And a magnitude 2.1 earthquake — especially on a day when Libya's leader was about to fall, the Dow Jones industrial average was racing toward a 322-point gain and a major hurricane was making a beeline toward the United States — does not justify magnitude 9.0 coverage.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Stock market silliness

Let me see if I have this right:

Investors dumped stocks today (to the tune of a 634-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average) because Standard & Poor's lowered the nation's long-term debt rating.

And what did these same investors buy with the money they moved out of the stock market? U.S. Treasury notes.

In other words, investors who are in panic mode because they don't trust the financial health of the United States are "protecting" their money by investing in ... THE UNITED STATES!

Yeah, that makes sense.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Irresponsible vote

Sen John Kyl, Republican of Arizona, said today that defense spending cuts insisted on by President Barack Obama as part of the deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling are "irresponsible" and amount to the "knowing destruction of the U.S. military.”

“Can you imagine anything more irresponsible than for the commander in chief of the military to promote, not just promote, but insist on the knowing destruction of the U.S. military as a means to threaten Congress?” Kyl said on the Senate floor, according to The Associated Press.

Kyl then voted in favor of the debt ceiling legislation.

Here's a dollar, John. Go buy yourself a spine.