Hurricane Irene was covered so thoroughly as to cause mass-hysteria and extreme stress on Long Island and in NYC. Over-cautiousness and overly covered, Irene posed less of a threat than forecasters reported. As a direct result, the populous raced to local stores; families bickered over where to put the kids, and numerous residents packed up and traveled north.
One has to commend NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association) for not giving credence to the local news stories. They simply reported their findings and issued out warnings. Certainly their cautiousness may have been correct, especially in the case of hurricane surge maps. The fact that Irene did not stay strong and hit the coast as a full-force hurricane was largely based upon the fact that she spent most of her time on land. No one could have forecast if she would turn to sea or hit the land, and NOAA did their best to average the possibilities in order to see that the most people were out of her way as could be managed.
What was wrong with the media coverage was that they screamed, “Wolf!” when it came to the areas that might be hit by the hurricane, causing people to run out to buy unneeded supplies (the bread aisle was completely decimated) and hoard back-up generators as though they were gold. Lines of residents fought over gas, lining their cars up and blocking intersections, fights broke out at Home Depot over sold-out generator stock, and neighbors gave advice and directions on how to build up sandbag walls. Plywood quickly sold out, in all thicknesses, causing some people to purchase the thinnest grades, which are virtually useless against the force of debris thrown by hurricanes. Lowes and Home Depot stocks soared.
Thousands of families were forced into the stress of trying to figure out where to go, what to take, and how to get to shelters. Families with pets overflowed at the local pet-friendly shelters, causing some owners to be turned away. Those owners often opted to stay with their pets, even in storm-surge areas that were deemed unsafe. Police and local law enforcement officers urged residents that the storm would become ferocious and unmanageable, and that they “didn’t want to have to come to scoop you out in those circumstances”.
For what turned out to be a windstorm, and instead caused more damage to Vermont than NY, the media should have stuck to the facts. Come the next hurricane, residents will be loath to follow the directions of the media due to their over-forecasting. If The Weather Channel and local news keeps up the hype, people will forget to turn them on and concentrate, hopefully, upon more solid facts, such as those forecast by NOAA.