Is Hurricane Sandy being overhyped?

As someone who has written over 8,000 words on a storm that is still 1,600 miles from the coast of Rhode Island, I may not be the best qualified person to answer the question “Is Sandy being overhyped?”. I can honestly say I haven’t watched one minute of television coverage regarding Sandy. I left the TV business, remember? I am among those who consume most of their media online. So, this analysis will come from the online perspective only – specifically what I’m seeing on Facebook and Twitter. First, a little background on the overall setup and why in some circles it is all Sandy, all the time.

Sandy is getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. At the risk of sounding too cliché, Sandy may end up being the sequel to The Perfect Storm. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, either, that both storms struck near Halloween. The same is true for the freak October Nor’easter that brought heavy snow to Western New England. In fact, right now, I think the brunt of Sandy will be on Monday, October 29 – the exact date that the Nor’easter hit last year. Mid to late October is a time of transition, and potentially volatile weather, in the Eastern United States. The ocean is still relatively warm, which is particularly true this year, there can still be tropical systems (Hi, Sandy), and there are also intrusions of unseasonably cold air from time to time – remember the snow plows last year. So, there is a precedent, in recent memory, for some absolutely wild weather to occur in Southern New England in late-October.

With that precedent already established, many computer models are spitting out stats for Sandy similar to 73 homeruns in one season and 7 Tour de France titles. I’m not saying there are PED’s involved, but the numbers (pressure, wind, waves) being projected for Sandy by some normally reliable computer models are enough to make a normally cautious meteorologist very weary, and some weather weenies giddy with excitement and hoping (why I don’t know) that the storm meets or exceeds those lofty projections.

You may not be aware of it, but there is new weather information constantly coming in. It really is nearly  24/7/365. I had a dentist appointment and a haircut today – both strategically placed around big computer model runs, and I still felt like I was missing the latest on the storm. If you follow a group of meteorologists on Twitter, you will get a constant feed of new recon data, computer model information including storm track, intensity, wave height, wind speed, rain totals and much more. In 2012, it’s also easy to quickly look back and compare analog storms or similar past weather setups for even more perspective on what could happen. There is a category 5 hurricane of information being released on this storm.

The question still remains, though, is it being overhyped? Heck, I’ve already been accused of downplaying it because two days ago I said the strong odds favored it going out to sea. I said it because that’s the direction I was leaning in two days ago. Since then, however, the consensus has shifted to a storm that has a big impact in the Northeast United States. Now, I’m one of the people turning the crank on the hype machine, or am I? Sure, I’ve said that the storm will likely have a significant impact in the Northeast. Based on what I’m seeing right now, that is absolutely the case. I would be doing a disservice if I said anything less. I haven’t said run to the store and buy bread and milk, and neither have any of the respected TV meteorologists from Washington, DC to Maine that I follow on Twitter. The same holds true for the well-known meteorologists who do most of their forecasting online.

The message has been the same across the board: there is the potential for a significant, possibly historic, storm along the East Coast sometime between late this weekend and the middle of next week. It’s not a lock that it is going to happen, but the computer model consensus has major impacts for many. If making that statement is overhyping the storm, then a lot of us our guilty of it. Some think that weather folks overhype to drive viewership or followers. That’s counterintuitive, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just be correct if you wanted to have the reputation as the go to guy/gal when a storm threatened? I have always looked at it that way, and I know many other television mets feel the same way. It’s hard to say if we spend so much time talking and writing about it because you’re so interested or if you’re so interested because we’re talking about such great potential for this storm. It’s probably a combination of the two. I just hope that our message of potential doesn’t get lost in translation. It’s like when I give a snow forecast of 8-14″ and we get 8″. Invariably, there will be those that say “you said 14″ and we only got 8.” Of course, they only heard or remembered the 14″ part of the forecast. When it comes to Sandy, read the whole article, not just the headline, and ask questions if you have them. I’ll be happy to clarify the forecast for anyone who thinks this is all much ado about nothing. Feel free to weigh in on the discussion in the comment section below.

Fred Campagna

President and Chief Meteorologist - Right Weather LLC AMS Certified Consulting Meteorologist #756 AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist #126

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