Morning Poll: Hurricane Irene Expectations

by ARLnow.com August 29, 2011 at 9:10 am 2,866 68 Comments

It was one of the most hyped storms in recent memory.

Switch on the TV last week, and it sounded like a disaster movie in the making. As it approached, evacuations were ordered on the coast and local residents stocked up on supplies. Then, as Hurricane Irene finally made its way up the eastern seaboard, local TV stations and the cable news channels went with wall-to-wall coverage.

No doubt you’ve already seen the damage reports and the damage photos. In your mind, was the storm’s impact worse than or not as bad as expected?

Flickr pool photo courtesy @DrWeinz

  • Just another example of the mainstream media hyping the storm to meet their agenda. I saw one woman on MSNBC in New York talking to a meteorologist. She said it was a ‘monster hurricane’ he said ‘it’s a tropical storm ma’am’.

    • BoredHouseWife

      it is more than that. Manipulate the amygdala and you can make people buy anything..

  • NOVApologist

    Around here it was as expected. Some limbs down and power out for 15 hours. About the same as Isabel. A neighbor has a home in Sandbridge. That area got absolutely pummeled. The New York stuff was definitely hyped.

    • Tabby

      It was NOT “hyped”!

      Had the storm not lost its eye sitting over N. Carolina for so long, it would have continued on to NYC and pummeled the hell out of it. FFS.

  • Weatherboy

    The hype was from cable and some local news outlets, who as we know has the main purpose of selling soap. It’s August, its a slow news time and the eastern seaboard is a huge market for soap. Watching the poncho’d reporter being whipped by wind and rain and holding up their anemometer is entertainement, pure and simple. Politicians have to play it safe these days after Katrina and did so with this event (I don’t think unreasonably).

    Today, the average guy has more access to raw weather data and direct feeds from weather experts than ever before (plug – I like Jeff Masters at wunderground.com). People are capable of monitoring the situtation and making their own judgements. Weather, being weather means that even with the best access to all the data, things can change and in the end it is hard to predict more than a day in advance.

    The hype really comes from reporters who generally are hired more for their voice and looks than their ability to critically analyze take the 3-5 day worst case scenario and present it in a manner that might give some an unwarranted level of certainty about it. They do it because it sells soap. There’s also a little bit of the not wanting to be the guy who says it’s not going to be a big deal and then have another Katrina.

  • Bluemontsince1961

    At least in my neighborhood, Irene was not as bad as Isabel. We didn’t lose power. My basement did not flood and neither did my neighbor’s basement. Only a few small branches came down in my area.

  • Hokie

    I thought the hype was bad for places like DC etc. For Carolina shore- it deserved the hype because they’re tiny barrier islands and the storm- originally looked like it was going to be strong. But for the people in this area to be freaked out (because for some reason many believe everything somebody with a microphone says) and rush to buy flats of water- is crazy. What’s likely to happen is that when there IS a big storm that’s a Cat 3/4 that makes it up the coast and hits the coast as a 3/4- people won’t heed the warnings because “well Irene was supposed to be terrible and wasn’t really that bad”.

    The senasationalism, as others have pointed out, is bad. But networks sensationalize to try to bring in viewers…

  • Steve

    We’ve had regular thunderstorms that have been far worse. The media always will hype a story, as it gets them viewers, and they always can fall back on the “better to overprepare than underprepare”…

  • Lou

    Damage was certainly less than the hype. I didn’t expect any major damage once it started weakening on Friday. Laughed at the guy I saw Saturday morning buying a case of bottled water at CVS.

    • AcmePizza

      How do you know he didn’t lose power and that he actually needed the water?

      • drax

        Why do you need water when you lose power?

        • BlueSkies

          In this area, I’d imagine you could need water if flooding were to contaminate the water supply. For people who aren’t on municipal water (way I grew up), the water goes out when the power does, because the pump runs on electricity.

        • jan

          If you have a septic system and well water, no electricity means you have no water and can’t flush toilets.

          • drax

            Okay, but very few people in Arlington have septic systems and well water.

          • Lou

            You’re right. He probably works at an orphanage that only has access to well water. How silly of me to assume he was just another panicky DC’er out stocking up on milk, bread and toilet paper before society completely crumbled in the wake of the rain.

        • Curious George

          High rise buildings need pumps to get water to the upper floors as municipal pressure is not high enough. No power no pumps.

          During Isabel 3 phase power was out to my building so no water for the upper floors for several days.

          • FrenchyB


          • drax

            Now there is a real concern. And one that I never saw anyone explain on the news.

    • BlueSkies

      And we should laugh at that because why buy water when you can get it from your tap for free?

      • drax

        Yes. Simply fill up some bottles, etc. at home.

        • HS

          Maybe he just likes bottled water.

  • PBJ

    It all depends on what region one is talking about and what one was expecting. I knew that the parts of Arlington on higher ground would generally not be flooded–but that there would be trees down in some places. Exactly what happened.

    That said, New England is suffering major flooding right now.

    So was it hyped? Overall, yes. But is that to say it wasn’t a very serious storm for some? No.

    Guess I’d rather see them hype the storm and then not have lives lost than see them underhype it and people who are at most risk not take it seriously.

    • Tabby

      At least 21 lives were lost. $7B worth of damage.

      • PBJ

        You’re right; I didn’t mean to imply no lives were lost. (I didn’t like the way that came out after I typed it.) Just that I’d rather sit through some hype if it means more people who are at increased risk take it seriously, and so fewer people die.

      • Brenna

        A part of me really wants there to be two separate death counts. Like, Darwin approved deaths and other deaths. Such as people who died camping in a tent or surfing.

    • Stoneridge


  • Garden City

    Better that it’s hyped than to downplay it and it become a major disaster. If you live in southern coastal VA or NC or NJ or Vermont, I don’t think you’d say it was overhyped.

    • Michael H.


    • Maria

      Don’t forget upstate NY! Lots of towns as far as 3 or 4 hours north of NYC are dealing with incredible flooding and damage to roads and buildings.

      Go through the pictures on this site (there are quite a few pages):

      Also search for Hudson Valley on Facebook for some local pages with incredible pictures.

  • Lou

    The worse is when the media totally puts out wrong information. From WJLA.com: From Aug. 29 through Sept. 2, the Department of Public Works will remove branches cut into 4-inch lengths and tied into bundles no more than 2 inches in diameter from the treeboxes in front of residents’ homes. After Sept. 2, these items can be placed where your trash is collected.

    I guess I better get out my pocket knife to get those branches ready to be picked up.

  • Jacob

    This is why no one should watch TV news. It’s all breathless crisis nonsense to get ratings.

    • John B

      @Jacob: unfortunately they preempted all local broadcasts and even the national news channels all focused on the storm. I was peeved they didn’t show the football game on CBS.

  • “It is 4:30. You have maximized your tan. Get the hell off of the beach and get out of here.”

    • MyHood

      Not a huge fan of Christie but that was classic!

  • JimPB

    Weather forecasts can not be precise but encompass a range of what might occur. When the range includes the non-trivail probability of a devastating impact, best to prepare for that. If one is like the grasshopper pursuing pleasure with abandon in the summer warmth and does not prepare and the worse occurs (winter for the grasshopper), it’s then too late to prepare, and the consequences could be dire.

    Just one example of why preparing for the worse is prudent.
    RE: the shut-down of New York City’s subway. The underground lines require continual pumping to remove water. The combination of a torrential downpour and the lost of power for the pumps (and likely trains, too) could result in rapidly flooded tunnels. Devastating for the trains there. Life threatening if not death inflicting for those on the trains.

  • Bender

    Meanwhile, Virginia Dominion Power MUST come up with a better system than everyone in the region having to call an 800 telephone number in case of downed lines.

    WHY do they not have an automated system where you can report it on a form on the Internet??? Why should you have to call who knows where — everyone using the same number — only so the operator (who might be in India for all I know) can put it in the computer for you?

    We had a tree fall on and knock down some lines that feed street lights (but not residences). Notification to the County about the tree took all of a minute. Having to telephone Dominion Power, after going through a series of menus, where I was instructed to say “EMERGENCY” in case of downed lines, I was stuck on hold for the next ten minutes, listening to a recording about payment of my bill, before I finally got fed up and hung up, leaving the County to spend its tiime on hold notifying them.

    Why isn’t there an Internet form to notify Dominion Power on its website????

    • Annabelle

      Because when the power is down, only people with working smartphones can access the internet?

    • Garden City

      If the power is out, go to the internet to report it. Right.

      • Bender

        Yeah, right. My Internet worked fine. My power wasn’t out.

        • Bender

          In fact, Dominion Power does have a webpage to tell you what to do in case of downed lines. And it says to call them.

          If they have a webpage about downed lines, why can’t they stick a form on it to report these things??

          Quite often, the line that is down is NOT your line. It is a line down the street or elsewhere.

          And even if they are going to force you to call them — why must everyone in the world call the same 800 number?? How about having some local numbers so that they don’t have hundreds of thousands of people trying to call the same number?

          • Sarah

            Ohhhhh, You poor soul.

            A toll-free number is always pointed to a local number. The only difference between calling a toll-free and a “local number” as you suggest is that it costs the company a little more money when you call the toll-free number. Typically in a call center environment, that local number is part of system that allows for many incoming calls at one time. Companies like Dominion will have potentially hundreds of “ports” for use by their call center systems, with roll-over capapbility to another call center for high volume times or data center failures.

            Just putting a form online doesn’t do anything – it has to be integrated with their system they use to manage outage information. It could be that they have not yet been able to get it integrated as it’s not one of the top priorities and it’s most likely not all that cheap – most people who need to report a line have lost their power – so it would seem that from a financial perspective, it would make more sense for them to prioritize appropriately and invest in the systems and services that would be used by the most people.

          • FrenchyB

            The single 800 number for Dominion is routed to dozens, if not hundreds of additional lines.

            Kind of like 911, ya know?

  • T Davis

    I could have been worse. The Kardashian clan or Salahi’s could have popped in for a photo shoot.

  • ArlingtonLawyer

    You can’t hype something that hasn’t happened yet. For those who want to blame (1) The Media (2) The Liberal Media (3) The Whatever Media, a hurricane isn’t a 100% It’s Going To Go This Way, At This Speed and Have Winds At This Hour. Anyone who says this stuff can be accurately predicted is also going to be able to tell me what the dew point will be in Shirlington on Friday at 4:25AM.

    This is a waste of time and a non issue.

    Please, there are other issues to be concerned about than this nonsensical angst and bloviating.

  • Josh S

    The poll is a bit meaningless because the question depends entirely on where you were. Here in Arlington, I’d say it was what was expected – a lot of rain and wind. In some other places, like NYC especially, it appears that damage was less than expected. But in many, many places, it’s looking like damage was pretty serious. Deaths, flooding, power out, roads out, trees down, etc. The pictures from places like New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina look like they took quite a hit. What I really don’t understand is how quickly the media seems to have turned around – IT’S GONNA BE HUGE!! and one day later IT WAS A BUST!!
    As an institution, I think we can think of the media as psychotic. Or maybe they are just incredibly provincial, reporting the conditions in NYC and ignoring the rest…..

  • mary

    People died. I am glad so many were prepared for the worse. (individuals, state infrastructure workers, gov’t)

    • jan

      Me, too!

  • Take it down a notch

    I watch News Channel 8 and ABC 7 (local news), and follow their meteorologists on twitter. I also read the Capital Weather Gang blog. They were quite accurate in their forecasts and not hysterical about it. In fact whenever there’s a potentially serious storm on the way, they discuss the possible storm tracks and probabilities so you know how bad it can be and how likely the worst case is.

    Even with the weakened storm hitting NY, my parents were still stranded in their house because the main roads in their town were flooded. (They expected this and were prepared for it.) None of my family and friends on Long Island has electricity right now.

    Considering how much flooding there was, how many trees were knocked down and how many people will be without power for days, I’d say the forecasts are accurate and appropriate. At least the forecasts I saw.

  • Josh S

    By far the best summation I’ve seen of this entire subject is here:


    • Lou

      A statistical defense of the media coverage using a self-invented metric, by the media? I guess some people will fall for that. Pretty trite if you ask me, to see a column of fatality statistics next to “Nate’s News Units”, as if there were some correlation.

      • drax

        Pretty good analysis if you actually read it, Lou. It has its limits, but it acknowledges them.

        And he didn’t say there was a correlation.

        • Lou

          I did read it. When I saw where Katrina ranked in Nate’s News Units, I figured it was crap. By the time I got to the end, I realized I was right. He said he would adjust for the diminishing lack of outlets as you go further back in time. He never explained where that adjustment is seen in his charts.

          He also takes a dig at The Weather Channel at the end, while I thought they had about the most rational coverage of all cable outlets leading up to the arrival. If you actually listened to the information they were giving you. They were never in full panic mode like MSNBC, for example.

          And of course, jabbing at Howard Kurtz is standard for Silver.

          Pretty self-serving piece, all told.

          • drax

            So now you’re saying it could work if he did it right instead of saying it’s complete rubbish. Okay.

            At least someone is trying. It was interesting, but should be taken with a grain of salt.

          • Lou

            I’m saying his analysis is crap. That should be clear enough for you to not have to suggest what I’m saying again.

            “If he did it right”? That’s like saying I would give Steve Spurrier credit for being one the greatest Redskin coaches of all time, if he did it right.

          • drax

            Just relax, Lou. It is what it is.

          • Lou


  • Loocy

    Before Katrina, they talked about the range from the best case and the worst case scenario. We got the absolute worst case, and the preparations were thoroughly inadequate.

    Before Irene, there was also a range. We prepared for worst case, we got best case. It sputtered, it disorganized, it became a sloppy wet hurricane that downgraded quickly. However, for those people with severe damage, it was good to be so prepared. I was also pleased to see the coordination between local and national government. Consider it an excellent training exercise. Next time we might fall back into “worst case” territory.

    • BlueSkies


      My family’s about 100 miles to the south of here, not that far away! They’re still without power, downed lines and fallen trees nearby, and using the supplies they stocked in preparation. Let’s just be glad we didn’t have much damage here.

      It never hurts to keep a little extra food/water and flashlights in the cabinet anyway. Just think, if the earthquake had been worse, it could have caused power outages across the whole area. It was completely unexpected and rare, but it happened anyway. Ya never know!

  • The earthquake was much more exciting than Irene! Even my friends and relatives in Virginia Beach and Snow Hill, MD (who did not evacuate) said Irene was not as bad as the media made it out to be.

    • drax

      The media didn’t say Irene was bad, they said Irene COULD be bad. And it was a really bad storm in some areas, and could have been in many. Hindsight is 20/20.

  • drax

    Isn’t there a name for this phenomenon? Where you warn everyone about something, they take appropriate measures, and then they complain that there was no danger – when it was the measures they took that minimized the affect of the danger, not the danger itself? Anyone know the name for this?

  • Chicken Little

    If you find out, I’d love to know!

    TIA, HAND!

  • Michael H.

    The reported death toll is now 38 and many areas in upstate NY and in Vermont are facing a very tough week because of the flooding.

    And no, not all of the deaths were “Darwin-related”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. People do get killed in hurricanes even when they aren’t doing anything stupid. One adult was electrocuted when he tried to help rescue a young child who had wandered into a flooded street. The child was endangered by the downed power lines. Instead, the man ended up dying. (I don’t know why the child was in the street at all. Possibly poor parenting. But that wasn’t the fault of the adult victim.)

  • R0bespierre
  • Amy

    It was serious in NJ. Lots of flooding, trees down, roads closed, loss of electricity, etc. We lost drinking water, which was surprising, and had only bottled water on hand for drinking. No showering for several days. No working toilets, and the toilets were used only for pee emergencies for the kids. Had to bring the kids to backyard woods for toilet needs. It got interesting if they had to do #2. It got even more interesting if I needed a #2 also when we were in the woods, which happened several times despite my efforts to hold it in. Privacy goes out the window in the woods. But when you gotta go, you do what you have to do in order to relieve yourself.

    • What Goes On In The Woods Stays

      So that is what all of those people are doing the woods I see when driving through Jersey …..


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