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Open hurricane porn thread

CROW-EATING UPDATE: The post below was written 24 hours before the waters of Lake Ponchatrain broke through the levee, devastated New Orleans, and video footage came in on damage to the Mississippi Gulf coast. I must concur with James Joyner that the coverage of this hurricane was not overhyped in the end, and at this point is a rather trivial issue compared to the damage at hand. I maintain that my general point stands on extreme weather coverage, but not with this case. Whether there is a "weatherman crying wolf" phenomenon taking place is also worthy of further thought. Click over to FEMA's list of charities to help out those affected -- or even better, Glenn Reynolds' list of charities Comment away on Hurricane Katrina -- or even better, the coverage of it. If this report is any indication, the original estimates of potential damage appear to have been overstated (though the New Orleans Times-Picayune has a different take). This is of small comfort to rural residents of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, but better news for oil traders -- who appear to have panicked and then reassessed -- as well as consumers. This overestimation would be consistent with the growing problem of hurricane porn:

This kind of coverage was understandable with regard to a titanic bastard of a storm like Allison [a 2003 hurricane--DD], but it was only the latest in the local networks' long-standing pattern of milking every possible bit of fear and suspense out of viewers at the approach of tropical weather systems. It hardly seems to matter that computer models are roughly as accurate as a Ouija board while a storm is more than 48 hours out, or that storms like Allison are rare beasts indeed, for these days our doughty weatherpersons breathlessly report every developing tropical depression as if the End Times were upon us. Coverage increases in intensity until the tension is almost to much to take. I call it "hurricane porn." First, there's the foreplay, which (unlike in actual pornography) can take several days. It starts with Doppler radar and satellite images that grow progressively larger and, dare I say it, more tumescent as the system approaches the coast. Cloud cover grows and the winds pick up, and most TV stations will have reporters positioned along the coast in areas projected to be in the storm's path. These hardy souls eye the camera with come hither looks of dire urgency (I wish I could find screen captures of local ABC reporter Jessica Willey standing on a pier in Galveston during Claudette's rainy approach wearing a soaked-through white blouse - more than ratings were rising that evening, let me tell you). The anticipation continues to build in this fashion until landfall, which is where you get... Hot hurricane action: water crashes furiously over the sea wall, palm trees whip back and forth in an orgiastic frenzy and street signs waggle suggestively in the wind. Meanwhile, the rhythmically swaying area street lights almost seem to keep the beat for the omnipresent frenzy. This is the period where one sees the most pervasive coverage. TV stations will often interrupt regular programming in order to cut to live shots of their other reporters, who can be found "braving" the storm by standing right in the middle of the heaviest wind and rains. Speaking only for myself, I'd have a lot more respect for a newsperson who did their report from a bar, sipping a beer and leading off with, "You know, you'd have to be a real idiot to be outside on a night like this..." Maybe someday. Fortunately, the actual hurricane footage can only last so long, as most systems weaken rapidly once they make landfall. This is why television stations are so desperate for that money shot. You'll know it when you see it: a roof flying off a department store and disintegrating, or one of those aforementioned reporters getting blown into a ditch. If the networks are really lucky, they'll get film of a fireman rescuing a baby from a rooftop, or a woman pulled from her car just before it's covered by rising floodwaters. After something like that, you can't help but feel spent. Once the storm has blown inland, you can finally bask in the afterglow: blue sky shots of boats beached thirty feet above the tide line, hapless shmoes sweeping water out of their bedrooms, and the weatherman telling us it "could've been worse." That's when you light a cigarette and compare property damage with your neighbors. I'm waiting for the NOAA to extend hurricane season by a month and a half so it can include May and November sweeps.

I think this blogger actually underestimates the problem -- it's not just local news, it's the cable nets as well. See Michelle Catalano for more. Readers are invited to submit the most.... er.... pornographic moment of coverage they've seen to date. UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds believe that Katrina was worth the hype. And several commenters have pointed out that the blanket coverage probably saved lives in convincing people to get the heck out of the Big Easy. Valid arguments.... except I've been so inured to prior hurricane porn that it's now tough for me to distinguish between a genuine menace to mankind vs. some weathermen breathlessly claiming that some tropical depression could be huge. ANOTHER UPDATE: Alas, I spoke too soon about New Orleans.

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