Call For a Tow

The Hurricane Lurch

By Tom Neale, 6/29/2006


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A few days ago I was sitting listening to the rain on my deck and listening to the news about TS Alberto heading up the coast. It wasn’t news that I wanted to hear, but it was like the news that I expect to be hearing all season long. It’s important news to me because I’m like you probably are. I want to do everything I can to prepare my boat for storms. I have a lot invested in it, both money and sweat. And no insurance company could really pay me what it’s worth to me, because I love my boat. So I take all this very seriously.

This is why I try to get news about storms from sources other than the TV news. I’ve grown disgusted watching the pretty TV reporters doing what I call “the Hurricane Lurch.” They lurch around leaning over like they’re struggling against the wind, showing over and over again their lucky shots of a palm branch skidding along a street or a splash of spray suddenly messing up a fancy hairdo. I’ve seen ill concealed looks of delight on reporters’ faces when, occasionally, a palm frond would actually blow in front of them. On one occasion I really believe that someone threw a palm branch across the camera’s eye. Sometimes it’s for real and these people are in fact leaning against the wind, but I’ve seen the Hurricane Lurch against the wind during times when the trees behind the pretty reporters were hardly moving.

I watched the TV reporters who flocked down to the Big Bend in Florida for Alberto. They were swarming back and forth, looking for THE LANDFALL. In this storm, I saw them standing in a flat calm on the beach, with near flat seas behind them, trying to sound as scary as they could about the terror to come. The funny thing is that their cameras capturing the sky in the direction of the storm showed clearing skies, not the approaching maelstrom of which they hinted. I’ve seen the same footage, repeated over and over again, of a high tide overlapping a seawall with very small waves—something that can happen on a new or full moon. I’ve heard the carefully worded implication of streets being flooded with footage showing what was apparently a traffic sign standing out in the flood—only a closer look showed that it was a sign on the beach giving safety warnings about swimming.

Anytime the cameras can catch a boat on the beach or bobbing around on a mooring, it’s obviously considered to be fodder for high ratings. One media service has run, for year after year, footage of the same boat ashore near a fishing pier in Virginia Beach in a storm which occurred many years ago. I’ve even seen this footage during coverage for storms down in the Gulf and South Florida.

And then came a great finale. After Alberto had made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend, after it had already started inland up the coast, after the hordes of reporters had desperately panned cameras over still waters hoping for a big wave or two, after some had already started returning home, their new fancy logo foul weather gear still dry, a report to this effect came on the news: There’s concern that Tropical Storm Alberto could raise oil prices by affecting oil production from the oil rigs in the Gulf, and we are anxiously waiting to find out. I paraphrase, but that was essentially the report.

It often seems to me that the major concern of the TV media is not necessarily what’s actually happening, but what’s going to promote ratings and sell advertisements. And, at least in my opinion, the Hurricane Lurch is a slap in the face to the people who suffer the tragic consequences of these storms. They’re not entertainment folder. And it’s also a disservice to those of us who aren’t looking for entertainment but are looking for solid information. I’m not talking here about after the fact reporting about suffering and needs of victims; I’m talking about reporting on conditions to come as a storm approaches.

On Hurricane Awareness

1. Never let the clear skies fool you into thinking the forecasters are going to be wrong. The day can turn from beautiful weather to outer bands of wind and rain in just a few hours, and some of those outer bands can pack enough rain to flood, enough wind to damage, and even tornadoes.

2. Don’t plan on fighting a hurricane during the storm. Prepare before they come and seek safety. Stick your hand out the window while you’re driving down the highway at just 45 miles per hour. (If you don’t mind possibly getting hurt in the process.) Feel the force of the wind. That’s nowhere near hurricane speed and the forces increase by a much greater ratio than the increase of wind speed. If a bug or piece of sand hits that hand, you’ll get an even better idea of how helpless you’d be out there in a hurricane.

Click Here for More Tips

If you’re in harm’s way of tropical storms and hurricanes, you don’t need hype and exaggeration. You probably know how bad it can be. What you do need is facts. Your issue isn’t entertainment on the boob tube. Your issue is to protect your boat, your property and your life. I’m sure that most of the folks taking the brunt of Alberto weren’t seeing the situation as entertaining. Realistic information helps while hype can hurt.

Hurricanes and tropical storms don’t need embellishment. They’re bad enough on their own, without the help of the sensationalist media. Ask our friends who’ve lost not just boats but homes, businesses and perhaps loved ones.

Hype and melodrama actually promote complacency, like the boy crying “Wolf.” Exaggerations that don’t bear out cause some people to develop a tendency to become complacent the next time. True, it’s better to be safe than sorry. True, it’s better to over prepare than under prepare. True, once the storm comes it’s usually too late to do anything so you have to have already prepared for the very worst. But none of these things justifies sensationalist reporting about this very serious business. We need to look at facts and projections based upon recognized models.

Fortunately there are good sources for boaters, and the rest of the public. Some TV stations do have serious, well trained and dedicated meteorologists who do give good information, eliminating all the hype. As we travel up and down the coast every year on “Chez Nous,” we look forward to tuning in to these stations with the serious professionals.

There are various computer models that utilize huge amounts of data to make weather projections. The data includes all aspects of meteorological information, geographical information, sea information (such as temperatures) and historical information as to how different types of storms of similar or related characteristics have behaved in the past, given similar circumstances. The data also includes sophisticated probability calculations and carefully thought out theories of how and why things happen in the weather. The models frequently differ, although sometimes they do converge. This is because of the incredible complexity of these storms and the driving forces. But whether differing or agreeing, the models and the professional meteorologists are a lot better than the beautiful people from the studio lurching around and calling 3 foot seas “pounding waves” or 25 knot winds “battering” or a high tide a “devastating storm surge.”

The Live Hurricane Tracking section of the BoatUS web site is a great place to go, as well as the other sections on the site dealing with the subject. And online you can find many more hurricane tracking and information sites giving raw data and expert interpretation. The VHF weather still does a pretty good job of giving you facts and realistic projections. If you live in a house, it would help to take your hand held VHF home from the boat so that you can keep up with that source.

There are even weather gurus who specialize in boating weather issues and who will, for usually modest fees, update you via email of developments. Sometimes yacht clubs, boat shows and other organizations sponsor weather seminars. Recently, Bluewater Books and Charts in Ft. Lauderdale had a major hurricane preparedness seminar with experts to teach the attendees. (And it was free!) These included Bob Adriance, editor of Seaworthy, the BoatUS insurance magazine, who has collected tons of data on the subject. Also, there are many books on the weather that have good information and are a good read. It’s a fascinating subject.

While most of us can’t become experts on the subject, we can learn enough about underlying principals so that we can make more informed decisions. When the storms come, the more we know, the better we can do.

Alberto is exiting the coast near the Norfolk area as I finish this. I turned on the boob tube. Guess what I saw: Excited pretty reporters glaring at the cameras. They’d finally found something to exclaim about from the storm and were playing it to the hilt, although the passers-by seemed to hardly notice. FLOODED INTERSECTIONS!

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale