Monday, July 12, 2010

Fear and Loathing at Weather.com

The Weather Channel is running an interesting article on their website, "Hurricane Season 2010: On pace for another 2005?"
Hurricane Alex became the first Atlantic Basin June hurricane in 15 years. It didn't stop there. Alex became one of the most intense June hurricanes since the 1950s and 1960s.
Given the ominous seasonal forecasts submitted by NOAA, Colorado State University, and WSI, you may wonder based on Alex, if we're headed for another destructive season like 2005.

The first thing to note is that with only one storm to reference, Hurricane Alex, (Alex begins with A thereby signifying the first name stormed of the season) there is little reason to suggest any pattern at all. Nor, would I particularly call the seasonal forecast "ominous." The article proceeds by showing there is little connection evident by the development of Hurricane Alex and the hurricane season of 2005. Hence, the article offered very little new information about a topic that was not of concern. Further it offers a graph that is silly and somewhat misleading. There is no Y axis label and the title of the graph implies that there is multiple 100 year records of hurricanes. On first glance, one (like myself) may think the graphic represents an average of 60 hurricanes occurring on during the month of, approximately September. Upon further consideration, I believe from the narrative, that the graph is attempting to represent the percentage of storms that occur during certain months based on, maybe, the past 100 years.

Why does this matter? After all, there was no false information given.

The Weather Channel is the second highest ranked cable network with 101.7 million subscribers (roughly a third of the total US population). It's website is viewed by "45 million unique visitors per month" which does not include the number of people that are return visitors. This is to say that a significant portion of the population is reading, listening, considering, and otherwise absorbing the information presented by the company.

The article of discussion served to offer little new information but created a link in the minds of the audience between the 2010 hurricane season and the 2005 season, a very active season made notorious by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. By creating this mental link, the article unnecessarily instills fear and loathing of the possible destruction and upset to daily life caused by hurricane landfalls. More constructive reflections and words of meteorological wisdom are left to be desired.