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Short-Term Florence Forecasts Didn’t Pan Out, But Media Is Certain of Long-Term Meaning

In the days before Hurricane Florence made landfall, Reed Timmer, storm chaser for AccuWeather, posted to his Facebook page [1]: “As a storm chaser, if you are chasing #HurricaneFlorence, I would bring enough supplies, food, water for more than a week of survival.”

On Sept. 9, he wrote [1] that he was headed for the impact zone and if the storm was true to its models, “this would be a particularly catastrophic natural disaster” in the area and warned readers “to take this storm seriously!”

He later issued what he called his strongest recommendation ever that people evacuate and not try to ride out the storm.

This is the real deal.” [1]

Days later, the storm seemed to disintegrate before our eyes [2]. The wall collapsed, wind speeds dropped from Category 5, the highest, to Category 1. On WSB-TV Atlanta, weather forecaster Glenn Burns admitted his shock.

“Very unexpected and just a major, major change with this storm,” he said [2]. “It is totally lopsided right now. No more main eye, and you see what’s happening with the southern side of this storm … not a lot going on. All of it being pushed northward. What is going on here?”

Hurricane Florence made landfall near where forecasters said it would, but it moved northward rather than to the south; its wind speeds were far lower and its threat to life far less than anticipated [3].

But although its short-term direction and wind speed proved too complex to track even a day out by the world’s top forecasters, where Florence fit in the long-term picture was clear to the mainstream media.

“Hurricane Florence is a Warning of What’s to Come,” Rolling Stone wrote in its headline. [4] “As another catastrophic hurricane bears down on the U.S., President Trump continues to stifle any plan that could slow down climate change,” read the subhead.

The story, by Jeff Goodell, opens [4] by forecasting disaster for the Carolina coast ahead of the storm, covering how many people have been evacuated, how hard the wind would blow, how much the rivers were predicted to rise.

“This is a monster storm, and it will likely have a devastating impact on the people who live in the region. And Florence is just one of three big storms that are spinning simultaneously in the Atlantic, at what is historically the peak of hurricane season.

“Welcome to life on our superheated planet.”

Nature did not perform as Rolling Stone expected, but there were other forces at play, Rolling Stone wrote [4].

“But Florence is not simply a natural disaster,” it wrote. “It is a manufactured catastrophe, a product of choices we have made about how we live, where we live and how we think (or don’t think) about our future.”

The choices we made had to do with lighting and heating our homes and fueling our cars. “For one thing, our 150-year fossil-fuel binge, which has superheated the atmosphere, has amped up the energy and intensity of big storms like Florence,” Goodell wrote. “No, climate change does not cause hurricanes. But it does make them more dangerous.”

The writer closes [4] by saying he hopes the storm is serious enough to keep us focused on the changes we must make.

“In the next few days, assuming Florence continues on its current path, what we’re likely to see is a lot of wind, a lot of crashing waves, a lot of suffering, a lot of people losing everything,” he wrote. “It will be emotional and dramatic, and climate scientists … will try to make the connection between how we live and the storms we create. But then the winds will die down, the waters will recede, and we will move on.”

The biggest challenge after the storm, he wrote, was not coming up with money for rebuilding but “using it as an opportunity to think differently about the world we live in. The storm may be a natural disaster, but it is also a reflection of the world we have built.”