Published On: Thu, Aug 6th, 2020

Sensational TV coverage does not help when trying to get Floridians to take storms seriously

Kartik Krishnaiyer

As Hurricane Isaias barrelled toward Florida’s East Coast this past week, TV networks shifted some of its coverage from COVID-19 and politics to storm watching. In some cases, most notably on The Weather Channel, the coverage of Covid-19 and Isiais were combined to become “CovidCane 2020.” This approach not only exaggerates the scope of the storm but also creates credibility issues for the future.

No question exists with much of Florida’s Emergency response system strained by COVID-19, any additional strain could lead to disaster. However, Isaias never really posed this threat. In theory it could have, but reporting based on worst-case scenarios which are very unlikely to come to pass, in this day in age of growing public mistrust of the media, was not wise. 

Over the course of the last decade, The Weather Channel has become more sensationalist in terms of covering tropical weather. Oftentimes worst case scenarios are portrayed as fait accompli and doomsday-like scenarios are given on air.  If you live here in south Florida you’re far better off watching your local TV channels and trusting your TV meteorologists most of whom have a very sophisticated knowledge of tropical weather and the history of storms impact on our region. 

The Weather Channel has become obsessive about loud graphics and clever slogans around tropical weather. Meanwhile, local channels in both the Miami/Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach TV markets wisley downplayed potential impacts of Isaias, accurately forecasting the path and understanding how asymmetrical this system was, meaning any area on the west side of the storm was likely to suffer comparatively little. 

Isaias’s shape resembled a ragged-looking blob on the radar for much of its approach to Florida. The storm fought wind shear, dry war, Saharan dust on its journey toward the peninsula. While this was acknowledged at times on The Weather Channel, particularly by the network’s tropical weather experts, it was usually sandwiched in-between much more sensational reporting. 

Why does this matter? After all haven’t projections of Hurricanes and coverage on cable news often been off the mark?

Yes, while it is true in the past some Hurricane’s impact did not match the hype, ever so often they do, and now more than ever accuracy matters. 

Covid-19 has exposed a crisis of reasoning and a lack of faith in science among much of the public. Too many Flordians have chosen to ignore real news, instead opting to believe conspiracy theories, fake news and outlandish social media posts. Our President has even fed this growing tendency among a not-so-insignificant minority by retweeting conspiracy theories and promoting factually incorrect interpretations of many aspects of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Since Coronavirus skeptics have managed to hang onto any piece of data or news that refutes the generally accepted narrative about the pandemic, similarly being less than accurate in describing potential impacts of storms could lead to large portions of the public tuning out future warnings. Trust in science and understanding of hard data sadly is not as unifying a principle as it once was – therefore many in the media need to tread carefully on these subjects. 

A concern going forward is that Floridians desentized to the reality of Coronavirus by alternative facts will too turn out real warnings based on real science about tropical weather. In a state with so many transients and many who have not experienced the full fury of a Hurricane before (it’s worth noting that for much of the state, 2017’s Irma only brought Tropical Storm force winds) it is critical the media continues to be realistic about what might happen with a large and powerful tropical system. The local TV channels did their job as did local newspapers. But cable news channels and elements of the national media did not, which hopefully will not create greater distrust of the media in the future. 

This Hurricane Season is still young – peak activity tends to take place between August 15 and October 1. The most damaging storm in the memory of many South Floridians, 2005’s Wilma actually happened in late October. 

About the Author

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>