Storm profiteers exaggerate Hurricane Sandy
by Mark Luedtke
There’s no doubt that Hurricane Sandy caused a lot of damage in the New Jersey and New York City areas. As of this writing, 63 people are reported killed in the U.S., and 8.2 million households and businesses are without power. Entire neighborhoods have been inundated and some burned to the ground. I have great sympathy for the people who have lost so much.
But the real story is bad enough. Exaggerating the storm for profit endangers more lives. The most obvious way this storm has been exaggerated is the way the media first called it Frankenstorm before toning it down a little and calling it the slightly less inflammatory Superstorm. NASA’s publicity department even called the storm “Bride of Frankenstorm.”
But in order for a storm to be a superstorm, it must have some extraordinary characteristics. Sandy had none. Much of the hyperbole is based on the storm coming in October, but Anthony Watts lists 50 October hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. since 1852. Most of these hurricanes were stronger than Sandy.
Storm profiteers claim Sandy set two records, but these claims are underwhelming. First, Sandy set a record for storm surge in New York City at 13.88 feet at Battery Park, but if you reduce the area for your record small enough, every hurricane would set a record. By comparison, Katrina produced a storm surge of 27 feet in Mississippi. Similarly, the profiteers claim Sandy set a record for lowest pressure north of Cape Hatteras. Despite these dubious records, CNN admits, “Superstorm Sandy, which New York Mayor Bloomberg called ‘a storm of unprecedented proportions,’ will likely not set records for most costly or most deadly.” That hardly sounds unprecedented.
Another meme being pushed by storm profiteers is that it’s rare for hurricanes to threaten the New York area, but a quick search of Google’s news archives for New York hurricane turned up hits for 2011, 1999, 1996, 1991, 1976, 1963, 1962, 1961, 1960, 1955, 1954 and 1928. The 1991 storm was immortalized by the movie The Perfect Storm. That Halloween nor’easter turned into a category 1 hurricane. It was the second hurricane to affect New England that year. In addition are the great hurricanes of 1944, 1938, 1893, 1869, 1821 and 1815. The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 was reportedly stronger than all.
In fact, there’s some question about whether or not Sandy was even a hurricane when it made landfall. One day before landfall, the National Hurricane Center predicted Sandy would not be a hurricane at landfall. Watts reported the storm dropped below hurricane status about an hour before landfall. Two hours before landfall Willis Eschenbach reported, “Not one of the actual observations is showing sustained winds over 50 knots, and that’s a long ways from the 63 knots that marks a hurricane.” Hurricanes are defined by sustained winds, not gusts.
Thanks to the Internet, profiteers can no longer rewrite history every time a storm hits, but their exaggerations beg the question of why they exaggerate. The most superficial reason is for short-term profits. I’m sure many watched the hyperventilating coverage on TV. The hits at cnn.com and nytimes.com spiked 54 percent the day after landfall. Accuweather.com spiked 58 percent in the week before landfall. But short-term gains cannot make up for the long-term losses as the public loses confidence in mainstream media outlets.
The deeper reason is these profiteers are defenders of the government because government’s hand feeds them. The New York Times went so far as to declare “A Big Storm Requires Big Government.” They exaggerate storms to cover up for government failure. For example, the New York City subways have never flooded in a hurricane, but ordinary Hurricane Sandy flooded seven stations. Mayor Bloomberg shut down all 268 stations because of this flooding. By exaggerating the storm, the profiteers are covering up that government is de-civilizing New York.
Because utilities in the U.S. are controlled by the government – private ownership is nominal only – the press protects them as well. Our power grid is a national scandal. Any child can look at power lines and see they are vulnerable to winds, yet government keeps our electric grid trapped in 19th-century technology. The same is true for the archaic gas transmission system responsible for so many fires. In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency blamed beach pollution on, “overwhelming aging and poorly designed sewage and stormwater systems,” and highlighted New York and New Jersey. Those systems could only make Sandy’s damage worse.
Then there’s the moral hazard government creates by subsidizing people to live in harm’s way on beaches. Rent controls undermine maintenance of buildings which probably played a role in the fire in Queens.
But the most outrageous storm profiteers are the global warming frauds. Brad Johnson demanded that national leaders “explain that Hurricane Sandy is a true Frankenstorm, a monster created by man tampering with nature with oil, coal and gas pollution.” Pseudo-scientist Ted Glick wrote, “Perhaps this weather scare that may well be much more than just a scare is God’s revenge for the refusal of the U.S. government to take action on the climate crisis.” But weather is not climate. Hurricane activity is near historical record lows, making these people fear being kicked off government’s gravy train.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@daytoncitypaper.com