Covering weather events like Florence has evolved from a cottage industry way back in the 1980s to the full-blown media events they are now. Having reported that Florence was going to be a 100 year Cat 5 storm, the Weather Channel, et. al, are now left with a fairly pedestrian CAT1 flooding event. Nevertheless, having pre-located their resources in the path of the storm, the Weather Channel is now giving the storm the full coverage they planned for the CAT 5 event that didn’t bother to show up.
Overselling hurricanes is part of the shock doctrine. Yes, if you are in it, it sucks, and a CAT 1 storm can destroy your home and kill you just as thoroughly as a CAT 5, but the weather channel get huge rating bumps whenever a storm rolls in, so you can blame them if they put on a show. The news is show business, after all.
Part of the real news story isn’t the strength of any individual storm because storms are fickle and fond of disappointing meteorologists. The real news story is the number and frequency of the storms that are stacked up, one after another, waiting for their turns at bat, which may or may not be the result of climate change, depending on whom you ask.
Don’t ask Donald Trump. While Trump bleats about variances in the reporting of the fatalities in Puerto Rico after Maria, the fact remains that Puerto Rico is still in a shambles today, with the Puerto Rican people — American citizens — awaiting repairs to the infrastructure they are unlikely to get from a Republican administration. While he berates the media for reporting fatality numbers that cast him in a bad light, he has another chance to screw up on Florence. More paper towels and plastic buckets may be coming your way in the Carolinas.
No one can stop the wind, but flooding is a largely a man-made event. We pave over the earth that would otherwise absorb all that water. We fail to put up effective storm walls to prevent the encroachment of the sea. We fail to create the catch basins to divert flood waters…and then we build and rebuild in the flood zones where construction should not even be allowed.
From the beginning of our history as a species, we have always wanted to live near water because water is life. Rivers are power sources, as well as transportation and food banks. Our major cities all over the world are almost universally located on the coastlines of our oceans and lakes, in harbors, or on the banks of major rivers because the oceans, lakes and rivers were our super-highways for thousands of years and, in some ways, they still are.
But every time a major storm comes rolling in, it rolls over and takes advantages of the land use mistakes we make over and over again. Here’s one that we may all live to regret: there are seven nuclear power plants in the direct path of this storm, one of which is on the seacoast itself. These plants were all built before Fukushima happened but, now that Fukushima has happened, these plants are nuclear accidents waiting to happen.
Yes, Fukushima was a poorly designed plant and the Tsunami that took out the plant’s cooling systems was one of those freak accidents that would never happen…until it did. At Fukushima, they relied on backup diesel powered generators to keep the reactors cooled in case of a breakdown in the power grid, but someone forgot to refill the fuel tanks and, after the tsunami took out the electrical service, the pump failed and the reactors melted down. Does anyone else think it odd that we need fossil fuel to keep a nuclear power plant from melting down? (Someone, who was apparently speaking for the Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant, actually said they had enough pumps to keep the plant from flooding out. He didn’t mention whether they had checked the fuel tanks for the reserve generators or if they even have them.)
Human beings have a curious inability to learn from their past blunders. We have nuclear power plants on or near fault lines, within shouting distance of major cities, on vulnerable seacoasts. We’re told that these power plants are safe…this time around.
Will they still be safe if a CAT 5 storm ever really does make a landfall where Florence is visiting now? Who makes those decisions in the Trump administration? Does that help you sleep well tonight?
I have friends in the storm path, all the way from Virginia to the Carolinas. I hope that A.J. and Summer, and Tom and Jane, come through the storm intact.