September 2, 2005

MICKEY KAUS quotes a reader email:

the authors of the [2002] times-picayune series, the designers of the government desktop exercise, and all the other authors of studies on the danger facing N.O. are now as a group getting a big thumbs up for prescience from the CW. But hey, which one of them saw what was developing for 72 hours over Miami and the Gulf and sent up a timely flare last week, warning, “Hey, the levee is going to fail and N.O. will be over 50% inundated!” If somebody said it, I did not hear it. That would have been prescient.

Well, none of them may have, but hurricane-blogger Brendan Loy wrote this on August 26: “Residents of New Orleans and the surrounding areas need to realize now just how serious the threat from Hurricane Katrina really is. . . . That’s not to say a Florida landfall isn’t still possible — it certainly is — but people need to be making preparations RIGHT NOW all along the northern Gulf coast, especially New Orleans.” (And I didn’t say that, but I did link to it.)

The next day — long before the mandatory evacuation — Loy had this to say: “I can’t emphasize enough what a bad decision I think it is for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to delay the mandatory evacuation order until tomorrow morning.” (My comment: “If I lived in New Orleans I’d be gone by now.”)

Loy had this called way before most people, and was warning about New Orleans when most media were still predicting a second Florida strike. And looking at his archives now makes me wish more people had been paying attention then.

UPDATE: More prescience here. Advantage: Blogosphere! (Thanks to reader Amy Lopez for the link).

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader notes that Brendan Loy actually sounded the warning Thursday night. Meanwhile meteorologist reader Robert Fovell emails that the Kaus reader’s 72 hour expectation is unrealistic:

Hurricane track forecast skill has improved markedly in recent years, but it simply isn’t that good yet, and the forecasters will be the first to admit it.

But 48 hours out, the NHC forecast was spot on. And it took some amount of faith to put stock in it, for they were calling for a northward turn in the track that had not yet materialized. At that time, Katrina was still moving west (indeed, slightly south of west). The problem is [that] many — too many — people in New Orleans ignored the hurricane warnings when they came because they dismissed them as “hype” and recalled previous forecasts that were didn’t pan out. Was 48 hours notice enough to evacuate a large area? No amount of time is enough if warnings are not heeded when they come.

But the warnings won’t be heeded if they are made too rashly, and if the uncertainties they come packaged with are excised in the media hype.

(Emphasis added). Yes, I’ve suggested before that the news media — and particularly the cable channels’ — hyping of hurricanes has had a “cry wolf” effect that makes real warnings get less attention.

MORE: Sadly, this post seems to have been prescient, too:

I have to say, though, that from what I’ve seen New Orleans hasn’t been on the ball. The evacuation was too late, there don’t seem to have been many efforts to get people out of the city or to shelter, and whenever I see city officials on TV I get an unpleasant vibe, like in the first half-hour of a disaster flick.

I wish it had been wrong. More prescience here: I’m surprised this hasn’t gotten more attention.

MORE: A reader writes:

Beyond the ‘cry wolf effect’ encouraging people to stay– what do you think of CNN broadcasting Anderson Cooper standing bravely through hurricane after hurricane?

The night Katrina hit, we watched Anderson bravely commenting on the swinging of a crane near a bridge. In previous hurricanes, we’ve watched him report more of the same. Once the skies clear, we are treated to an episode of 360 ‘best of’ moments, where we see how he almost got hit by a palm frond! Had to squint in the rain! Chained himself to a planter!

And it isn’t just him. Reporters braving the wind and rain fills our news channels during every single hurricane.

I think people may watch reporters standing outside and surviving hurricanes and think, “If Anderson Cooper can stand in a parking lot, how bad can it really be? I’ll be ok in my house.”

Good point. Another reader writes:

With their choppers, boats, vehicles, etc. how many people have the news media rescued in New Orleans? How much food & water have they brought to the people. They always seem to be able to get to them to interview and film them but how much have they helped them? Are they not interested in the well-being of their fellow Americans? Are they racist? Why hasn’t the mayor of New Orleans and the Gov. of Louisiana commandeered the media’s various modes of transportation for the relief/rescue effort?

I think if I ran a media organization, I’d make everyone who went in carry some relief supplies on the way in, and some people on the way out. Realistically, it would be a drop in the bucket, but it would help to offset charges of vulturism.

STILL MORE: E.U. Rota notes that The New York Times was less prescient than the blogosphere, though you’d never know it from reading its editorials today.

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