I’ve been getting a few worried queries on Facebook from people that want my opinion about the “Mega-storm packing 150 mph winds and 50-foot waves set to pummel West Coast” that has been making the rounds as seen below:
When I saw that headline, I cringed, because the author from a website called Medium, one Kevin Thomas Hulten, says he is a FEMA-certified disaster PIO, an award-winning publisher/reporter & founder of the Bay Area-based strategic communication firm K15n. is using the image of Typhoon Songda at it’s strongest on October 11th, along with the effects of a typhoon at that strength “50 ft waves and 150 mph winds” in a headline that suggests these effects will hit the West Coast of the USA.
He’s not just wrong, he’s irresposnibly wrong in my opinion; if he really is trained by to be a “FEMA-certified disaster PIO”, he should know better. Unless of course, hype is part of that FEMA training. The data simply doesn’t support his wild claim. For example, here is the current bulletin up on the NWS Seattle home page:
A factual story in the Seattle Times was much less alarming:
“This is one of those rare cases where (a typhoon) just happened to get swept up in the right way and get in an environment where it could grow again right off our coast,” Bond said. “When everything comes together like that — look out.”
On Thursday, computer models showed the storm passing directly over Western Washington, said Kirby Cook, science officer for the National Weather Service in Seattle. But even small shifts in the storm track can change which areas will be hit hardest, he cautioned.
Pressure measurements show a very intense low at the heart of the storm, which means high winds. But the pressures aren’t quite as low as those that spawned the (1962) Columbus Day storm.
“This doesn’t look as strong as that, right now,” Cook said. “But it may very well end up being the strongest storm we’ve had in the last five to 10 years.”
Gosh, compare these two quotes:
“FEMA Certified Disaster PIO” Kevin Thomas Hulten says –
Packing 150 mph sustained winds, a storm some meteorologists are calling the “biggest storm in history” will hit coastal regions of the U.S. this Saturday,generating 45-foot waves, and dumping multiple feet of rainfall across an area including three states and two countries.
NWS science officer Kirby Cook says –
…the strongest storm we’ve had in the last five to 10 years.
The graphic provide by the Times is very instructive:
And here is a Tweet from a couple of days ago by the NWS Seattle, that shows what the storm looks like now as a strong extra-tropical low pressure system:
— NWS Seattle (@NWSSeattle) October 14, 2016
Compare that image of the low approaching the coast to the typhoon picture used in the Medium story by Kevin Thomas Hulten and I think you’ll agree they look nothing alike.
Compare the measured wind speed of 52mph at sea by a ship off the coast of Seattle to “packing 150 mph winds”:
— NWS Seattle (@NWSSeattle) October 15, 2016
It seems though, some “journalists” just can’t help but generate clickbait.
Mashable’s Andrew Freedman fell into that trap yesterday, and I called him out on it:
Worse than we thought! There's DNA in Super Typhoons now, breeding at sea, apparently. pic.twitter.com/xIcYRHE6v0
— Watts Up With That (@wattsupwiththat) October 14, 2016
Here is the graphic from that Tweet, click to enlarge:
In my opinion, these doomster journalists do the world a great disservice when they print hype like that, because when the “super typhoon” and 150 mph winds and 50 foot waves don’t materialize in Seattle and nearby areas, people will remember that the warnings didn’t match reality, and the next time a big storm comes through, they might not take it seriously enough to prepare because the last one was such a bust.
My friend Mike Smith speaks of this problem in his book Warnings: The true story of how science tamed the weather.
I’ve read it, and I’ve lived and experienced much of what he’s written about in the quest to make forecasting, especially severe weather forecasting, more accurate, timely, and specific. For those of us that prefer practical approaches over the rampant speculation on mere wisps of connections to climate this book is for you.
Interestingly, while “warning fatigue” was well known long ago when too many weather bulletins occur and the populace tunes out because they weren’t personally affected, so it goes today with the increasingly shrill climate warnings we see in the media.
The public is starting to tune those out too.