From the HEAD LINES MATTER department. Sometimes you just have to shake your head and wonder, did you know what you just said?
Case in point, Eric Blake, from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) tweeted September 7th:
And that Tweet has the takeaway “Never seen anything like this in the modern record” and spawned this story from MSN, quoting Blake: Note the headline using his takeaway phrase slightly modified.
The lead-in to that story reads:
For the first time in modern history, three hurricanes in the Atlantic are lined up in the most dangerous of ways, according to Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
Here’s where that takeway from Blake runs off the rails. Recall back in 2010 we had a trio of hurricanes that looks very much like what Blake claimed was a first by saying “Never seen anything like this in the modern record”.
According to Blake’s Twitter exchange, after “Yannick” brought up that image from 2010, Blake says he’s only referencing a trio of hurricanes that “threaten land”:
Distorted to make it look similar? He’s spinning, and Ellen Bemben is right. Blake said in his initial tweet with the three images:
MSN picked up on it, and now we have a “fake news” headline about three hurricanes that is inaccurate in the context it presents.
The issue is that Hurricane Jose in the 2017 image is affecting the Leeward Islands, where Julia in 2010 did not., (save for some rain and winds on the Cape Verde islands) NHC has issued Jose advisories for Land effects on the Leward Islands, but has cancelled other warnings, and there’s no threat to the U.S.
Many people on Twitter and other social media equated “land” to be the USA, they don’t think about tiny islands like the Leeward Islands, most couldn’t even point them out on a map. People just don’t see the fine distinction about the “threatening land” because from their perspective, all the hurricanes are a threat, and they think “USA”, not Leeward islands. It really doesn’t enter into their thought process at all.
While Blake is technically correct about the “threatening land” part of his tweet, the takeway phrase is the one that got “legs” and is running the opposite direction he intended.
And, now that image from Yannick comparing three Atlantic Hurricanes in 2010 and 2017 is getting heavy play on social media, and Blake is being excoriated for the headline thanks to the law of unintended consequences.
Blake would do well to simply say he made a mistake, or didn’t choose his words carefully, and notify MSN so they can correct the headline. Despite his claims on his Twitter profile (bold mine)…
NHC scientist, CSU/ULM alum, vegan runner, Tweets weather hurricanes El Niño/La Niña climate pets politics frogs-My personal opinions only, NOT my employer’s!
…I’d bet that NHC would want to correct this word blunder, as they strive to be factual. MSN connects Blake and NHC in their article, so his caveat is for naught.
UPDATE: I put this story on hold yesterday, because he’s made an honest mistake and I was pretty sure he’d correct it so the headline would get fixed. I had hoped someone at NHC or professional acquaintances would nudge Blake, and he’d work to correct the misconception. Nope. I contacted Blake today on Twitter, and he wasn’t at all receptive:
Oh, well I tried. BTW, those are not all the exchanges, just a few I had with him. I really did try to help, he wouldn’t have it.
The ego is not master in its own house. -Sigmund Freud
We did agree on one thing though:
ADDED: For perspective, in 1998, there were FOUR hurricanes in the Atlantic at once.