Hurricane Irene – Hype or Hurt

Starting at the beginning of the week, the coverage of Hurricane Irene started to ramp up. It got to a point mid-week, where even people in the northeast were paying attention. With the potential that D.C., New York and Boston would all be hit, this was “a big storm.”

But was it the “storm of the century”? Friday night, WBZ-TV meteorologist Barry Burbank said this via Twitter, “Yes, this is a significant storm with several issues BUT too much hype & overreaction! It will NOT be cataclysmic-NOT a 100-year storm!”

This is coming from a man with more than 30 years experience of forecasting the weather in New England.

But local, national and cable news continued ramping up the coverage. At some point Friday, it seemed to go into warp speed and 24-hour coverage.

By Saturday night and then Sunday, when the storm was supposed to be bearing down on New York and Boston nearly all strength was lost. In the storm. Not in the coverage. Still local stations and cable outlets were covering the storm 24/7. People were taking notice – and taking hits via Twitter and Facebook. Many of them didn’t believe the strength of the storm that now existed warranted the coverage.

Many people made the argument that if the storm was losing strength, the news outlets should pull back on their coverage.

In Massachusetts, there was a lot of rain (in places), some wind (in places) and power outages (in places). But it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been seen during a blizzard or during the storms last summer.

Granted, when Irene made her way to Vermont, she was devastating. And eventually the national reporters and meteorologists who were stationed along Long Island, in New York City and along the Massachusetts coast, were moved to Vermont.

With the coverage what it was, it raises the question: When the next storm approaches, will people pay as much attention? Will they prepare by getting batteries, bread and buying in bulk? Or will they lounge on their sofa and not worry?

It’s a tricky position in which news outlets often find themselves. If there’s too much coverage and not a lot of damage is credibility lost? But if the next time the coverage is decreased and the storm gets worse and there’s a lot of damage, does the outlet get blamed for people not being prepared?

What do you think? Was there too much coverage, just enough, or too little? Will you pay attention next time?

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