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Was Hurricane Irene over-hyped?

No sooner does a disaster pass than the finger pointing begins, and the aftermath of Hurricane Irene has been no different.

The blame game has begun [1] by those suggesting that the media over-hyped the storm because New York City and other areas that had seen extensive preparation were not destroyed, as feared by forecasters and those tracking the storm.

We should all count our blessings that Irene didn’t do more damage because, unfortunately, there was plenty of impact and tragedy for many [2]. So why the “over-hype” accusations?

At last count, 40 people in eleven states [3] have lost their lives including four in Virginia. Flooded homes have caught fire. Hundreds (thousands?) of homes were badly damaged. Up to half a dozen beloved covered bridges in Vermont [4] were washed away by flood waters. Tornadoes caused major damage and destroyed at least one home in Sandbridge.

In the Richmond area, rain and wind caused thousands of trees to be blown down on houses and cars. Falling trees were responsible for deaths in North Carolina and Virginia. By Saturday evening 75% of residents in Richmond were without electricity but by Monday that figure had dropped to 60%. That’s still a lot of folks without air conditioning and refrigeration but Dominion said 90-95% should be back online by Friday [5]. At the hard-hit coastal area, many were also without power and had endured damaging flooding conditions.

Churches, civic groups, fire departments, the Red Cross, and others in Virginia are distributing free ice and bottled water [6] to help residents make it through the next few days. Neighbors helping neighbors … that’s how it’s done along the Eastern Seaboard.

Connecticut reported the highest number of people without electricity in the state’s history. They estimate $282 million in damages.

Flooding has destroyed countless homes and buildings from North Carolina to Vermont. Storm surges crushed parts of the coast. Vermont continues to deal with devastating flash floods [7] as rain from Irene helped rivers overflow their banks.

Governors up and down the East Coast braced and prepared for the storm. Skirting the Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina coasts, Irene slammed into North Carolina causing devastation along Hatteras, flooding NC 12 and breaking through the roadway [8] in several places near Rodanthe causing deep gouges that will require extensive repairs.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell [9] stayed on top of the situation from the beginning, sending National Guard members and Sate Police to hardest-hit areas. In the aftermath, he has urged those who wish to help their neighbors to contribute to the Virginia Disaster Relief Fund [10].

New Jersey estimates $2.1 billion in damages from the storm while New York is estimating $2 billion in damages. North Carolina could see up to $400 million in damages. Total damages could grow to billions of dollars [11] in the eleven affected states.

Instead of blaming weather forecasters and the media for “over-hyping,” we should consider ourselves lucky it wasn’t worse because, for those affected, it was bad enough and in some cases life-altering. Stop the finger pointing and blame game. There’s work to be done [12] … someone out there could use a helping hand [10].

Update: Colin Lord, a meteorology major from Florida State, added scientific reasoning as to why Hurricane Irene was not over-hyped:

“Definitely not over-hyped,” Lord said. “We’ve come leaps and bounds in forecasting the path of storms in the last 10 years.

“Something that is still much a mystery is the intensity forecast. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma exploded in 24 hours to a category 5 when nobody saw it coming. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew went from a tropical storm to a category 4 in less than 24 hours.

“Irene was forecast to be a category 2 and was a tropical storm. Instead of missing downwards, we could have missed upwards. If Irene took a track slightly to the right, missed the NC Outer Banks, and went through an unexpected eye wall replacement cycle, it would have been a disaster.

“Storms speed up and they move towards New England and you could have been facing a category 3+ storm suddenly heading right for New York with no time to evacuate.”

Cross-posted at SWAC Girl [13]