By Rob Hardy
Hurricane Sandy may just be one of the stronger hurricanes on record. This fact is actually lost on many people due to weather hype (or hype in general these days), which makes “the conversations” that Twitter initiates grow to such loud drones that the voices themselves are lost in the process.
Though it’s great to be able to engage with others, people’s ability to tweet virtually anything can help colour any event, thereby changing perception in often-unrealistic ways. When many people weigh in on something like a storm, but have no clue what a millibar is, expectations get assigned that were never valid to begin with, reducing the process to little more than a telephone game.
First off, in regards to this hurricane, which by the time you read this will have caused beyond billions in damages, we have a case of under-hype if anything. As someone who has followed meteorology for a very long time, when hurricanes are classified solely on wind speed we get a redundant factoring which fails to take into account storm surge, rainfall or barometric pressure. This makes Sandy’s classification as a Category 1 hurricane misleading because it’s actually behaving like a major one instead, aided by a collision of weather fronts fuelling the storm’s energy.
Climate change is a very prickly topic but it’s really not so difficult. Though there is some debate, statistics are finding things heating up, though this involves colder weather at times since progress never uniformly points to one direction. We know that humans have absolutely changed this planet, and it’s also safe to say that bigger changes around us also play a factor (such as increased activity on the sun and other planets). But beyond that, we can’t quantify exactitudes.
People always talk about “the science”. Okay, let’s look at that. Science comes from the latin term scientia, meaning knowledge. Uh oh, so right away, this doesn’t look too good here. Because even if we were to unwisely declare that intuition was not a worthy source to rely on, how are we as humans going to function rationally when our body of knowledge, a.k.a. the level of our scientific understanding thus far, could only relatively fit into a thimble? And that’s for those who actually know a thing or two.
For those who don’t, hype not only builds up but it also tears down, with little understanding that weather is not really easier to predict today despite technological advances. However, this is not something to be reduced to a cheap joke, because understanding our place in the larger sphere should be taken very seriously, lest we be reduced to relying on second-rate information. That everyone likes to “freak out” as if they are in the movie 2012, and then later declare a significant event as a “dud” after the fact, doesn’t take into account the actual facts as they transpired, but rather plays into some sort of hyperactive social script – the same one which also declares that looking into the way things actually work is “geeky”.
Even authorities in Ontario were ripe to jump on the bandwagon during last year’s Snowmageddon, for example, saying that the storm “fizzled out”. No, what actually happened is that it thankfully spared this part of the region from the worst effects, while Lakeshore Drive in Chicago got pummelled by hurricane force winds off of Lake Michigan, forcing drivers to abandon their cars for miles after the blizzard made it impossible to move. This “dud” actually showed that a single non-cyclonic storm system could now produce nearly every sort of weather event imaginable at some point, including hail, thunder and sleet, with winds upwards of 80 mph, something quite unprecedented and unlike the clearing we ourselves experienced in this region.
Our earth is changing. This seemed especially clear this weekend as a powerful earthquake in British Columbia, registering at 7.7 causing a widespread tsunami warning for Hawaii, effectively pre-empting news of the impending hurricane with its own round-the-clock coverage. These kinds of stories bury the lesser-known but significant events, such as the Trans-Canada Highway, which collapsed in Wawa last week when rains caused the land beneath it to give way.
Other significant events are further obscured, such as Russia’s own 7.7 earthquake two months ago.
Some of you have travelled overseas for work or to see family, perhaps hearing something about how unusual the weather has been there.
We live in the GTA, which seems to be one of the few places being spared of some of the larger calamities occurring more frequently elsewhere. But it only takes one event to alter lives drastically, which is why New York is particularly vulnerable – not really well protected from even a minimal hurricane.
The point is that it’s easy to say something was over-hyped or mild if you only experienced the peripheral effects, but we have to judge something by its strongest point, as those whose homes are already flooded in Delaware and beyond will attest.
Otherwise we are relating more to a kind of created mythology than any specific event itself.