Hurricane Week Revisited Part 2: Reporting the Storm

Editor’s Note: Back in 2013, I ran a three-part series on what to do when a hurricane was approaching. Seven years later, with two named storms actively churning it seemed like a good time to look back, while also looking ahead, with the three phases of the storm. The three phases are before a storm arrives, the event horizon of storm arrival, and the aftermath following a storm’s departure. While this information is mostly geared to residents of coastal states in the path of storms, we encourage all of our readers to learn about the three phases of the storm. Today let us turn our attention to what happens once the storm arrives.

During a hurricane there are two types of residents, those who are riding the storm out in their homes, and those that went elsewhere during the brunt of the storm.

As a rule of thumb, I tend to ride out any storm lower than a Category 3. Storms larger than that and I will be one of the first ones pointing my car to dry land. There are of course exceptions to every rule and each storm needs to be considered on its own merits of risk.

For those who stay behind, the roads can be hauntingly quiet with the exception of emergency vehicles and others who have to be out on the roads. For the most part just prior to the arrival of the storm local authorities will urge residents to clear the roads and seek shelter.

Like moths to the flame news vans like this one on the Seawall in Galveston become a familiar sight before and after the arrival of a hurricane.
Photo R. Anderson

There is of course one group of out of towners that do not heed that warning; since it was the storm that brought them to town in the first place.

I am of course talking about the national reporters from Atlanta.

Okay, so the reporters come from elsewhere as well but with CNN and the Weather Channel based in the Peach State of Georgia it is a fitting statement.

For almost as long as there have been television reporters, residents of areas bracing for the storm have dealt with the arrival of reporters from various news outlets hoping to ride out the storm and win an Emmy in the process. This relationship of course can put revenue in the pockets of local hotels but for the most part it amounts to a lot of wind blowing much like the storm itself.

The reporter battling the elements cliché is one that is played out whenever nature strikes. Perhaps nowhere is this shown in its silliest sense than when a hurricane is involved.

Reporters dressed in their best outer wear try to convey that the storm is bringing pounding winds, waves and of course rain even if it isn’t.

To paraphrase Mark Twain in some instances, “the reports of the storm have been greatly exaggerated.

Since television is a visual media it does not do to simply report from the dry comfort of the hurricane command center about the conditions outside.

Oh no, the reporters from parts local and far and wide go out in the elements to share just how powerful the storm is.

The edge of hurricane Claudette arrives in Pensacola, Fl in 2003.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, the reporters, while well-meaning, tend to turn it into a comedy bit when they do leave the safety of the hurricane command center. And I will admit to watching some of the continuing continuous coverage just to see the unintended comedy bits from the reporters.

To be clear, I am not wishing damage to anyone’s person or property during a storm it is just that some reporters go way overboard in trying to sell the story and quite frankly it makes for very compelling television for all the wrong reasons.

Common missteps including inability to hear the reporter, or losing that all important visual link, have all been experienced through the years by reporters covering from the heart of the storm.

There are even the reporters who get knocked down by the wind gusts but as one-hit wonder Chumbawamba would say they get back up again.

Then there are the reporters who try just a little too hard to sell the story. I forget which storm it was, but a few years back there was a reporter covering the terrible flooding conditions here in Houston. The reporter appeared to be up to their waist in floodwater and valiantly doing their live shot.

The only problem was when the camera operator panned back to show the scope of flooding a man could be seen a few feet away from the reporter in ankle deep water. So that can only mean one of two things. Either the reporter was sitting down in the puddle to make it appear worse than it was or the man behind her was a giant in search of his beanstalk.

Fe fi fo fum I smell an over reaching reporter, hmm.

Reporter embellishing aside, the swarm of reporters can serve a good purpose for the residents who were smart enough to leave the area ahead of the storm.

During Hurricane Ike, my parents were able to see their house on national television a day after landfall.

A news van from New Orleans waits for Hurricane Claudette to hit in Pensacola, FL in 2003.
Photo R. Anderson

Normally one would not want to see their house on television since reporters rarely are there just to say hello.

But in this case the sight of their home seemingly in one piece gave them peace in knowing that aside from some downed trees, chances were it was not as bad as they had feared it could have been.

Conversely, my house did not have a news crew drive by it so I had to wait until I got back home to see if it had survived the worst of the floodwater and the wind.

Another group aside from reporters that makes a beeline for the shore as the storm is hitting are of course the surfers. Big storms bring epic waves and when the waves are 10-12 feet above normal it makes for a temptation that is hard for some to resist.

Sadly, there are often deaths related to people underestimating the power of the waves in the storm. It is not uncommon to hear reports of people drowning or getting swept away by the waves while standing on a dock.

So, enjoy the waves from afar and enjoy the pratfalls of the out of town reporters from the dry comfort of one’s home. Hurricanes can be very powerful and they can be very deadly. It is crucial to keep that in mind and never tempt the belly of the storm.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about waves has me curious to check tomorrow’s surf reports. Cowabunga dudes.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson