Why Are Skeptics Piling on Irene Forecasters?

I am totally confused why a number of skeptic sites are piling on Irene forecasters who over-estimated the storm’s destructiveness.   Somehow, these sites seem to conflate alarm over Irene with alarm over global warming, and thus false Irene alarm somehow reduces the believeability of global warming forecasts.

This makes no sense.  Yes, the topics are vaguely related, but the models, the prediction process, even the people involved are totally different.  Heck, I heard Joe Bastardi, who I believe is a skeptic, right in there with everyone else last week warning the storm would be very, very dangerous.

The only element even marginally similar is the fact that there are strong incentives that might influence the forecasts.  News and weather outlets get better ratings by creating storm hype, the old joke being that the local news station has predicted ten of the last two natural disasters.  And politicians would certainly rather be caught out being too careful rather than too casual about impending storms.

9 thoughts on “Why Are Skeptics Piling on Irene Forecasters?

  1. Nick

    Very simple reason.

    Alarmist put forward the connection that Global warming causes more destructive hurricanes.

    So when that prediction fails, the sceptics point it out.

    Theory – predict – test – fail is the scientific method after all.

  2. Autonomous Mind

    It may be true that some skeptics are conflating alarm over Irene with alarm over global warming. But I think a lot of the criticism is less to do with the hurricane forecasting and more to do with the hype of politicians and media. At least it should be.

    There is no doubt the storm was very dangerous when it reached the US, as the Carolinas found out. But the doom laden prophecies for New York emanating from the media, combined with the somewhat overblown disaster rhetoric from the politicians, equate with the way officials deal with the subject of climate change.

    As I saw it, forecasters were already reporting the storm’s power was declining before it reached New York. But that didn’t stop the media and political hype. Therein resides the problem that has to be addressed.

  3. klem

    Yea you’re right, alot of forcasters were overhyping the hurricane’s destructiveness, no doubt about it. But from the denialists perspective, we perceive that every hurricane will be overhyped because it has been predicted by climatologists that hurricanes will increase in destructiveness, in other words media outlets have been directed to overhype hurricanes. And for those members of the church of climatology, all predictions by climate priests must come true. Overhyping a hurricane enforces the AGW faith. And if you look around, you’ll see lots of climate alarmist sites which are saying Irene is evidence of AGW, some even say and to look forward to even more destructive hurricanes in the future unless we erect wind turbines today. Denialists went a bit overboard in response.

    Many of us realize that there is competition for eyeballs when a hurricane is bearing down on people, so the news outlets have no choice but to overhype it, there is money amd marketshare to be made, I would overhype it too if I were in their shoes.

    Last week when Irene was in the Bahamas, the eye of the cane kept fading and returning, this is a sure sign that the storm is unstable and not durable, and that it will fizzle. On Sunday morning you could see the hurricane was falling apart but the media was still hyping it like crazy. They were milking it for all they could, even calling it a catagory 1 when it was well into tropical storm level. It was already fizzling when one newscaster even said we should go out and get two weeks of food and supplies! This was a bit much.

  4. Ken Mueller

    Maybe this is a correlate of Gresham’s Law in economics: ‘Bad money drives out good money.’ Overblown and invalid argument on one side leads to an equal and opposite argument on the other side? Just a thought.

  5. ADiff

    The predominate trend in society today, not excepting any scientific community, is to “take counsel of one’s fears” foremost. The result is a tendency to fixate on speculative worst-cases, and to form policy on such basis, at great waste. This seems to apply to everything, from GMOs, to public health, to weather. AGW hysteria is only, perhaps, the most over-arching example of this wasteful, destructive and undignified social pathology.

    Most interesting is such run-away ‘precautionary principle’ activities, being focused on what we fear, and hence are aware, makes us increasingly likely to fall foul of things of which we are ignorant (or which fall outside the politically and socially acceptable bounds of public discourse, e.g. the 90-10 rule in public health).

    It seems plausible that Crichton may have had a point when he suggested in one of his pop-science novels that one plausible impact of broad and pervasive mass communications was social suicide by ‘fad’.

  6. Sean

    Having gone through the perifery of the hurricane I got really concerned on Wed. & Thurs. of last week as the storm strengthened while continuing NW. However on Thurs PM we got hit with a strong line of thunderstorms that blew through and headed to the SW. It seemed like when the front interacted with Ilene, the storm turned NNW and lost some of it’s structure and it’s punch. So it didn’t have the high winds when it came ashore but it had a ton of energy and a lot of moisture so it affected a broad area. Personnaly, I am thankful fo the way it turned out. Sure there was a lot of wind damage to trees and pretty broad power outages but it could have been a lot worse.

  7. MTB

    I saw Joe Bastardi (excellent forecaster and AGW skeptic) raising the same question on his twitter.

  8. sundevil

    I think the gist of the skeptics was to point out that if we can’t predict what a hurricane will do 24 hours out, then how in the world can we predict “climate change” decades (if not centuries) out? Beyond that, people are always willing to pile on hype, and it seems to be even more popular these days as our sensationalist media make fools of themselves almost daily with over-hyped stories about everything from viruses (bird flu, H1N1 flu, etc) to economic collapse (the debt-ceiling battle). Working people into a frenzy is fairly easy to do, but I think it’s also becoming easier to look up the counter-facts now.

    Anyway, I think the hurricane basically lived up to the expectations, even though NYC didn’t get hit as hard as first thought. There was plenty of other damage/flooding, but since the media center of the universe was spared, some people seem to think that means the hurricane was a dud. Hardly.

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