Friday, July 15, 2005

A Perfect Storm

Hurricane Dennis crossed the coast of the continental United States on Sunday afternoon, 10 July, in a lightly populated area. For those people in its path, the storm brought damage, disruption and, sadly, two deaths. Hundreds of thousands were left without power in its wake and debris was scattered across a wide area. But the casinos on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast were open the next morning and winds were down to 35 miles per hour by 11 am on Monday. Things could have been much worse for the people of the Gulf Coast. Tragically, things could not have been much worse for the US cable news networks.

MSNBC, CNN and FOX are big on hurricanes; they are easy to explain. The basic ingredients of a hurricane are fairly simple. Just about any weather system that starts in the Caribbean and develops enough wind and rain can be a hurricane. Add a catchy name and it’s time to dust off the Weather Central set. The coverage usually starts when Hurricane Waldo passes by some place like Haiti or Cuba. The good news is that in Haiti a lot of the houses are built from cardboard boxes so there are some really neat damage pictures. Since Cuba is run by Communists, the damage pictures from there are very popular. The bad news about Haiti and Cuba is that when a hurricane goes over land, it loses some of its punch. If Waldo can’t make up the wind speed, there won’t be any pictures of a Ramada Inn that used to be in Florida now sitting in Texas. But cable news executives can hope.

The frenzy at the cable news outlets was already building by Saturday afternoon. The younger, expendable reporters were despatched to strategic locations along about 2,000 miles of coastline from the Florida Keys to New Orleans. Each one of them was outfitted in very smart raingear from Abercrombie & Fitch. They were equipped with specially modified vehicles able to withstand an asteroid collision and rubber soled shoes. Luckily, about 400,000 residents were evacuated from the threatened areas to make room for the army of journalists. (Geraldo Rivera was unavailable and was thought to be following up a tip that the Loch Ness Monster spends summers in Aruba.)

Back at headquarters things were gearing up. Extra cans of hair spray were issued to network announcers Brandi, Candi and Mandi in expectation of a tough time ahead. New computer programmes were loaded up to bisect, dissect and disembowel Dennis. As Sunday wore on, it was discovered that the eye of the hurricane was only about 50 miles wide. The remote crew in New Orleans was reassigned to cover a gumbo festival. During gaps in the excitement, there was a cut to the National Weather Service. A guy who faintly resembled Mr Rogers pointed out that Dennis was actually moving down from a category 4 to a category 3 hurricane. The remote crew in Mississippi was reassigned to cover the opening of a Taco Bell in Biloxi. The excitement gap turned into a chasm.

All was not lost however. Dennis was not Ivan, but it was big. Weather maps were updated and, in grave tones, it was announced that rain was expected in Cleveland, Ohio by Thursday. Dennis was almost a perfect storm after all. Meanwhile Brandi, Candi and Mandi were frantically making hair appointments and hoping that Emily would not let them down.


Blogger Abby Taylor said...

Damn Cuba and Haiti for messing with our news!

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Meeyotch said...

Eh, as far as I'm concerned, the Weather Channel is the only REAL weather source out there (, well, it should be, being the weather channel and all...) At least the guys there have halfway of a clue talking about weather.

7:49 PM  
Blogger birdwoman said...

check out Lewis Black's rant (2. The Fall, Hurricanes and Weathermen on weathermen... it'll make you snicker whenever you hear the name Simba...


I make my living off the Evening News
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry

7:01 PM  

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