Number One Lesson *Not* To Take Away from Hurricane Irene

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I was watching CNN this morning. I don’t know why—except that it was on in the gym at the hotel where I’m staying.

Pretty soon, I was arguing with the screen.

A narrative is developing in the media that Hurricane Irene was somehow “overhyped,” that politicians “cried wolf,” and then the devastating damage that was forecast didn’t appear. Piers Morgan, tonight, will supposedly head up a segment called “Hurricane Hype.”

Never mind that there’s more than enough disaster imagery to keep the cable news channels on the story 24-7. And never mind that the storm killed at least 27 people and has caused an estimated $ 7 billion in U.S. damage.

Nevertheless, somehow Irene still wasn’t damaging enough, and so we’re going to hear about how politicians were covering their $#^@, scaring people when they didn’t have to.

Not only is this idiotic—it’s downright dangerous.

Nobody can perfectly forecast how a storm is going to turn out or where it is going to go—not even the experts. This storm clearly posed a very serious threat to New York, and while it certainly could have been worse, that’s precisely the point. We err on the side of caution. We warn people strenuously because to under-warn them would be unforgivable.

Even worse, if this narrative about hurricane “overhyping” takes hold, it could utterly distract from the real take-away from this storm experience. Namely: This was a test run for a much worse storm that will someday come and threaten New York. And the test run proved that we’re not remotely ready.

The image I’ve posted above (larger here) shows the cumulative tracks of all Atlantic hurricanes on record. As you can see, there is virtually no part of the East Coast that has not gotten hit at some time or other.

New York will be hit again, and it will be hit worse. It is only a matter of time.

And while the city may have withstood Irene relatively well, it will not, with its current defenses, withstand a direct hit from a stronger storm with a bigger storm surge. And if that storm comes and New York isn’t ready, we could have a scenario even worse than Katrina.

So while the journalists are talking about “hype,” here’s what we should actually be discussing:

Sea defenses.

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