Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene's Aftermath

As I had mentioned the predictions were yesterday in my last post, Irene came through as a tropical storm and not a hurricane. A few trees are down around town, and my ceiling collapsed a bit from water damage due to a bad window seal. Power stayed on. All-in-all, more or less what I've been expecting to happen since yesterday. Here are some pictures of a tree down on Market Street. I had just been thinking, were these planted in the 1980s? How big were they then? Sad either way. Green is good. Shade is good.


I watch almost no TV, so I didn't catch too many of the incessant discussions about this storm. I watched the weather maps online and read the direct National Weather Service bulletins. Facts and spin are different. Part of me, like many people, is a bit angry at the media for blowing this up so big. While it's pretty hard to over-prepare, I bet a lot of people are feeling kind of silly right now, hence the anger.

The other part of me says that although it was rapidly becoming clear this was not going to be the storm of the century, trees are down, power lines are down, water isn't running for people, and at least one person in Connecticut is dead. Is simply saying: "Bring your stuff inside, stay safe in your home, have food and water for your family for a day or so, and stay away from any downed lines if you must go out" scary enough to get your average American to not harm themselves? Considering people are dead in Virginia from deciding to go swimming...and it was a much larger storm down there...I'm not so sure. Here in New England, we know what to do about a Nor-Easter, we are much less used to hurricanes.

The other part I wonder about is how do you convey different messages to different people in an era of global media? I live in a massive brick building that survived the '38 hurricane, Carol, Gloria, and Bob. There is nothing nearby not made of brick to come flying through my windows. Irene was going to be a relative breeze no matter what (no pun intended), after the predictions changed through Friday and Saturday morning. If I lived in Rhode Island near the coast, or way up in the woods somewhere, I would've taken "Tropical Storm Warning" very, very differently.

As it stands, there was a Nor-Easter in April 2007 - the last time it rained sideways -which blew water in through my window seals. Therefore, I was prepared to handle that today. The Weather Channel isn't going to inform you about that stupid, localized risk, due to the construction of this building and the wind tunnel caused by the ones around it. On the other hand, if downtown Lowell is without electricity for more than a few hours and nobody can get in and out to somewhere that does have electricity...something really, really bad happened. I just don't have the same set of concerns that the media is screaming at us to have. Yet, people left cars parked under trees around here, and now they're crushed. You'll never get everybody to react appropriately.

Mainstream media aside, how has social media changed how we look at this? Does a few people freaking out - often appropriately - cause everybody to freak out - sometimes illogically? Do circulating half-truths online spur the mainstream media to quicken the drumbeat to continue whipping people into a frenzy? While it was interesting to watch - in real time - my friends up and down the Atlantic coast post how the storm was treating them (and in the age of smart phones that don't need electricity to post to Facebook, that's pretty incredible), it was also interesting to watch arguments begin over how people were reacting to the storm...and bizarrely, splitting down political lines.

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