Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Today, the Boston area is in the middle of some nasty weather from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, which started to hit yesterday afternoon.  I actually slept through what I think was the worst of the Boston-area weather, at least according to the radar at Weather Underground.  Right now, it looks a little rainy and pretty windy out.  I haven't lost power, although I had some flickers about an hour ago.*

Right now, I think the most annoying thing about this storm is the "OMG SO OVERHYPED" reaction.  I don't just find it annoying because of the political implications; I find it obnoxious because I'm really not entirely sure how the storm was overhyped.

Let's think about the Boston area, how much hype there was, and what's actually going on right now.

The MBTA decided to shut down today, after 8am.  People were advised to stay indoors and not drive, unless leaving/driving was necessary.  Coastal and low-lying areas were warned about flooding and advised to prepare for it.  Folks planned in advance in case they lost power, or if they lost power and clean running water.

And what's going on?  Trees are falling, lots of people have lost power, and there has been flooding in various areas.  It is extremely wet, dark, and windy outside.

So, how was this overhyped?  Yes, the storm weakened before it reached us (from a cat 1 hurricane to a tropical storm).  But it's still here.  And this isn't just a bad thunderstorm.  And naturally, most of the people complaining online about the hype still have power.  You're not hearing a lot from the people who've lost power; even if you have mobile internet, you're probably not going to want to waste the batteries when you're not sure when your power will be back on.

In NYC, the "omg overhyped!" reaction is even more unacceptable.  Entire blocks in the city flooded.  People died.  That's not overhype.

And then onwards to the political implications.  Because this isn't just that people crying "overhyped!" are fucking wrong.  This is about the responsibility that government has to protect citizens.

No one knows exactly what will happen when bad weather hits.  We don't know which houses will flood, or exactly which trees will fall.  But it was obvious that the east coast was going to be hit with a major storm, and people needed to be protected.  Governments made the right call and took steps to protect people.**  If they hadn't, it would have been worse.

This is an example of government working, not an example of how government is useless or shouldn't bother itself with things like hurricanes.  An example of when government does not work to protect people?  Katrina.  When Katrina hit six years ago, people were unprepared.  Government was unprepared.  And the death and destruction was absolutely devastating, not just because it happened, but because it could have been prevented or minimized.

So, the bottom line?  If you got through H/TS Irene without losing power or having your life interrupted in any way, that doesn't mean in any way that the storm was overhyped.  The storm wasn't overhyped, and because governments and people took the storm as seriously as they did, the storm isn't causing as much death and destruction as it could be.

* Had three more flickers just as I finished writing this post, around 1:45pm.  GAH.

** An exception needs to be noted: there is no evacuation plan for prisoners in Rikers in NYC.  Not just "there was no plan for this hurricane."  There is no plan, period.  While I believe that many people in that prison are in there for good reasons, that does not mean that it would be totes okay if a hurricane flooded the facilities.

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