With Hurricane Irene having come and gone, and with Kershaw County and South Carolina having been spared, the second-guessers in other parts of the country are coming out of the woodwork. When it comes to hindsight, there’s perhaps no area more fertile than weather -- specifically, severe storms. It’s easy to assess blame after the fact, whether it’s for lack of preparedness or over-reaction, and there is no shortage of people who are willing to do so.
We’ll confess that we become weary of television news programs which are seemingly obsessed with the weather, and it’s clear that “bad weather sells” when it comes to TV. It seems as if news bulletins scream from the screen every time a small disturbance is sighted. But when it comes to storms, while science has come far in predicting what will happen, it’s still a guessing game in many ways.
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) acknowledged in a recent news story that while they’ve become adept at predicting the paths of hurricanes, they aren’t nearly so good when it comes to forecasting intensity. Their scientific models are not sophisticated enough for them to have known that Irene, while huge in size, would not be as fierce as they had believed.
Irene still did tons of damage, of course, primarily from the torrential rains that accompanied the storm. But wind speeds were significantly lower than had been predicted, and that helped keep damage down. There were many evacuations and shutdowns up and down the east coast that could have been avoided if forecasters had been able to make better intensity predictions.
But in the end, we refer to the old maxim, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Government officials would have been excoriated if they had carried on “business as usual” and the storm had intensified rather than decreased. And in the end, there’s another old saying that still proves true, no matter how sophisticated science might be:
“You can’t fool with Mother Nature.”