The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Weather According to Matthew

The ubiquitous media has truly altered the way we observe and experience weather events. A week or so ago we began to hear about Hurricane Matthew as it formed, strengthened, and moved slowly through the central Caribbean, eventually becoming a dreaded Category 5 storm. Once its movement indicated a potential threat to Florida and the U.S. East Coast, the "weather establishment" shifted into high gear.

As it traveled north the storm caused catastrophic damage to poor Haiti, but this seemed a secondary concern. Yes, we're told that several hundred Haitians lost their lives and thousands more lost their homes and their few possessions, but isn't this to be expected? After all, it's Haiti! They're real poor down there, and backward, and live in shacks; they have poor construction codes, and probably don't even have a national weather service. Anyway, Channel Whatever Eyewitness News doesn't have a news crew down there; and if it's not on TV it mustn't be all that important. After Haiti Matthew scraped the eastern edge of Cuba and then rolled through the Bahamas, but we heard little about its effects in these places. All eyes were focused on Florida.
Hurricane Matthew Approaches Florida

Reporter in the Storm
The media frenzy really peaked yesterday, and hasn't ebbed a bit. At some point every local TV station in Orlando (the ones we are blessed to receive on our cable system) preempted their usual programming and offered round-the-clock hurricane coverage. One station even replaced Thursday Night Football with several meteorologists sharing their thoughts about millibars, storm surge, eye walls, forecast models, digital radar, and other wondrous things. Every station pre-positioned reporters and camera crews wherever they expect disaster to strike. This, of course, led to an interesting contradiction. As some poor, 100-pound, young woman reporter is battered on camera by hurricane force winds and driving horizontal rain, the studio anchors tell their audience not to be foolish by leaving their homes during the storm. Go figure!

As is often the case, the TV meteorologists focus on their worst-case scenarios and discuss other possibilities only in passing. This creates a sense of impending doom, that this storm will be like no other. I suppose such warnings are useful since they probably convince some reluctant people to evacuate threatened areas, but they also cause others to believe the danger was grossly overstated. 

The 24-hour coverage generates another problem: constant repetition. There's only so much to say about a storm. And now -- thanks to the internet, hurricane apps on our smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, and push notifications -- information pours into our homes unceasingly. No doubt this flow of information has saved many lives, lives that would have been lost in the days when hurricanes appeared with far less warning. But an inundation of data and opinion can also confuse and lead folks to turn it all off.
Matthew's Coming!!

The media also provide a venue for our politicians to communicate their advice, concerns, and demands. Indeed, every few hours the governor, surrounded by his emergency management team, a collection of very serious-looking people, appears on screen and gives us an update. The governor and his team have apparently spent our tax dollars well and done an excellent job preparing for Matthew's arrival. Governor Scott, I am told, is a very nice man, but his reports seem so very gloomy. I suppose that's to be expected since he likely feels responsible for the safety of the people of Florida and hopes they will take the storm seriously. Even though the storm has obviously weakened -- it's now a Category 3 storm -- and has drifted slightly seaward, the warnings remain severe. At the same time, however, the meteorologists are almost apologetic because Matthew hasn't fully lived up to their expectations. They truly enjoy storms. It's all very interesting.

Governor Scott Updates the State

Here in The Villages we are on Matthew's western fringe and have experienced only periodic rain and wind -- nothing very substantial. But in anticipation of the storm, most local government offices and many businesses have closed. We even closed the Wildwood Soup Kitchen today. Yesterday Diane and I and our wonderful team of volunteers prepared a tasty meal for our guests, and then prepared an additional double brown-bag meal so no one would go without food today. We all went home tired but satisfied that the hungry would be fed.

As Matthew heads north we pray that it drifts farther out to sea and spares the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. We also look forward to a little less weather and far less weather news.

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