Now that "Snowmageddon 2015" is behind us and the late night talk shows have finished mocking the TV coverage and hype of what turned out to be a storm that wasn't nearly as bad as expected, let's talk about the effects Hurricane Katrina continues to have on the United States. That singular event has forever changed the way we in the media cover weather--and how government responds to the potential for any type of disaster.
First off, the mantra for all broadcast media outlets is Armageddon Weather Coverage Gets Ratings. Ask any news director at any of the major TV networks their greatest regret in covering Hurricane Katrina and they would tell you it was "Not making a bigger deal out of it before the storm hit". You had the usual middle of the newscast stories about people nailing plywood over their windows and emptying the shelves of bottled water and bread. Meteorologists waffled on just how severe the storm was going to be--realizing at the last minute that Category Five was in play--but not really being able to put into perspective just how powerful that was.
The Weather Channel and CNN were the big "winners" in Katrina--as they had "boots on the ground" during the brunt of the storm--and America became enamored with footage of grown men holding microphones being blown down the street. That set the new standard for "storm reporting"--put people into harm's way so they can tell viewers not to go out into harm's way. It's why we also get "live dashcams" of TV crews out cruising streets as snow creates whiteout conditions or floodwaters threaten to sweep the vehicle away.
The second lasting effect of Hurricane Katrina is that every politician and bureaucrat now must Treat Everyone Like Helpless, Moronic Children. This comes from the copious amount of blame that was spread around to President Bush, FEMA Director Michael Brown and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for "failing to properly warn people" about the impending storm. Even though the Mayor held several news conferences encouraging people to evacuate and telling them how to take advantage of free transportation to evacuate. Of course, we all remember the scenes of the people who ignored those warnings standing on their rooftops waiting for rescue--and blasting the President for not sending the armored personnel carriers and evacuation buses right to their house to pick them up.
So now, everybody in Government feels it is their duty to warn everyone about every possible situation that might arise in a storm. The day before "Snowmageddon", CNN went from a press conference featuring New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio telling people to stay off the streets, stock up on necessities, shelter in place and don't try to travel during the storm to a press conference by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie telling people to stay off the streets, stock up on necessities,
shelter in place and don't try to travel during the storm to a press
conference by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo telling people to stay off the streets, stock up on necessities,
shelter in place and don't try to travel during the storm--followed by a telephone interview with the Massachussetts Director of Emergency Management telling people to stay off the streets, stock up on necessities,
shelter in place and don't try to travel during the storm.
Nearly ten years after Katrina, it continues to color the way we view major weather events--and I don't see any change on the horizon--until we do start tuning it out. That will be right around the time the next "real" disaster strikes--and everyone looks around and says "Why didn't anyone warn us?"