I was in the early stages of a fantasy football draft when I first noticed the code red alert at the top of the television screen: It called for all of Suffolk County to be evacuated.
My first reaction was: “This can’t be true.”
Then, for a moment, I pictured millions of people clogging the Long Island Expressway, driving desperately to safety as I ate pizza in my friend Matt’s living room.
Then it was my turn to pick and life went on. (I took 2015 NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson with the fifth pick, by the way.)
The botched alert, which was later corrected to say the evacuation was optional and for Fire Island only, was one of several moments of hysteria and overreaction I witnessed this weekend.
I understand the importance of storm preparedness and the dangers of a hurricane, and I don’t wish to completely downplay the need to be aware of storms. But haven’t we gotten a little carried away with weather events these past couple of years?
As an editor of several weekly newspapers and daily websites, I sometimes question just how deeply we should get into storm coverage. In the old days, when the web wasn’t even a blip on the radar, much of our storm coverage was done days later. A few photos were taken during a weather event and the aftermath was reported when things were safe. That’s changed significantly in recent years, most dramatically during Hurricane Sandy, when we maintained a live blog for our readers, providing 48 hours of continual coverage.
But not every storm demands that type of intense coverage and knowing when to treat it like a big deal and when to downplay it can be a confusing proposition. After all, we’re not exactly meteorologists here. Sometimes, though, we’re forced to report as if we are. Never have I felt more ridiculous than when I walked around Beixedon Estates in Southold with an iPad and microphone during the height of Sandy.
To me, weathermen were always handsome fellas with funny names that you’d occasionally boo because they messed up badly — they were sort of like the New York Mets.
As a kid, it was always Storm Field or Sam Champion giving us the lowdown on the next frightening storm. When I moved to Southern California in my 20s, it was Dallas Raines and Johnny Mountain, men whose names meant they could work in only two industries, the other also based in Los Angeles.
Here at Times Review we often call reporter Paul Squire by his alias, “Stormy Squire,” since he does most of our weather reporting. Sometimes from my office I can hear him and editorial assistant Laura Huber squabbling over conflicting weather reports each of them is getting from different sources. The next day we usually find out who was right. And if what we reported was wrong, our readers know it, too.
This week we ran three updates on Hermine that proved to be largely inaccurate, though all were based on reports from the National Weather Service. On Tuesday, we opted to focus mostly on getting the papers out the door and report only the aftermath of the storm instead of another flawed preview, and the storm actually hit, though to a much lesser degree than originally anticipated.
Sometimes I long for the good old days, when you could leave the weather advances to the guys in sharp suits with impossibly white teeth, but I recognize that, to some degree, the Internet has turned all media people into weather reporters.
That said, I’ll leave you with this one final report for the week. Temperatures are expected to reach the 80s this weekend. There won’t be many more Saturdays like this next one for a while. Load the kids in the car and hit the beach. Or grab an ice cream cone from Magic Fountain. Just get out of the house and away from your computer.
And let me apologize in advance if none of this rings true. Unfortunately, when it comes to the weather, you just can’t believe everything you read.
Caption: Some downed branches in Orient Tuesday — an aftermath that hardly lived up to the hype.
The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].