Roger’s Rules

The calm between the storms

I’ve been quiet on this front lately, partly because we have just launched the special thirtieth anniversary issue of The New Criterion (I think it is one of the best we’ve ever published: order yours today!), partly because we’ve been busy cleaning up after the various gifts deposited by Hurricane Irene.

Several readers have inquired after me: many thanks for writing. I appreciate your concern. A friend sent me an amusing article describing Irene as a “perfect storm of hype.” He had earlier sent around this droll picture, which I believe originated in California after the nearly apoplectic reporting about the Virginia-based earthquake a couple of weeks ago.

(The earth did move for me, by the way: a mild, but inexplicable, little shimmer as I sat at my desk. “I wonder,” I asked myself as the teacup chimed lightly in its saucer, “I wonder if that’s an earthquake?” I then put it out of my mind and went back to writing about G. K. Chesterton.)

Anyway, though hype there was aplenty about Hurricane Irene, there was also plenty of wallop. Our little neighborhood has scooped up more than 20 tons of debris. Many people in our immediate neighborhood lost cars or furnaces and boilers or other property. Some had a foot of water in their first floor. We missed that, but had a basement full of seawater which we are still cleaning up. All around us there were many downed trees, some of them taking power lines with them (some adjacent neighborhoods are still without power and/or water). It could have been worse, much worse, but it was plenty bad.

The irritating thing about the weather reporting is that it is all hysteria, all the time. The meteorologists hold fast to the old leftist motto that “the worse the better.” Their excitement as they describe a storm as “Category 3 (or 4 or 5)” is palpable. They can barely contain themselves as they tell each other (they tend to work in pairs for some reason) how much damage the latest of nature’s assaults might cause.

Their motivation, I suspect, is partly salacious — they gleefully indulge what Henry James described as “the imagination of disaster” — but it is also partly prudence. We might make fun of the weatherman who overstates the badness of the weather, but we don’t blame him. It is quite otherwise if he understates the severity of a storm. People are then looking for someone to blame, and the fellow who predicted wrongly is likely to get a bucketful of blame. My own practice is to listen to the pros: the National Hurricane Center at NOAA is OK, Commanders Weather is even better, but not free. Unless you have an appetite for melodrama, I recommend giving the usual TV weather sources a miss. They just keep repeating, with embellishments, news they get from elsewhere, and they’re more about lifestyle and drama than the weather.

Anyway, I’ve all but forgotten Hurricane Irene (I’ll be reminded, though, when I pay the bill for the clean-up, which will not be small). Now I am keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Katia, which is set to strengthen into a hurricane over the next several days. It’s meandering around the Leeward Islands at the moment. Where will it go? No one knows yet, but stayed tuned for the next installment of melodrama which will be coming to a television screen near you next week.