The PJ Tatler

News as Melodrama: 'Unprecedented' Flooding by 'Monster Storm'

I am a native Houstonian. I have seen a fair share of flooding. This time, however, friends outside the state have sent a steady stream of worried messages. I gather from their worry that the news has presented the Memorial Day 2015 flood—we flood frequently enough that we name the events for ease of reference—as an event of almost Biblical proportion.

Houston is a sea level city at the confluence of two bayous in a rainy part of the country. Floods happen. It’s like California being a state on a fault line and so earthquakes happen. If you’ve heard a Houstonian joke about jet skiing on an interstate, that’s not Texas bravado. We can do that from time to time. Yes, we are wet and there is loss, but this flooding isn’t even record breaking. For Houston, Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 holds many of the records. (For central Texas, the record floods are from 1869, 1935, and 1986.)

Floods come with tragedy, too. I’m not trying to make light of flooding, but I am trying to combat the drama merchants on the news. Meteorologists know better.

[M]any professional meteorologists feel like we are fighting a losing battle when it comes to national media and social media hype and disinformation. They will be sure to let you know that weather events they are reporting on are “unprecedented”, there are “millions and millions in the path”, it is caused by a “monster storm”, and “the worst is yet to come” since these events are becoming more “frequent”.

You will never hear about the low tornado count in recent years, the lack of major hurricane landfalls on U.S. coasts over the past 10 years, or the low number of wildfires this year. It doesn’t fit their story. But, never let facts get in the way of a good story….

And civil engineers have warnings that have nothing to do with weather drama but instead location and concrete.

We are wet and would like to see the sun get the chance to dry out the ground a bit, but the Memorial Day 2015 flooding, it’s not some freak flood of epic tragedy. It’s just the weather.