Irene made landfall this morning in North Carolina, as predicted, and is slowly making her way up the east coast. While some belittle the storm as “only” a Category 1, you don’t hear that kind of pooh-poohing from the National Hurricane Center. From their 8AM EDT public advisory comes this list of hazards facing those on land:

WIND: . . . Tropical-storm-force winds should spread northward along the Mid-Atlantic Coast later this morning with hurricane conditions expected by this afternoon. Hurricane-force winds should spread northward through the hurricane warning area during the day. Tropical storm conditions are expected to reach southern New England tonight with hurricane conditions expected on Sunday.

STORM SURGE:. . . . Storm Surge . . . An extremely dangerous storm tide will raise water levels by as much as 5 to 9 feed above ground level in the hurricane warning area in North Carolina. . . including the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. Storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 4 to 8 feet above ground level within the hurricane warning area from North Carolina/Virginia border northward to Cape Cod including southern portions of the Chesapeake Bay and its Tributaries. Near the coast . . . The surge will be accompanied by large . . . destructive . . . and life threatening waves. Storm surge values are very location-specific . . . and users are urged to consult products issued by their local national weather service officers.

RAINFALL: . . . Irene is expected to produce rainfall accumulations of 6 to 10 inches . . . with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches . . . . From Eastern North Carolina northward through the Mid-Atlantic states into Eastern New York and Western New England. These rains could cause widespread flooding and life-threatening flash floods.

SURF: . . . Large swells generated by Irene are affecting portions of the coast of the Southeastern United States. These swells will cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

TORNADOES: . . .Isolated tornadoes are possible over extreme eastern North Carolina today.

Given the size (not strength) of Irene, the combination of wind and rain will be something to watch carefully. Think about the stereotypical weathercaster standing on the beach, leaning into the wind. He or she can do that for a while, but then fatigue sets in. It’s hard to keep that up, and sooner or later, those relentless winds — even if they’re only Category 1 and not 3 or 4 — will take a toll on people, buildings, bridges, trees, and everything else in their path.

Add in the rains, and it’s even worse. Saturated ground means that trees are more vulnerable to being uprooted, since the roots don’t have something solid to hold on to. Downed trees and branches — not one or two, but thousands — mean closed roads, no power, and increased flooding.

Irene is nothing to sneeze at, and I hope the folks up the coast don’t look at “merely” Category 1 and blow off being prepared.

That said, I can’t help but think there’s a lot of news getting lost in the coverage of Irene. That’s not a knock on the media — we need to have good information about this storm to prepare for it — but rather a nod toward the cherished tradition of putting out bad news late on a Friday, so that it gets lost by the time Monday rolls around.

For folks with some really bad news that they want to get washed and blown away before anyone notices or it really takes root in the media, yesterday was a golden opportunity.

Sean O’Malley, the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Boston, clearly grasped this concept. I can imagine the train of thought: “OK, we have to release this list of clergy accused of being child abusers, but what’s the best way to do it? I know . . . let’s roll it out right when a major hurricane comes steaming up the East Coast. Sure, it will get some local coverage, and coverage in the RC press, but no national coverage at all. For them, it’ll be a one day story, if it gets mentioned at all.” Put me in the “too little” camp.

The State Department, too, seems to understand how Irene can wash away news of their final environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Released late on Friday, the EIS concluded (per the Washington Post) “there would be no significant impact to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor.” Foggy Bottom is not all that far from the White House, and with all the protests this past week, I’m sure the State Department press folks are rather relieved that the storm is keeping everyone in DC occupied with things other than protesting. For a while, anyway.

Obviously these stories haven’t gone completely unnoticed, but they’re getting far less attention than they otherwise would have.

Three final thoughts:

(1) If you live (or are visiting) along the East Coast, like Cynthia Kouril, stay safe.

(2) I wonder what other stories are being blown away by the coverage of Irene? If you’ve got any stories you think are being missed, please put them and a link into the comments.

(3) If you live (or are visiting) along the East Coast, stay safe.

photo h/t: Genista

 

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