1. Opinion

Dorian coverage brought more hot air than the hurricane did | Carl Hiaasen

During Dorian, the only must-see video came from helicopters flying over scenes of hellish ruination and misery in the Bahama.
Two swimmers brave the churning surf brought by Hurricane Dorian just south of the Daytona Beach Pier on Wednesday. [DAVID TUCKER | The Daytona Beach News-Journal]
Published Sep. 9
Updated Sep. 9
Carl Hiaasen [Carl Hiaasen]

Finally, Floridians can breathe a mass sigh of relief. All those manic storm chasers from the Weather Channel are gone.

Now we can reclaim our beaches, jetties and fishing piers, where for nearly a week we dodged TV crews and bleary-eyed correspondents wearing rain jackets even when it was 92 degrees and sunny.

Yes, these people are just trying to do their jobs, and they work hard, but too much of what gets on the air is laughably obvious, inanely melodramatic or just plain useless. Be glad they've scurried on up the seaboard.

Oh, and Hurricane Dorian has moved on, too.

Of all the hours of nonstop weather footage that bombarded those of us in the bull's-eye of The Cone, the only must-see video came from helicopters flying over scenes of hellish ruination and misery in the Bahamas.

The islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama had been pulverized by almost two days of 180-plus mph winds and a 20-foot sea surge, with apocalyptic results.

Meanwhile, back on the east coast of Florida, we were breathlessly being told that portions of a boardwalk along Vero Beach were in grave danger of being damaged by high surf. The report was accompanied by close-up shots of possible cracks in the foundation.

To put it kindly, the correspondent's bug-eyed excitement seemed somewhat out of proportion to the situation.

In fairness, covering hurricanes is difficult and frustrating for journalists. You go where your editor tells you to go, yet the eye of the storm almost always goes somewhere else. Instead of witnessing a biblical tempest, you end up watching a 12-hour squall from a motel room with leaky sliding doors.

If you write for a newspaper, it's no big deal when a hurricane suddenly changes direction. You send in a couple of paragraphs of local color, then wait for the rain to stop and drive home.

But if you work for a feed-the-beast TV network like the Weather Channel, you're screwed. It doesn't matter if the storm is stalled 200 miles offshore, your bosses expect you to make something out of nothing.

They've bought you a plane ticket, so, by God, you're going to put on that free Land's End jacket, march outdoors and do a live stand-up every couple of hours until your freaking brain goes numb.

In an age of 24-hour cable, the enervating ritual of hurricane hype is unlikely to end. Dorian was a monster cyclone that deserved our total attention, but the most valuable news was coming from emergency-operations authorities and the National Hurricane Center, not waterfront bistros in Jensen Beach or Daytona.

The Weather Channel and other networks could save a ton of money every hurricane season (and salvage the sanity of their reporters) by not covering the same cliched scenes over and over.

Inevitably it begins with video of random stores being boarded up.

Look! Sheets of plywood! Screws, too! And how about that the plucky shop owner saying he's hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

A perfectly pleasant interview, but how is this actual news? Only the shop owner's immediate family would rush to the television to catch that segment.

Then there's the mandatory shot of palms trees bowing and swaying in the wind. Of course, this is what palm trees do all year long. No hurricane is required to make this happen. Raging doom need not be present.

Same goes for the generic waves-crashing-on-the-beach scene, which we saw about 174 times during the Dorian coverage. The identical footage could be shot on any windy day in January, and not a soul would know the difference.

Some say there's no other way to report on a storm that hasn't arrived except to get your reporters in place and fill the air time with whatever they can scrape together. Ironically, the effect of so much froth is to distract from what's happening to those trapped at the center of the destruction.

It's obscene to fret about one's swimming pool getting trashed by tree debris while people in Freeport are clinging to their roofs in the dark, trying frantically to save their children from drowning.

The night before Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas, I was at a beachside restaurant on the Treasure Coast. Outside it looked no different than any other summer evening.

A reporter and camera operator from The Weather Channel sat down at the bar. They looked tired. Each of them ordered no food, just one quick mojito.

They might have asked for another if they'd known what was about to happen on the other side of the Gulf Stream.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172.

© 2019 Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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