NHC Forecast, 2pm Friday

Hurricane Sandy, currently centered just north of the Bahamas, is already being billed as a catastrophic storm of the kind that only hits once every hundred years. I might believe the hyperventilating media if they hadn’t already labeled quite a few storms with the same kind of hyperbole over the last decade. As I posted on Facebook this morning, “We’re twelve years into the century and I think we’re on our fourth or fifth ‘storm of the century’ so far.”

I don’t mean to characterize Sandy as an innocuous, run of the mill storm. It isn’t. Sandy is forecast to merge with a cold front and slam the east coast hard with gale-force winds and an impressive deluge of rain. We should expect widespread coastal flooding, and those of us further inland should expect flash floods, downed trees, power outages, and even accumulating snow (at higher elevations). A similar confluence of Hurricane Grace with a cold front in 1991 came to be known as the ‘Perfect Storm‘ and caused over two hundred million dollars in damage and killed thirteen. Thirty-foot waves lashed the coast, destroying hundreds of homes and inundating roads and buildings.

The ‘Perfect Storm’ happened twenty-one years ago, but in the mean time the east coast has been hit by plenty of other major weather systems. I personally remember the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area getting hit hard by Hurricane Fran in 1996, Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and Hurricane Irene in 2011. We had the ‘derecho’ storms this last summer and countless other severe thunderstorms, even some that produced tornadoes. We had the Blizzard of 1996, the Blizzard of 2003, and the repeated ‘Snowpocalypse’ blizzards of the 2010-2011 season. Across the United States you’ll find regular outbreaks of tornadoes, river flooding, droughts, blizzards, and major hurricanes.

None of this is out of the ordinary. If it seems like wacky weather is happening more often, it’s mostly because we’re more connected with the rest of the country (and the world) than we have ever been before . . . and because the television news outlets think they have to breathlessly cover every storm as-if it’s the end of the world. I guess it’s good for the ratings. But the reality is that weather patterns in the U.S. remain about the same as they’ve been for at least the last three hundred years. The fact that we’re all still here is proof that we can survive it.

So if you live in the path of the storm, take appropriate precautions. If the local authorities order an evacuation, get out of there. But let’s not engage in useless hyperbole and exaggeration. It’s a bad storm; it will probably cause damage, and maybe even a handful of deaths and injuries. But it’s not the apocalypse. Batten down the hatches, and I’ll see you on the other side.