20 August 2015
AOL (People are still on AOL???) faced a “storm” of criticism in the weather community today for a horribly misleading headline about Tropical Storm Danny. The headline stated that the first hurricane of 2015 might strike the U.S shoreline soon. First of all, there have been a lot of hurricanes in the Pacific this year, and numerous super typhoons in the Western Pacific. It is far,far, to soon to make any prediction about a weak tropical storm (even if it does have my name), and this is especially true during a strong El Nino, when the wind shear is much more likely to tear it apart. Jason Samenow at Capital Weather Gang goes into more detail on why this is so irresponsible.
There is a difference between coverage of a possible high impact weather event and hype and AOL crossed the line there. No decent meteorologist would have passed on that headline and it begs the question, why didn’t the writer (or headline writer) do just that?? In most local TV newsrooms, the producers check with the meteorologist about stories like this, and I know because it happens to me several times per week.
This seems to happen more often at network level and I think often the reason is that they have no meteorologist nearby to check with. Dana Marszalek at TV NewsCheck wrote about this a couple of weeks ago as well (You will see and several other broadcast meteorologists quoted). Some folks might want to include the stories about the Godzilla El Nino that circulated this week as an example of over-hype as well, but that really is different. The story itself was quite accurate and as if now, it looks indeed as if this will be the Godzilla of El Nino events.
Facts do matter. Whether it’s a story about a local murder, mass shooting, climate change or a storm. The seriousness of the error (when the story is wrong) is the same.