As we get in to August, especially late August, the tropics begin to spring to life as conditions become more favorable across the Atlantic Basin.
This time of year also sees a marked increase in what I like to refer to as Hurricane Trolls. These are the people who like to post images, paths, swaths, cones of death – what ever – showing a snap shot of some distant model time period that conveniently has a strong hurricane parked off of some poor, unsuspecting city.
The result? Lots and lots of “shares” and “likes” of said graphic and a few moments of glory for the person who posted it.
What good did it do? How many people have any clue as to what they are looking at? Does it raise awareness or just make people nervous? These are all issues that we have to deal with in the age of instant information and global model output readily – and freely – available to the masses.
The National Hurricane Center now has an experimental five day graphical Tropical Weather Outlook that highlights any areas of concern out to five days. It never, ever shows a single frame from any particular model run to try and drum up interest or increase Facebook likes. Instead, a well thought-out discussion of what players there are on the field is written up and illustrated to outline any potential formation areas in the tropics. Beyond five days is just too uncertain and has little merit to even discuss with any degree of accuracy.
The same hype machine is fired up during winter when a similar group of Snow Trolls comes out of the wood work to post snap shots of day 10 ECMWF snow accumulation graphics which depict some region of the I-95 corridor buried in “The Day After Tomorrow” type snow. Funny, I never see this done when that much snow is forecast for a swath of real estate extending from Montana to Kansas. Wonder why? Again – the more people who could be impacted, the more likes and shares the trolls accumulate.
There is no question that people are interested in the weather, especially when it turns ugly. It’s inherently exciting to think about the possibility of a cat-3 hurricane bearing down on you. It doesn’t mean it’s a good thing but it is exciting by definition. What the Hurricane Trolls fail to consider is how this excitement can lead to anxiety and fear. Posting an image of something that may not happen has more negatives associated with it than positives. It does not help the cause and that is to spread awareness and useful information. While there is a chance that a tropical cyclone could be somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico within the next seven to ten days, there is no way to know how strong it might be. It’s getting towards late August – there’s a chance within any 10 day window that something could pop up. The global models are good but putting faith in a seven, eight or ten day forecast to point of sharing it with fans of your website or Facebook page is doing them a disservice. There’s no education behind the image, only some ill-fated attempt to become the hurricane go-to guy, if only for a brief time.
Now, as far as what is really going on out in the tropics today? Nothing to be alarmed about, just something to keep an eye on as we would any suspect area brewing this time of year. It’s not like hurricanes are something new that we are still adjusting to. They’ve been around ever since the oceans could support them. What we need to get used to is the idea that information put in the wrong hands can be detrimental – always check the source. When ever in doubt, use the ole reliable: hurricanes.gov. No traffic-driven agenda to worry about there, just hard working, dedicated government employees giving you the facts and a wealth of educational info to go with it. Be smart and remember: don’t feed the trolls…they may bite and are known to be aggressive.
I’ll have more here tomorrow.
M. Sudduth 11:10 AM ET Aug 20