Sensationalism in the Bradenton Herald
May 15, 2006
When it comes to discussing the possible effects of hurricanes,there's a line between educating the public and senationalism. An article in the Bradenton Herald yesterday strayed into the latter.
MANATEE – Angry Gulf of Mexico waves smashing into three-story beachfront condominiums – at the top floor.
Violent winds stripping downtown Bradenton office buildings into steel-and-concrete skeletons – and reducing other structures to rubble.
Officials say that's just some of the damage a monster hurricane, a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 155 mph or more, could inflict on Manatee.
"It's pretty scary," said Laurie Feagans, the county's emergency management chief. "We've always known it's been like that, but it's reality. It's not Star Wars dreaming. This is real."
Even more frightening, said Feagans: It's not a question of if, but when, such a cataclysmic storm will slam Manatee's shores.
While that 'when' could be this year, it could also be a very, very, long time.
It hasn't happened since at least 1851, when modern hurricane record-keeping began and four years before the county's creation.
Manatee's closest call was in 1921, when an unnamed Category 3 storm destroyed Cortez's waterfront, swamped Tampa with a 10½-foot storm surge and reduced the fishing village of Passage Key into the sandbar it now is between Egmont Key and Anna Maria Island.
Experts say that the past offers no protection in the future.
"You haven't seen one in such a long time, and the law of averages is going to catch up with you," said Scott Hagen, a University of Central Florida engineering professor who is helping develop a computer model to predict storm surges.
The article goes on with statistics on the recent increase in hurricane activity and then goes on with the effects of a category 5 landfall. And that's my problem with the article, a category five landfall is a very rare event, and the article clouds that fact.
Yes, there have been more storms lately, yes there have been more stronger storms lately, but that has not had any effect on category five landfalls in the U.S. There remain only three of those, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Camille in 1969, and Andrew in 1992.
It would have been much more useful to readers if the article had discussed the effects of a much more likely category category three or four landfall, with the category five effects thrown in as the worst case. This article did the opposite and then some by not even mentioning the lesser scenarios. And that's not being informative, that's fear-mongering for sensationalism's sake.