Why Must the Media Supersize Everything?

An emerging scandal–no matter how trivial or short-lived–is often sensationalized with the “gate” suffix. A similar hyping tendency is perhaps now on display with large, powerful storms.

The hurricane that developed in the Caribbean in 2012, before weakening and making landfall in New York and New Jersey, was christened Superstorm Sandy. A year later, the tropical cyclone that slammed into portions of East Asia was dubbed Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Now we see many media reports and headlines warning of Super Typhoon Vongfong. So have we entered a new era of  superstorms–the kind that truly deserve such a designation–or is this just another media tic?

Of course, weather events aren’t unique in being super-sized.

In recent years, many have heard about Superweeds (nicely deconstructed here by a scientist). This is what happens when a term in the media takes root: It becomes part of the vernacular, used reflexively and without regard to accuracy.

17 Responses to “Why Must the Media Supersize Everything?”

  1. DrDenim says:

    The term Storm is already itself abused to no end in the US. It’s a specific metrological phenomenon, measuring 10 or higher on the Beaufort scale. But any form of rain or snow is a “storm” on US weather forecasts.

    “A rainstorm this afternoon”. So you mean rain and 24.5 m/s winds? No.
    So just rain then …

  2. Buddy199 says:

    With 180 mph gusts Typhoon Vongfong could accurately be described as “super”.

    Not so a product that enables you to adhere a hard hat wearing midget to an I-beam.

  3. mem_somerville says:

    Soon the weeds will be like car models and other crazed marketing terms. Turbo Weeds. Superweeds Plus. Weeds Maxx. Ultra Weeds Premium.

  4. DavidAppell says:

    Given the huge amount of damage done by Sandy and Haiyan, how is “superstorm” not appropriate? If any storms are super, they were.

  5. Tom Scharf says:

    The original reason Sandy was called a superstorm is because it wasn’t even a hurricane at landfall. Tropical storm Sandy just didn’t have the impact CNN was looking for.

  6. JH says:

    “the huge amount of damage”

    Because the amount of damage is a function of the economic development, not the size of the storm. Which you of course know but you’re lying again.

  7. Michael Phillips says:

    Sounds like good names for new strains of “speciality crops” in Washington and Colorado.

  8. David Skurnick says:

    Having worked in the catastrophe reinsurance business, I get an immediate mental image from a Saffir-Simpson rating. To say that Haiyan was a 5 conveys to me just how terrible it was. However, most people don’t know what a “5” is. So, I think it’s reasonable to describe a storm like Haiyan as “super”.

  9. Nom de Plume says:

    It’s like the old realtor said; location, location, location. Not only was Sandy to the Northeast what a snowstorm is to the South, it happened in a high population area that also happened to be close to most major US news outlets. Sandy wasn’t even a tropical when it made landfall, with winds in the Tropical Storm/Low Category 1 range.

    Sorry: When it comes to these kind of storms, the term superstorm should be reserved for the Category Five monsters, like Hurricane Allen, with 190 MPH winds, or Hurricane Wilma with a central barometric pressure of 26.05 inches HG. Even Hugo topped out at 160 MPH. Sandy had dinky 80 MPH winds when it hit the Jersey shore.

  10. Nom de Plume says:

    Beaufort scale or not, having worked in ice storms, I can assure you that these are, indeed, storms.

    It’s interesting to contemplate, though. The NWS uses terms other than storm for events with low wind speed. Such as thundershowers verses thunderstorms, and things like a Winter Weather Advisory.

  11. DavidAppell says:

    Wrong — it’s clearly a function of the size too. If Sandy had hit over just a hundred miles of the south New Jersey coast, the damages would have been far lower than they were. Obviously.

  12. DavidAppell says:

    “Not only was Sandy to the Northeast what a snowstorm is to the South…”

    A snowstorm in the South can cause $71 billion in damages? Kill 286 people?

  13. DavidAppell says:

    Sandy was the the largest Atlantic hurricane on record (diameter of 1100 miles). That alone deserves the “super.”

  14. Joshua says:

    ==> ” Why Must the Media Supersize Everything?”

    Do you mean like when journalists super-size the association between left wing politics and anti-GMO “loons?”

    My assumption is that “the media” does stuff like that because (1) it attracts readers and (2) sometimes when a journalist picks up a supersized hammer and gets on a schtick, everything looks like a supersized nail.

  15. PolishBear says:

    One Facebook user posted THIS criticism: “Naming winter storms is the dumbest idea ever. Why hasn’t NWS or any other reputable weather reporting source joined in the naming? Oh, maybe they still feel their role is serious reporting – instead of sensationalizing, dramatizing and commericializing.” It’s pretty much how I have always felt.

    TWC’s Tom Niziol attempted to deflect the criticism: “One reason we’re doing this, simply put, is we can. We cover weather on a national scale. By ascribing a name to a weather system that’s gonna create those types of impacts, we can follow it right across the country.”

    THAT’S their answer? “We do it because we CAN”?? And the only way the personalities at TWC can keep their eye on a weather system is to give it some kind of cute name? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. But HEY, if a private cable channel like TWC can start naming winter storms just because they CAN, maybe every other channel should start doing the same. Maybe Fox News can start naming winter storms after political figures they particularly despise.

  16. Nom de Plume says:

    The Storm of the Century claimed 310 lives. The winter storm that struck Atlanta in the afternoon this year claimed 26 lives. Trees and limbs break; power lines and pole snaps; cars collide because people don’t know how to drive in the weather and have neither snow tires or chains. Winter weather than the North shrugs off as a minor event can shut down entire Southern cities.

    By the same token, Gulf Coast states used to experience tropical storms and weak hurricanes on a somewhat regular basis. These are to the South what snow storms are to the North.They are no fun, but infrastructure is designed to handle it better, just like Northern infrastructure is designed with the winter stuff in mind.

    Nothing about Sandy was “super.” Had it happened along the Gulf Coast, there wouldn’t have been much of a story associated with it, just as if New York was hit by a winter storm like the one that hit Atlanta earlier this year, there wouldn’t have been much to report at all.

  17. DavidAppell says:

    Sandy claimed 285 lives. $69 billion in damages. = “super”

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