Framing Irene

So maybe Hurricane Irene’s middle name should be “harbinger,” instead? From the NYT’s Justin Gillis:

The scale of Hurricane Irene, which could cause more extensive damage along the Eastern Seaboard than any storm in decades, is reviving an old question: are hurricanes getting worse because of human-induced climate change?

The short answer from scientists is that they are still trying to figure it out. But many of them do believe that hurricanes will get more intense as the planet warms, and they see large hurricanes like Irene as a harbinger.

30 Responses to “Framing Irene”

  1. Hurricane Hazel in 1954 ( see also hit the Atlantic Seaboard making landfall in North Carolina and seems to have been much more intense than Irene and to have caused far more damage relative to the scale of society.
    I was 6 years old and was living in Boston at the time (where my father was interning) and remember both the anticipation and the winds walking home from school.  The hurricane was expected to hit Boston but veered inland and hammered Toronto (where we lived other than this one year) in a storm the likes of which in Toronto have not even been close since.   

  2. BArry Wods says:

    As ever the Met Office got a bit excited .. twweting this link. (articles own bold)

    “As of Sunday morning, the western edge of Hurricane Irene officially made landfall near Little Egg Inlet, N.J., continued to march northward right along the Jersey shore. This was the first hurricane to have made landfall in New Jersey since 1903!”

    I did query the need for an exclamation mark, as another way of looking at things might be, on average every 100 years or so, a hurricane makes landfall in New Jersey…

  3. Menth says:

    Unfortunately as global warming continues this is the kind of thing we can expect more of:

  4. stan says:


    That’s because global warming causes mental illness.

    It certainly has caused a lot of people to say and believe a lot of crazy things.

  5. Stu says:

    Pro (C)AGW = Anti Weather. 

  6. Fred says:

    Silly posts asserting links between global warming and Hurricane Irene and wildfires smack of hysteria not science. 

  7. Jon P says:

    And according to Gore skeptics are equal to racists.

    The wheels on the CAGW bus are falling off because of the hysterical alarmist nature of the Gore’s, McKibbens, Romms etc use. None are ever denounced by the supposed scientists or the “true rational even” “jounalists” like Keith <rolling eyes>.

    We just completed the bottom of the 8th, the alarmists boasted about their lineup and ended up striking out again. Game is almost over, but please do continue to hype every weather event and spend time trying to create polictal division with the Huntsmans of the world. I find it all quite humerous.

  8. Keith Kloor says:

    Here’s harbinger of harbingers.  

  9. kdk33 says:

    Oh dear, every instance of bad weather is a harbinger of even worse to come.  Is it safe to assume that every instance of good weather is also a harbinger of things to come.

  10. dean_1230 says:


    ABSOLUTELY NOT!  Good weather is ALSO an indicator of bad times to come!


  11. Sashka says:

    But many of them do believe
    Who cares what they believe? Can they prove anything?

  12. Tom Scharf says:

    RPJ has hit the nail directly on the head when it comes to this subject:


    The only thing rarer than a hurricane vs. climate change article with actual trending graphs is an AGW proponent with a sense of humor.

  13. Irene’s middle name is media hype. Reporters who covered the story, hoping for disaster, got themselves covered.

     Now let’s see how they sugar coat McKibbens turd
     sorry Keith, I’m not suggesting that the media were hypsters in all of this. However, if you wanted an anti press spin example, I’d pick this and write from it. Long ago when I lived in LA I remember Harvey Levin covering floods in Malibu. The irony of a reporter standing in harms way, to pitch a story about how horrible things were, stuck with me. If you believe its so damn dangerous, why are you undercutting that message with a live feed from the danger zone. The presence of a reporter in a danger zone tells me one of two things: he either believes in the danger and has shit for brains, or he’s telling a whopper and has shit for brains because he thinks I’m fooled. Either way, he’s full of it.
     hehe. sorry, I like irony.

  14. EdG says:

    Well, if Irene was a harbinger of things to come, the future looks pretty normal.

  15. Stu says:

    ^ oops. Wrong event

  16. Sashka says:

    @ 13
    If the threat is spread out in space in time the individual risk incurred by standing outside for 10 minutes is small. Compared to travels to places like Afghanistan or Somali I’d rather report hurricanes.

  17. Irene was a lukewinder

  18. Keith Kloor says:

    A related post from Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker.

  19. grypo says:


    What does that mean? 

  20. Sashka says:

    @ 22
    Thanks for confirming RPJ’s point, grypo.

  21. Nullius in Verba says:

    Like “lukewarmer”, only for wind.

  22. grypo says:

    I don’t get it.  Is ‘wind’ the only metric used here?  We already have a wind metric.  This is part of the problem.  Hurricanes are storms with multiple level threats.  It all depends on whether you are on the wind wall or the rain wall.  This one had a devastating rain wall that the reports were practically screaming about, but everyone looks at the CAT.  And if we want to talk about the link to GW, then we can say that this type of storm – huge and wet with immense energy  – are what we can expect more of with higher SST’s.  The wind has to do with the pressure in the center, but the storm itself is fed with energy from the water.

    This wasn’t a ‘luke’ anything. 

  23. slaps forehead.
    grypo. Compared to the hype it was luke. 
    Read the title of this post. read the other comment I made. If keith is interested in ways to “frame” this I’ll provide some. I prefer not to frame things. Framing  is essentially creating a metaphor by which things can be communicated. Metaphors are powerful and misleading. They always, as Frost noted, break down at some point. But if framing is the topic, I’ll throw out a few frames.

  24. grypo says:

    “Compared to the hype it was luke. ”

    No it wasn’t. 

  25. steven mosher says:


    Yes it was.

    this is fun. 

  26. Simon D says:

    Asking about hurricanes, not A hurricane, is much more sensible. Scientists can at least attempt to answer that question with the statistics. As I wrote at Maribo, I thought the Times did a nice job with that article.

  27. DGH says:


    You are misinformed on this point.

    The facts are these –

    A) Irene was advertised (24/7 on cable with 30 min updates on local) as a massive hurricane capable of inflicting tremendous, perhaps unprecedented, damage along her path.

    B) Irene arrived as a massive tropical storm that inflicted tremendous, unprecedented ($) damage along her path.

    C) The “hype” served to increase preparedness thereby reducing damage and saving lives.

    This was a fascinating storm that left plenty of discussion fodder in her wake. I.e. “Should we abandon Saffir-Simpson in favor of a Bastardi endorsed power scale?”. “Are there data we can collect to make specific, targeted hurricane forecasts like those in tornado alley?”

    Instead this weather is spawning nonsensical arguments from the poles of the (A)GW debate.

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