As you're no doubt currently aware, the remnants of Tropical Storm Harvey have reemerged in the Gulf of Mexico after crossing the Yucatan Peninsula and are expected to strengthen over the next couple of days before making landfall somewhere on the Texas coast late Friday/early Saturday. The system’s forward momentum is then expected to stall out and drift eastward, dropping from 10 to 20 inches of rain or more on the upper Texas coast between now and early next week.
That’s really all anybody knows at the moment. This far out, it’s still possible the system could take a more westward or northward track, develop into a hurricane, or…I don’t know, turn into a sharknado (note: this will not actually happen). Unfortunately, this uncertainty, and the failure of the usual computer models to reach a consensus on where this thing is going (seriously, look at this shit), means the usual meteorological suspects are going to have a field day.
Don’t get me wrong; Harvey poses a serious threat to the area, in terms of rainfall. It’s also been nearly 10 years since Hurricane Ike, and the Houston metro area has added over a million people in the interim, many of whom might not be aware of the risks. But if anyone is downplaying the dangers, we have our own news organizations to blame. Caught with their pants down by the Tax Day and Labor Day floods, local networks have recently been overly quick to pull the trigger on “BREAKING NEWS” alerts whenever it looks like we’re getting a few inches (heh). I’m afraid the result will be complacency in spite of the full-on hurricane press local media are giving Harvey.
Basically, Houston’s storm coverage is currently ramping up into hurricane porn stage. It’s not as fun(?) as regular porn, but covers the same basics. First, there's
Foreplay, which (unlike in actual pornography) actually takes a while; several days, usually. It starts with Doppler radar and satellite images that grow progressively larger and, dare I say, more tumescent as the system approaches the coast. Cloud cover grows and winds pick up, and most local TV stations and many national networks will have reporters positioned along the coast in areas projected to be in the storm's path (keep special eye out for the Weather Channel's walking phallus, Jim Cantore). These hardy souls eye the camera with come-hither looks of dire urgency, speaking in ever more rapid and breathy tones about the imminent thrust of wind and storm surge. The anticipation continues to build in this fashion until landfall, which is where you get...
Hot Hurricane Action: water crashes furiously over the Seawall (if I had a Powerball ticket for every time some wag on a weather message board recently made a “Harvey wallbanger” joke), palm trees whip back and forth in an orgiastic frenzy and street signs waggle suggestively in the mounting winds. Meanwhile, the street lights sway rhythmically, red lights winking seductively. This is the period where one sees the most pervasive coverage. TV stations will often interrupt regular programming in order to cut to live shots of their other reporters, who can be found "braving" the storm by standing right in the middle of the heaviest wind and rains.
[Speaking only for myself, I'd have a lot more respect for a news person who did their report from a bar, sipping a margarita and leading off with, "You know, you'd have to be a real idiot to be outside on a night like this..."]
These reporters risk life and limb because networks are desperate for that.
Money Shot: Fortunately, the actual hurricane footage can only last so long, as most systems weaken rapidly once they make landfall. The money shot isn't the same for every storm, but you'll know it when you see it: a roof flying off a department store and disintegrating, cars carried off down a flooded street, or one of those aforementioned reporters getting blown into a ditch. If the networks are really lucky, they'll get film of a fireman rescuing a baby from a rooftop, or a woman pulled from her car just before it's covered by rising floodwaters. After something like that, we’re pretty much spent. All that's left is:
The Afterglow: Once the storm has blown its way inland, you can relax with blue-sky shots of boats beached 30 feet above the tide line, hapless citizens sweeping water out of their bedrooms, and the local meteorologist telling us it "could've been worse." That's when you light a cigarette, shudder, and compare property damage with your neighbors.
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Personally, I'm waiting for the NOAA to extend hurricane season by a month and a half so it can include May and November sweeps.
We saw examples of this most recently when Cindy made landfall back in June. Reporters were deployed up and down the Seawall, San Luis Pass, and along the bayous to chronicle what ended up being a not-so spectacular event. And therein lies the problem with storm coverage: unless you’re going to opt for a sober, non-hysterical reporting of current facts (Eric Berger and Matt Lanza at Space City Weather and the fine folks here at the Houston Press are your go-to sources for this), you run the risk of hyping a storm and freaking people out. Eventually, they stop paying attention, so that when an actual threat approaches from the Gulf, they wave you off.
So the problem with hurricane porn is the same as with the boy who cried wolf: the wolf ended up raising him as one of her own and the boy went on to found Los Lobos. Wait, that’s not it. What I meant was, it’s hard to heed the storm crows when the storms keep veering off into Louisiana or Corpus Christi. Eventually, another monster hurricane is going to hit Houston, but we'll have been jerked off too much by that point to pay attention.