Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.
Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.
Photo by Jack Gorman

Revisiting That "Harvey Will Be Catastrophic" Screenshot Everyone Said to Ignore

Like many of you, I still think about Hurricane Harvey on a regular basis. It’s hard not to when you live next to a neighborhood that was particularly hard hit by the flood waters. Every day I drive by houses that have been rebuilt, houses that are still in a state of disrepair, and empty lots where the only option was to tear down what was there and start over. The aftermath of the storm is just a part of day to day life, like unpredictable weather and awful traffic.

But beyond what the storm did, there’s been this question that’s hung out in the back of my brain for the last year, like an itch I couldn’t scratch. I tried to find the image at the center of the question, searching through old Reddit and Something Awful threads, but came up empty time and time again. It was only in the last week, as Facebook decided to remind all of us just what was going on last year, that I finally discovered what I was looking for. And so I ask you this simple question: do we owe the person that wrote the “Harvey is supposed to be much worse than expected” message an apology?

If you were on social media at all in the days leading up to Harvey, you might have vague memories of a screenshot that claimed that Harvey was going to be much worse than anticipated and that the media was downplaying the situation to prevent mass panic from gripping the city. You can read the entire message below.

The Warning.
The Warning.
Screenshot via Facebook.

As the reality of the storm began to come into focus, people forgot all about this image, which is understandable. When the rain falls and the water rises, you do tend to stop focusing on the small stuff. But for the last year, the memory of this warning is something that has lingered in my brain, along with the reaction to it, which, in my feeds at least, was near universal in the opinion that it should be ignored.

Which, of course, it should have been. As a wise man once said, every arrow fired is a winner if you draw the bullseye after the fact. I’ll start with the simplest fact of all, which is that if there was a coordinated conspiracy by the media to keep you in the dark about how bad this storm was going to be, the Houston Press was left out of it. Now, sure, I’m not above entertaining the idea that the mainstream media might look down their noses at your favorite alt publication, but with so much going on that week, I find it hard to believe that at some point the media cabal held a vote not to include us in their scheme. (You also have to believe in this scenario that KHOU had to pretend to be surprised that their building flooded.)

On a more serious note, the internet is full of people looking to have a laugh at the expense of those eager to be in the know when it comes to conspiracies. Hurricanes are really no different than mass shootings in that respect, they just allow longer lead times to spread misinformation. Anytime anything happens anywhere these days there’s someone looking to cause a little bit of chaos by pretending they’ve got the inside scoop the media doesn’t want you to know about.

The tell with this particular image is the mention of Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack. On the surface, the reference to a real person you can Google makes the story sound more official. But have you ever actually Googled “Steve Radack” and “hurricane”? One of the first results you'll find is a story about the time that Radack said that some people enjoy floods. Using him as the official in this story is actually a super subtle in-joke that only those who really pay attention to local politics are going to remember.

So yes, someone got super lucky with a tale of coming doom and gloom actually being somewhat correct, although even they downplayed the number of homes that took water during the storm. So what? A well-crafted piece of fiction is still just that. The last thing any of us need to do when a storm is brewing in the Gulf is to give in to unneeded anxiety; storms are bad enough without passing along the modern equivalent of chain letters. So the next time a hurricane watch extends to our part of the world, prepare for the worst, but don’t believe everything you read online. Life is chaotic enough without feeding the trolls.

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