We watched the amazing and rapid development of the strongest hurricane on record in the western hemisphere over the past day or so.  I watched meteorology colleagues around the world that were in awe of the power and rapid intensification of Hurricane Patricia. I provided my thoughts and a round-up of key perspectives on the hurricane in Forbes the morning before the storm made landfall. Preliminary data shows that the storm had sustained winds over 180 miles per hour. I also saw many videos depicting the ferocity of the event. Meteorological hype is indeed a problem on social media and with some professional colleagues, but in this case, a storm of this magnitude warranted the call. I was stunned when I awoke the next day to find a few media headlines questioning whether the storm was “Overhyped” or “Overblown.”

Precipitation patterns in Hurricane Patricia as seen by NASA's GPM Satellite (courtesy of NASA).

Are you kidding me? How can you overhype a record-shattering hurricane, packing EF-5 tornado winds, and approaching a major country? I have seen this before. It almost seems like some would rather see carnage and destruction to justify the call of alarm or make for a better story. I have often pondered the obsession that we have preparing for a major hazard, and then being critical if the destruction doesn’t meet some level of expectation. The “better safe than sorry” rule works.

I have no issue with the National Hurricane Center using language like “potentially catastrophic storm” because it certainly had that potential. Thankfully with Patricia, the storm had a very compact eye, which kept category 5-level winds rather restricted. Additionally, it appears that the most severe part of the storm missed cities like Puerto Vallarta. However, a slight last minute shift in track or eyewall size would have changed everything. Mountainous terrain helped to tear the storm apart as expected, and the storms forward speed limited rainfall. The figure above shows the rainfall distribution as measured by the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission, which I served as Deputy Project Scientist during my 12-year NASA career. However,  limited rainfall is relative because I am hearing reports of flooding and landslides. The full assessment of the storm is not understood at this point, which is why I am baffled by the rush to declare coverage overblown.

I think James Correia, Research Scientist at University of Oklahoma/CIMMS and NOAA/Storm Predictin Center makes a great point.

Seems like yet another case of unwarranted certainty. This time the almost certain disaster was more related to the strength of the winds rather than assessing the overall vulnerability. Its ok to be uncertain.

Headlines making such statements are very dangerous because it may have the consequence of giving people the perception that if another record breaking storm approaches that they should’t prepare. In fact, USA Today’s Weather section has exactly the right approach on post-assessment. They note that the significant nature of Hurricane Patricia and its historic nature prompted evacuations and precautions that likely saved lives. The same article also reports significant damage in places too.