Report from Hurricane Sandy’s Path

It was the second hurricane aiming toward D.C. in just over a year since we lived here, so we sort of knew the drill. Though there wasn’t an effort toward sand bags this time, there was plenty of pre-warning. Schools were canceled and trains were stopped before a drop of rain fell.

Wind was part of the issue, and there were big trees felled and power outages for millions up and down the East Coast.

Fully participating in the storm means sitting mesmerized for hours on end watching the various updates from the wind-battered human weather balloons known as reporters, alternating with the entire barrage of weather forcast overload and its charts, maps and projections. And most of all there is that satellite swirl of the hurricane cloud — a thousand miles wide and able to blot out a third of the country. You watch it swirl over and over like some kind of hypnosis spiral.

Soon you are under its spell. You want to go out and get more bottled water (even if you never drink bottled water and your water supply is fine). But mostly you want to sit and watch more coverage.

Hurricane coverage is always weird of course, a blend of caution and stern warnings augmented by those reporters in their hooded windbreakers (but hardly ever an umbrella) essentially saying do what I say, not what I do (i.e., stand out in the storm like an idiot).

And what exactly has happened to reporting. The anchor sits in the studio spewing the numbers, the field reporters say what they’re seeing, but nobody is interviewing anybody. Aside from brief excerpts from official press conferences, there are no other people than the reporters talking.

Anderson Cooper did talk to the Mayor of Hoboken on his show tonight, but Anderson was being drenched on the shore as he spoke by phone to her and he could probably not even hear what she was saying. Is it out of the question to have reporters come in from harm’s way at the storm surge’s edge to go inside and actually talk to people?

The CBS Evening News had its broadcast from a waterside restaurant, with the water crashing on the glass behind the anchor. By the time Scott Pelly came back to do a 10 p.m. special on the storm, he remarked that that restaurant where they were was completely destroyed after the evening newscast, when they were asked to evacuate by the local fire chief.

Of course, I didn’t see the CBS Evening News at all here in D.C., since the local affiliate, so full of itself, decided to pre-empt the network overview, with all of its vast resources, to show its increasingly repetitive coverage — they’d return to the weather map with exactly the same array of wind gust numbers twice within a half hour.

The cynical side of me thinks they were just eager to supercede the network feed just so they could continue to play more of their local ads. And in political season, they have a lot of them to play and make money from.

On the other hand, the coverage on the Weather Channel itself, which always spikes during such events, lent an opportunity to display a whole array of infomercial products that is their usual bread and butter. They include a spray-on rubber coating that would have helped me from having that drip in the closet today, to a mail order skin tag remover.

Prime time was in disarray. Networks pulled the new episodes they were going to show and substituted them with reruns, since a big section of the country wouldn’t be able to watch anyway. And then there were places up and down the east coast like D.C. who decided to just run their coverage all night. Never mind that you could find exactly the same information at the Weather Channel or the local station’s own alternate channel that always shows weather. They wanted to bask in the glory of their brave coverage. One of them had already cut a promo about their storm coverage before the storm surge even hit.

So obviously, no, I wasn’t without power though a momentary flickering shut off the computer and put the DVR in disarray. The water on the skylights is loud and the wind when it hits a certain velocity makes a kind of scream when it rattles through the windows. But no trees have fallen around here yet.

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