Oct 9, 201710:02 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The Language of Hurricanes: Five Flaws
If there is one more encounter with an Atlantic weather system this year I will go into my own personal tropical depression. And I suspect I will not be alone.
Nevertheless, we should be prepared, at least verbally. Here’s my list of five faults in the language of hurricanes.
- We Did Not “Dodge A Bullet.” Despite what you always here when a hurricane does not meet expectations, we did NOT dodge a bullet. We are on a landmass that is stationary. The bullet turned in a direction away from us. It had nothing to do with our dodging abilities.
- “Heading for southeast Louisiana” is misleading. That statement, repeated often by forecasters, must have unfairly alarmed many people. What the weather people meant was that the storm was heading for a tip of land that juts into the gulf at the end of Plaquemines Parish, which is in the state’s southeastern corner. But “southeast” is often talked about in a larger context. There is, for example, the college in Hammond known as Southeastern Louisiana University. Hammond is above New Orleans in Tangipahoa Parish, closer to Baton Rouge. Using the term literally, New Orleans, Jefferson and the parishes that surround them are all in southeastern Louisiana. A more accurate expression would be to say that the storm is heading toward the mouth of the river, which is about 90 miles below New Orleans. There might be less panic.
- “Heading for Plaquemines Parish” is misleading too. Related to No. 2 above is unqualified reference to Plaquemines Parish, which is long and narrow. The distance from Belle Chasse, on the parish’s upper end, to Venice at the tip is over 60 mile, about the same as the distance between New Orleans and Gonzales. As happened Saturday, a hurricane can brush along Plaquemine’s bottom end and leave the top part unscathed.
- Grand Isle should be treated separately from Jefferson Parish.Through some ancient line drawing that only a map maker can understand, Grand Isle, a barrier island in the gulf, is part of Jefferson Parish even though you have to go through other parishes to get there by land. The island has long been a bull’s eye for sport fishing and tropical disasters. What goes on in Grand Isle is not the same as what goes on in Metairie, where the largest gathering of Pelicans is at a basketball gym. Descriptively, Grand Isle should be dealt with as an entity in itself.
- More emphasis on the population centers. Much weather reporting is targeted toward a region, but there are many variations within regions. It would make sense to add more emphasis to where the people are. For those who live within the levee systems in Orleans and Jefferson parish, where the populations are bigger, the situations are different. Storm surge is not as much of a factor but street flooding and power loss might be. The areas that are most prone to serious storm damage are where fewer people live. Yes, we need to emphasize their plight too, but more frequent attention needs to be paid to the areas where there are the most people waiting for answers.
Finally, despite the above observations, the overall weather reporting industry, including the federal government and the broadcasters, did a grand job; and in doing so they likely saved many lives. Good work everyone. But may there be no need to hear from you anytime soon.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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