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Hurricane-Happy Media Not Interested When Forecast Downgraded

     The media have relied on the threat of hurricanes to keep the audience’s anxiety level high. Whether it’s promoting the theory that global warming is causing stronger hurricanes, or warning that we’re just “a hurricane away” from higher gas prices, reporters haven’t let us forget the devastation of 2005.

 

     But now that a leading hurricane forecaster has severely scaled back his predictions about the remainder of this season, the TV news airwaves have been largely silent.

 

     On October 3, Reuters reported that “noted hurricane forecaster” Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University had again downgraded his forecast, now predicting “the Atlantic hurricane season will see just two more tropical storms and no more ‘major’ hurricanes.” Nexis searches revealed that ABC was the only network that acknowledged the new prediction.

 

     Yet, when Gray made his pre-season forecast of an above-normal number of hurricanes, the media were all over it.

 

     The April 9 “NBC Nightly News” declared: “Noted forecaster Dr. William Gray predicts nine hurricanes this year, an 81 percent chance of at least one major storm making landfall in the United States.” Gray then confirmed this, stating, “For this year, we think we'll have a very active year.”

 

     The following morning, the “Today” show aired a similar report that included Gray’s prediction, with Matt Lauer beginning the segment: “There is no rest for the weary. While storm-battered residents along the Gulf Coast are still trying to pick up the pieces from last year's hurricanes, forecasters are now saying this year's season could be a wild one as well.”

 

     About two months later, on June 1, the “Today” show did another report about how bad the 2006 hurricane season was going to be, with correspondent Kerry Sanders stating: “One expert's latest forecast called for 17 named storms this year, nine becoming hurricanes. And five of those becoming major hurricanes, which is Category 3 or stronger.” Sadly, the network didn’t invite Gray on when he had good news about this issue four months later.

 

     CBS’s “Early Show” ran a similar report concerning the upcoming hurricane season on June 1, with Hannah Storm introducing the segment: “[T]he 2006 hurricane season officially begins today. And forecasters are calling for a lot of activity once again.” Gray was quoted: “Along the East Coast and the Florida peninsula, we think that we're almost double the probability of a landfalling major storm.” Much like NBC, CBS chose not to report Dr. Gray’s recent positive announcement.

 

CNN Couldn’t Wait for Bad Forecast; Ignores Good News

     By far the most coverage of Gray’s initial forecast was done by CNN, which first addressed the issue on the April 4 “American Morning.” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers discussed Gray’s prediction: “Seventeen named storms. That's what he's predicting. Twelve is the average, the 55-year average. For hurricanes, his forecast is nine. Forecast average, six. Intense hurricanes , which means Category 3 or higher, five. And he is forecasting five out of an average of two. So, that's almost two and a half times what you might think.”

 

     CNN was so enamored with this prediction that through May 30, it did another eight reports on the issue. Then, on May 31, as Gray was set to update his forecast, the gang on “American Morning” couldn’t wait. Miles O’Brien said during the 6:00 a.m. Eastern hour: “And another forecast for the hurricane season out this morning. Leading storm expert William Gray to release an updated forecast about 10:00 Eastern.” Chad Myers teased again during the 8:00 a.m. hour: “We are looking for a new Dr. Gray forecast today for the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season.”

 

     Finally, on the 4:00 p.m. installment of “The Situation Room,” Zain Verjee shared the news: “William Gray of Colorado State University once again predicts nine of those 17 storms this year will become hurricanes, five a Category 3 or higher.” Gray’s new prediction was reported five times by various CNN programs the next day.

 

     Yet a Nexis search of CNN for October 3, when Gray released his updated prediction of no more major hurricanes this year, showed no reports that day. The forecast was released about 9:30 a.m. Eastern.

 

Noel Sheppard is a contributing writer to the Business & Media Institute and a contributing editor for the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters.org. He welcomes feedback at nsheppard@costlogic.com.