The Worst Storm in the Atlantic

Infrared satellite image of Hurricane Irma NOAA/The Washington Post

Well, by the time you read this we will all know just how bad hurricane Irma was.  As I write it now, it is still about four days from hitting the US.  But, the status of Irma has already been established by the media as the title of this blog implies.  It is being touted as the worst storm in the Atlantic, but the phrase is incomplete.  It should be, the worst storm we have observed in the Atlantic and our point of view is only as old as today’s satellite imagery.

Oh … perhaps there have been stronger storms in the past?  Gee … given this storm will not be a category 5 when it hits our shores, how would we have known that in the past?  Gee, perhaps even the number of storms is then only as good as our recent data.

This prompted me to look a bit further into just how recent our capabilities are. According to Wikipedia, the first satellite (orbital) photographs of Earth were made on August 14, 1959 by the U.S. Explorer 6.   The Blue Marble photograph was taken from space in 1972, and has become popular in the media and among the public. Also in 1972, the United States started the Landsat program, the largest program for acquisition of imagery of Earth from space. Landsat Data Continuity Mission, the most recent Landsat satellite, was launched in February 2013. In 1977, the first real-time satellite imagery was acquired by the United State’s KH-11 satellite system.

So, we should say the worst storm recorded in the last 40 years.  Still impressive, but not as frightening as the media uses to get your attention.  More importantly, it is not going to be the worst storm to HIT the US … period.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do appreciate the media emphasizing the preparedness messages.  Getting your attention is one thing.

The problem with the media is that their sense of accountability seems to end with that.



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