October 23, 2015 Last Updated 8:42 am

Hurricane Patricia: a big story now, the lead story this weekend

With sustained winds of over 200 MPH, the lowest pressure of any hurricane recorded, the storm is the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere

Right now one of the biggest stories we may hear about this year is occurring, yet few news outlets (other than the Weather Channel) is leading with it. That will soon change.

PatriciaMexico-410Hurricane Patricia is being called “the strongest hurricane ever recorded” with winds exceeding 200 MPH. But the storm is set to hit Mexico this evening, and that fact may be behind why US news organizations are playing the story below the fold, so to speak.

i have never lived through a hurricane (plenty of big earthquakes, though), and never want to experience one. You don’t want to, either. But if this storm were off the coast of California, just a few hundred miles further north, this story would be leading every cable news network right now.

But it will lead very soon – assuming the story does not dissipate.

Just how powerful is Patricia?

In addition to its unprecedented 200-mph (320-kph) sustained winds, Hurricane Patricia now holds the record for lowest pressure in any hurricane on record. With a minimum central pressure of 880 millibars (25.99 inches of mercury) at the 4 a.m. CDT advisory, Patricia broke the record of 882 millibars set by Wilma almost exactly 10 years ago. At the 1 p.m. CDT advisory the minimum central pressure was lowered to 879 millibars (25.96 inches of mercury). – The Weather Channel

By comparison, Hurricane Katrina, responsible for so much damage in Louisiana and Alabama, reached sustained winds of 175 MPH on August 28 when it was out to sea. Katrina hit landfall on August 29 as a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 125 mph.

A Category Five hurricane is a storm that has sustained winds of 157 MPH or higher. That is the highest category in the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale.

If the scale went higher, Patricia, with winds over 200 MPH, would be a Category 7 hurricane.

Typhoon Haiyan is the closed thing to this we’ve ever seen. On November 7, 2013, the storm reached winds of 196 MPH, but for only one minute. When it hit land its wind were slightly diminished, but the storm was still a Category 5 and extensive damage occurred, and killing at least 6,300 people in the Philippines alone.

One cannot help but think that while so much of the media loves a good disaster story – the old saying being that if it bleeds, it leads – that things are changing. Our changing climate has been politicized to the point where any story that even refers to climate change is the subject a reader revolt inside the comment threads. The situation is now so bad that publications such as Popular Science have decided to end comments.

“Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself,” wrote Suzanne LaBarre in 2013, then the digital editor at the magazine (she is now Co.Design editor at Fast Company).

“A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics,” LaBarre said. “Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

One imagines a certain reluctance to talk too much, too deeply about Hurricane Patricia just now, not before its impact is known. Besides, it will be hitting Mexico. What kind of comments might we expect to see on comment threads?

That is easy to test as a number of newspaper have kept comments open on the story.

“Yes, the climate-change loonies will be up all night watching this, then organize a lynch mob tomorrow morning to find “deniers” they can burn at the stake,” wrote one reader on The Guardian’s website.

“I don’t believe any of this. Obama is making this up so he can smuggle more illegals into the the US,” wrote another on the WaPo’s website – which is one of the few right now leading with the storm story.

  • E.A. 2 years ago

    Climate deniers will invariably claim that some typhoons (in entirely different geographic zones) have been technically as strong or stronger than Patricia, thus a record hurricane (lingo in that part of the world) somehow doesn’t mean much. They are constantly omitting context to further their know-nothing agenda.