Hurricane moral panic (you can be too safe)

OMG what a frustrating day.  I should have been at NCSU teaching class like normal.  My kids should have been in school.  Today’s weather was cloudy, high around 80, and occasional winds 10-20mph.  Seriously.  That’s it.  Yes, there is a huge hurricane moving this way, but it is doing so slowly and in a reasonable predictable path.  To make a decision on Wednesday afternoon that it was going to be too dangerous for school today (and on Tuesday that NC State needed to close on Wednesday at noon) is an excess of caution.  Yes, you can be too safe.  If safety was all we really cared about, we’d never leave our homes and certainly not get in cars.  Life is all about managing acceptable risk and for Wake County Public Schools to decide it was too risky today was the wrong call and an excess of caution.  Had they simply followed the evolving weather forecasts (again, slow-moving storm), they could have realized yesterday that barring a nearly unprecedented shift in hurricane forecast, that the Raleigh area would be okay today.  It’s not at all uncommon for us to have winter weather really close to crippling freezing rain versus totally harmless 33-34 degree rain an they’ll wait to make the call at 4am if they have to.  But “hurricane!” and we have to decide now!

So, all the local schools and universities gave into the moral panic.  When they initially decided that school would be out after half a day on Thursday, I’m sure there were tons of panicked messages from parents about putting their kids at extreme risk.  Of course, even then, that extreme risk was 30-40 mph winds.  Not great, but sure not high risk.  NCSU canceled for Wednesday at noon (which was basically canceling all day based on morning class attendance I heard) and we’ve had two days of better-than-average September weather.  If they held off and then things really did get worse, there would still have been plenty of time to cancel and take action.  I’ll italicize again– it’s a slow-moving storm with quite accurate predictions for 24-48 hours ahead.  I had a nice enough day at home.  Played with the kids; figured out how to string a guitar, worked on an external tenure letter, but the non-faculty employees literally were not allowed on campus today and forced to use their leave that they were surely saving up for real vacations.

I know, I know.  It could have been much worse.  Predictions earlier this week had hurricane force winds coming to the Raleigh area.  But, we know that these longer-range predictions have incredibly high uncertainty and we know that when forecasts change, there is time.  Slow-moving.  Even the worst predictions were never suggesting central NC would be in a evacuation type situation.

Why did NCSU cancel prematurely?  I’m sure because UNC did.  Why did my son’s Wake Tech classes prematurely?  I’m sure because NCSU.  It’s just social contagion.  People hear “hurricane” “epic storm” etc., and seem to lose all ability to make reasoned, rational costs/benefit calculations.  Again, I’m not exactly talking about the coast here (sure, those people around Wilmington are more than entitled to freak out).  Nobody wants to be the one university or public school system “putting the kids in danger!” while the other systems exercise their “abundance (excess) of caution.”

Of course, as annoyed as I am in Wake County, the counties north of us truly have no excuse.  Even they canceled today.  Presumably, they thought, “well, we’re next to Wake and Wake canceled…” even though it was marginal at best that Wake should have.   Check out Vance and Granville here (north central NC)

Image result for nc county map

Meanwhile, check out these maps for wind and rainfall potentials:

[Image of WPC QPF U.S. rainfall potential]

[Image of probabilities of 34-kt winds]

Not exactly the stuff of which school cancellations should be made.  Honestly, if you just told people, “Weather tomorrow will be really crappy.  30-40mph winds and 2-3 inches of rain” nobody would say “OMG cancel schools!”  Alas, tell people, “Due to Hurricane Florence, weather tomorrow will be really crappy.  30-40mph winds and 2-3 inches of rain” and everybody thinks this is the most reasonable thing in the world.

When ranting about this to my kids today it struck me that it’s almost like how people lose all rational calculation with cancer.  Many cancers favor watchful waiting and less-invasive treatment, but so many people hear cancer and all they can think is “get it out!”  It seems that with hurricanes causing the weather– even if local conditions are far from hurricane like– people just can’t deal rationally.

Oh, and I know, chance that it could get worse all that.  But again, slow moving, and thus plenty of warning.

And, lastly, I wasted far too much time today arguing with Amazon over the package of mine they have seemingly lost.  I ordered it Monday for Wednesday delivery and they have the nerve to tell me the hurricane is why it’s not here.  It’s been in Durham– great weather and 20 miles away since Tuesday!  Every email/chat they’re all like “well.. hurricane” and I’m like “ummm, I live here and no.  If the Durham warehouse is telling you (back in India?) ‘hurricane!’ they are lying.”  My most recent email from them said they were evacuating employees.  Durham is not even under a Tropical Storm Watch (i.e., much less a Warning).

For the record, my Amazon package was an external battery charger so my son Alex can still watch Peppa Pig and Phineas and Ferb on his Ipad through multiple charges should we lose our power.  Now, if we do lose it and Alex ends up upset, I’ll be really mad.

Okay.  Feels damn good to get all that off my chest!

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