Getting #Matthew Wrong

This morning I was forced to do the “get off my lawn” thing with the kids at the bus stop. They were systematically destroying the pavement around the common mailbox area down the street from my house, throwing chunks in the street. I lined them up and read them the riot act. They are children, so they can be excused for bering a bit stupid about life, and the guy down the street telling them to get off the lawn is part of the learning process for them.

And now it’s your turn.

The right wing yahoos have already started yelling about conspiracies related to Hurricane Matthew. “They are telling us lies, that it will be a total disaster because of [some dumbass reason nobody quite understands]” This has lead, on the internet, to “don’t leave your homes, Obama and Shillary will be down here to take away your guns” (OK, I admit, that last one was me being sarcastic, but there are similar tweets out there.”

Let me explain something to you.

Matthew is a very large and dangerous hurricane that was predicted to go on a course the center line of which (where the eye would be, approximately) would parallel the coast, just off shore, for a long distance, for hundreds of miles. At any moment the eye could shift left or right, the predictions said. Also, the size of the hurricane force wind field could widen or narrow. Therefore, if the hurricane did as predicted, it could seriously affect the entire coast, knocking down power lines and trees, doing other damage.

RELATED: An Interview With Michael Mann (in which we discuss Matthew and other matters).

So far, that is exactly what has happened. No deviation. You hear “the eye moved east.” Bullshit. There was never a line on which the eye was to move.There was a center line of a prediction cone, and the storm has stayed right in the predicted area. It was alway predicted to be about where it is, plus or minus. It is well within the plus or minus.

Every here and there, the predictions indicated, the hurricane could produce a dangerous storm tide. Each section of coast has a different potential for this because of its shape. The exact timing of high tide matters. The storm’s exact configuration and distance from the coast matters. So you can’t predict in detail what will happen, but what you CAN do is produce a likely scenario in the worst case. If all the factors come together, and you live in a house in this region, you are truly fuckered. The Hurricane turns left a bit, or a certain band of winds interacts with an embayment just right at high tide, or whatever. If you live in that house, and you do not act as though this may happen to you (i.e., evacuate), then you are a dumbass.

A maximum storm tide of something around 11 feet, sometimes more, sometimes only about 6 feet or so, was (and is for the next day or two) predicted for the entire coast from some point north of Palm Beach all the way up through Georgia and beyond.

This does not mean, and it never meant, that there would be an 11 foot flood covering the entire coast. No. It. Never. Meant. That. If most of the Atlantic coast from South Florida to Bogna Riva does not flood to 11 feet killing all the people and puppies and kittehs, THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE PREDICTIONS WERE WRONG.

This morning NBC actually had a snarky local yahoo meteorologist on (the commenters and Al Roker were visibly embarrassed after the fact) who went through the whole storm chaser routine …

“… Here I am in my car. Here I am getting out of my car. Her I am cutting through the bushes, telling you breathlessly: wait ’til you see this, look at what Imma show you now’ etc. etc…..”

Then he brought the camera out on the beach and there was nothing there but some waves.

“See? They said there would be a storm surge. There is no storm surge. Nothing happened here.”

They cut away from that dude, I’m afraid because he was counter sensationalizing, not because he was being all Rush Limbaugh, though the latter was clearly true. Roker and the others hinted that the storm tide in that area, had there been one, would have passed hours ago so of course it is not visible. Etc.

This is a very smart thing on the part of the right wing. They were prepared for this hurricane in this manner. Somebody figured this out, got the word around, and they are pulling off an excellent and well designed public image manipulation event for Matthew. Here is what they figured out.

1) The hurricane is going to be near something close to 500 miles of coast.

2) There will be breathless yammering about the dangers along 500 miles of coast, recruiting perhaps 40 or more storm studs, national and local, and hundreds of tweeting meteorologists, etc. etc. going on about how bad it will be.

3) Even if the storm seriously damages one place, kills people in part of Georgia or whatever, it will not be 500 miles of 11 foot flood everywhere, like promised.

4) Therefore the storm was hyped, by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama flying overhead in their Black Helicopters, swooping in to take our guns and bibles.

5) In the end there will be 500 miles worth of things that were said would happen but never happened, and maybe five miles of real disaster in some feckless coastal town.

So that’s the real getting Matthew wrong. A public image coup for the right wing, the climate deniers. They won this storm.

Got it? Great. Now get the hell off my lawn. And get it right next time (giving stern look to the climate communicators).


  1. #1 Obstreperous Applesauce
    October 7, 2016
  2. #2 Doug Alder
    October 7, 2016

    Obstreperous Applesauce – thanks that article on dogs explains a lot about why my crazy mutt acts the way she does 🙂

  3. #3 tadaaa
    October 7, 2016

    OT but I thought “reading the riot act” was a particularly British expression, is it a common phrase across the pond?

    fond memories of my parents reading it to me though!!

  4. #4 Brainstorms
    October 7, 2016

    Yes, very common in the States…

  5. #5 Doug Alder
    October 7, 2016

    Also quite common here in Western Canada

    A surprisingly good explanation for why Matthew grew so quickly from Russia Times – surprising for its source.

  6. #6 Doug Alder
    October 7, 2016 in Haiti the death tgoll is now over 800 so just a mild storm /s

  7. #7 tadaaa
    October 7, 2016

    thanks Doug and Brainstorm – did not know that

    re the horrific death toll in Haiti – (the BBC are now reporting over 800 🙁 )

    will the “skeptics” use it as an excuse to play “the problem is poverty” card

    and cheap accessible energy is a route out of poverty

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2016

    Reading the Riot Act is very common in the states. But, even as I wrote it I wondered about its actual meaning and origin.

    I mean, I know what I mean when I say it, but I also know what I mean when I say “tow the line” and I’ve got that one totally wrong.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2016

    Yes, Mike Man and I talk about the storm and the rapid spinup here as well:

  10. #10 Tadaaa
    October 7, 2016

    @ Greg

    yes that’s why it caught my eye – it has a very specific meaning in British history/law

    and literally means “reading the riot act”

  11. #11 Eric Lund
    October 7, 2016

    I also know what I mean when I say “tow the line” and I’ve got that one totally wrong.

    That one properly should be “toe the line”. As in walking exactly along a line laid out by someone else. Which makes much more metaphorical sense than a boat or land-based conveyance dragging a bunch of rope behind, as “tow the line” would imply.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2016

    I know.

    But I grew up in a culture where everyone thought it meant “tow the line” as in a canal boat’s line. Because we had canals everywhere, and there were these boats and these workers who had to tow the line. Which were sometimes mules.

    So if you have a job to do, you better tow the line. That actually is so much better than walking along some dumbass line somebody made that I tend to prefer it.

    I’ve heard people say that toe the line is a sports metaphor, as in the line of scrimmage. If you toe the line you might go the whole nine yards.

  13. #13 Brainstorms
    October 7, 2016

    But.. but… but… If you stub your foot while doing so, and make those barges pile up, …

    Do you end up with a case of “toe jam” or “tow jamb”?

  14. #14 dean
    United States
    October 7, 2016

    “But I grew up in a culture where everyone thought it meant “tow the line” as in a canal boat’s line.”

    Odd – that’s what I was told as well all those years ago when I was a kid, and central Michigan has no canals at all.

  15. #15 Eric Lund
    October 7, 2016

    According to George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language (written in 1946), the metaphor was in fact “toe the line”. He notes it as an example of a dying metaphor and notes specifically that:

    Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line.

    By 1946 it was no longer usual practice for canal workers to physically tow the boats along the canal; the towing was done by barges. Besides which, if you were pulling a boat along with a rope you held in your hand, you would be “towing the boat”, not “towing the line”. You tow whatever is at the other end of the line. So this business of “tow the line” referring to barges on canals is post hoc folk etymology.

    Given that Orwell was calling the metaphor stale in 1946, I doubt it was originally a sports metaphor, although it’s possible that rugby was involved. Most modern sports were only formalized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so the original metaphor, if it originated in sport, should have still been in living memory.

  16. #16 tadaaa
    October 7, 2016

    @ Greg – # 9

    thank you for the link

    I am always struck accessibility of climate science and scientist

  17. #17 dean
    October 7, 2016
  18. #18 Sou
    October 7, 2016

    I figured with some of the ordinary conspiracy theories floating about (NOAA is exaggerating/Hillary Clinton/hyping climate change etc) there were bound to be some more extreme ones. Google “haarp Matthew” – you’ll find that there are 🙁

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2016

    Sou: Oh, it is very very bad.

    You don’t need to take a test to be a YouTube video producer!

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2016

    ” So this business of “tow the line” referring to barges on canals is post hoc folk etymology.”

    Well, it is what we who grew up on the canals thought. We didn’t think that was the origin of the term (not etymology). We thought that is what the term meant. So, folk, yes.

    I’m sure this happens all the time with expressions. They get said a different way, become widely used that way, and meaning comes along from somewhere and gloms onto the expression.

    Or, multiple origins. Not likely in this case, but quite possible with “Straw Man.”

    BTY, the line we are towing is attached to a barge. A barge does not pull a boat. A boat might pull a barge, though.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2016

    Dean: “Odd – that’s what I was told as well all those years ago when I was a kid, and central Michigan has no canals at all.”

    Central Michigan was presumably settled by people from the Erie Canal Zone!

  22. #22 dean
    October 7, 2016

    Greg: I grew up just north of Lansing, in Clinton Country, just outside the town of DeWitt – both named, according to local historians, for DeWitt Clinton.

    For what it’s worth. 🙂

  23. #23 dean
    October 7, 2016

    Of course that would be Clinton County, not Country.

    Male typing syndrome strikes again. 🙁

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2016

    Dean, well, there you go then! Makes sense.

  25. #25 jyyh
    October 8, 2016

    ah, “forcing the penance” in finnish.

  26. #26 zebra
    October 8, 2016

    toe the line

    don’t get ahead of yourself

    In track, you toe the line. You don’t start before the start signal. This goes back as long as people have had footraces, which is a long time.

  27. #27 BBD
    October 8, 2016

    FWIW I’ve always understood it to be British naval slang dating back at least to the 1800s. Crew, assembled before officers, would be told to ‘toe the line’ simply meaning align the front rank to the planking of the deck. Sailors were not instructed in drill like infantry and were not able to form up into a parade with the same facility. The ‘line’ would have been very visible against the light wood of the daily-scoured deck as the gaps between the planks of the deck were caulked with pitch.

    So ‘toeing the line’ in essence means demonstratble deference to authority.

  28. #28 Obstreperous Applesauce
    October 8, 2016