Terrible though the deaths and damage caused by Hurricane Irma may be, the way it has been reported makes one wonder whether, after more than 10 years that have seen Atlantic hurricane activity at its lowest level for decades, everyone has forgotten what these monster tropical storms are like.
The media have gone way over the top, with headlines such as “the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record”, even “the deadliest storm in history”.
But two minutes on the internet could show that, of the 10 “deadliest” such storms ever, Hurricane Mitch (1998) killed 11,000 people in Central America, the death toll there from Fifi-Orlene (1974) was 8,000, and 7,000 died in the Caribbean from Flora (1963).
As for the “most powerful” storms, measured by wind speed, Irma’s 185mph stands alongside Wilma in 2005, Gilbert in 1988 and the US Labor Day hurricane of 1935; Allen (1980), which killed 269, topped them all at 190mph.
So Irma hardly matches up to all its hysterical billing and was almost certainly outperformed by numerous hurricanes in history which happened before their intensity could be measured – the “Great Barbados Hurricane” of 1780 killed 20,000 or more in the Windward Islands.
But at least one person who got what he wanted from Irma was Justin Webb, of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. Last week I wrote about how he tried in vain to persuade various interviewees to blame Storm Harvey on climate change. Finally, on Thursday, he got the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda to trot out all the required mantras, in a manner that not even Al Gore could have faulted.
“The science is very clear.” “Climate change is real.” This “unprecedented” disaster has been one of the consequences.
By Friday, Today had even found two “experts” to discuss whether the world’s top “CO2 polluting” fossil-fuel companies could be made to pay for the clean-up after Irma.
What a good thing the Today programme wasn’t around at the time of the Great Barbados Hurricane of 1780.
Read more at The Telegraph