Panic button

When I got a call from my mom at 6 a.m. her time this morning, I panicked a bit as I fumbled to answer. But it was her who was panicky:

"I'm nervous about that storm."

I knew what must have happened; she woke up, put on the coffee and turned on the TV to see Scary Barry pictures plastered all over the news. 

All day long I've been hearing from nervous friends and family via text and Facebook, asking the same things: Are you staying? Are you sure? How bad is it?

It's not their fault. They remember Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, of course.

If you're not used to hurricane and tropical storm warnings, the "wet side" and the "dry side," the levee protection districts, drainage in various New Orleans neighborhoods and elevations and so many other factors — well, all Gulf storms look alike when they're whirling and twirling in lurid colors.

I was pleased to hear The New York Times hired former reporters Beau Evans and Emily Lane to contribute to the Times' Tropical Storm Barry coverage. But then there was The Washington Post story, which was headlined "Anxiety grips New Orleans as residents flee city, brace for heavy rain and hurricane-force winds."

[Update, 10 a.m. Saturday: Barry has been upgraded to a hurricane.]

That kind of headline ain't helping. (And, yes, reporters don't always write their own headlines, but that doesn't excuse the story's claim that Jefferson Parish called for a mandatory evacuation, which it didn't.) But a more accurate headline that read "Tropical storm heads west of New Orleans, expecting to bring heavy rain" just doesn't have the same pow factor.

It was irresponsible enough that the city of New Orleans' official Twitter account had to complain:

But it's not just the Post, which is a good paper. It's the various weather-flavored channels, who send people down to stand around in slickers and yell into microphones while standing in floodwaters (or puddles) while telling the home viewer not to do exactly what the guy with the microphone is doing. 

That's not helpful. That's not even news. That's just weathertainment, but it also scares the hell out of people who have family and friends in south Louisiana.

Those who've decided to stay for Tropical Storm Barry have listened to our local experts — municipal authorities, meteorologists, engineers — and made our decision based on the best knowledge available. Our friends and family don't have access to those sources. They just have what they see on TV or scary headlines they read on Facebook.

So don't panic them, OK? It doesn't make for the sexiest story, but just: chill. That's what we're trying to do.


Follow Kevin Allman on Twitter: @kevinallman