Hurricane Lee fearcast: calm seas, stormy headlines, shameful journalism

by | Sep 6, 2023

As Tropical Storm Lee swirls in the Atlantic, media outlets seem determined to pump it full of as much warm, moist air as possible, inflating the potential for disaster despite predictions showing little chance that the storm will have any impact on U.S. territories, particularly Florida. From NPR to CNN, and even here in Florida, our supposedly respectable newsrooms that claim they are built on “trust” are instead pushing heart-stopping headlines and deliberately obfuscating the truth, adding layers of unnecessary panic.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Lee’s impending catastrophe are greatly exaggerated. First, here are the facts: as of Wednesday afternoon, Hurricane Lee’s predicted path will likely take it well north of Puerto Rico and the Leeward Islands, before it starts to curve sharply northward. The storm is also highly likely to miss the Bahamas to the east, and only one model has the storm going near Bermuda, which is 650 miles east of the U.S. East Coast.

But don’t let reality spoil the mainstream media’s party. NPR got in on the action with a “just the scary facts, ma’am” headline declaring “Tropical Storm Lee will soon be a major hurricane — with 150 mph winds or more.” That story was followed by Axios with an equally spine-chilling bold print yarn: “Tropical Storm Lee expected to become an ‘extremely dangerous’ hurricane.” The language teeters on the edge of apocalyptic but conveniently leaves out that Lee will only be “extremely dangerous” to sailors bold enough to traverse the mid-Atlantic without checking the weather first.

Not to be outdone, CNN fired its own entry onto the internet, with a headline blaring: “Tropical Storm Lee is expected to rapidly intensify into an ‘extremely dangerous’ hurricane in the Atlantic by this weekend.” What’s missing? Just the important part about how it’s not going to impact a single home in the Continental United States, and possibly won’t make landfall anywhere as a hurricane.

But the national media aren’t the only ones playing dirty with the facts: the South Florida Sun Sentinel chose to up the ante with a headline that’s so over the top, it borders on parody: “Lee forecast to explode into major hurricane near the Caribbean.”  If you thought property insurance was expensive in Florida already, just wait until an “exploding hurricane” makes landfall.

[Worth noting: Lee “exploded” into a hurricane earlier today and I gotta be honest, it just wasn’t that exciting.]

Then there are the subtle tricksters, like Daytona Beach’s WESH-TV, which adopted a more misleading approach: “Tropical Storm Lee may approach the southeastern U.S. as Category 4 hurricane.” Approach is the keyword here. Technically, the sun also “approaches” Florida every day. An accurate statement? Yes. Intentionally misleading? Also, yes.

Perhaps the worst offender in the “technically the truth but still lying through their teeth” department: USA Today. Their headline asked: “Hurricane Lee is forming: Will storm head toward Florida, East Coast?” After scrolling through a handful of sensationalized paragraphs establishing that yes, Tropical Storm Lee really is going to become a major hurricane with terrible winds and rain, the article then attempted to answer its own question, but just can’t come clean: “Long-range forecasts indicate that Lee will likely curve north before hitting Florida next week.”

Wait…what?  Is it going to curve north and then hit Florida?  Or is it going to curve north and not hit Florida at all?  I’m just cynical enough to believe that USA Today’s “journalists,” people who are supposed to be experts at clear, factual writing, intentionally left it confusing to keep us on their page longer.

Finally, buried at the bottom of the article, USA Today finally lets its readers off the hook: “Lee is forecast to move northwest over the open Atlantic Ocean over the next few days and have only minimal impact on the islands of the Caribbean. Beyond that, all major hurricane models that meteorologists use to forecast storms indicate that Lee will recurve away from Florida. Looking even further ahead, the latest forecasts suggest Lee’s path could vary across a wide swath spanning from the U.S. East Coast northward to eastern Canada, or even skirt away from the coast entirely.”

It’s the media’s responsibility to inform and, at times, alert the public. But when alertness turns into constant click-bait alarmism, it’s a classic case of “The boy who cried wolf.”

Of course it’s important to prepare for potential risks, especially where significant weather events are concerned, but it’s equally crucial to avoid sending false alarms that ultimately undermine what little trust the media still enjoys. When it comes to Tropical Storm Lee, the forecast might predict a hurricane, but it doesn’t predict disaster for U.S. territories. Sadly, readers have to invest far more time and effort to find that out from news outlets that constantly abuse the trust they once enjoyed.


  1. Steve Donovan

    Thank you for honest reporting of the scare stream media and the disinformation it reports

  2. CaptTurbo

    This is what the stolen government is doing to the people on every topic. Keeping them in fear so they won’t pick up their pitchforks and come after their corrupt backsides.

  3. JT

    “Almost certainly won’t make landfall ANYWHERE?” There is absolutely no way to be certain about the NE US, Bermuda, or Canada at this point. This is just taking the extreme opposite position in a sensationalist fashion and shows your complete lack of understanding of weather patterns to make such a foolish statement about potential events 7+ days out. Not to mention that the tracks are the CENTER of the storm, and impacts can still happen without landfall. This is no better than what you’re critiquing.

    • JT

      Realize now what I’m quoting isn’t above, it’s just the first sentence of your email today: “It’s official, Tropical Storm Lee is now Hurricane Lee, and it’s forecast to be a monster. But don’t panic, because the storm is almost certainly not gonna make landfall anywhere.”
      Not saying I disagree with your overall sentiment about doomcasters, because it’s true, but how about a balanced approach?? Sensationalist downcasting statements like that aren’t helping either.

      • Brian Burgess

        If the storm takes a turn to make landfall anywhere in North America, I have no doubt the mainstream media will do everything possible to let you know.

        • JT

          I don’t pay any attention to corporate media, but one of my hobbies is storm tracking. Not looking good for Nova Scotia or possibly New England at the moment.

  4. Michael Nattaf

    The problem with the systematic terror-spreading journalism (in all areas by the way) is this: I usually 75% dismiss those headlines. BUT the day there will be a REAL monster storm, I may dismiss it as well the same way, and then…. BOOM…

  5. Janice Griffin

    I think the takeaway here should be that Hurricane Lee is a “monster storm” and, while we appear to be lucky enough this time to be spared a Cat 4 hurricane the reality is, it’s more and more likely that we will be impacted by larger, stronger and more destructive storms. Frankly, this kind of reporting is nothing new to those of us who have lived in Florida for any length of time. To be honest, if the news media ignored or downplayed this, I’m pretty sure there would be lots of finger-pointing and blame-throwing for not covering it. As JT mentioned, this article is just the flip side of the same coin.

    • Brian Burgess

      My point is that the media could cover it just fine…nobody’s arguing with them covering it. What I have a problem with is when CNN, just today, deliberately cuts off the spaghetti model forecast so you can’t see that it’s predicted to turn north. Or when news outlets pump up how serious the storm is but wait until the very last paragraph to tell readers that it’s not even predicted to make landfall anywhere.

      That’s the problem.

  6. Ancientcane

    thank you for what actually happens with the hurricane media. They scare unknowing families and individuals. Crank up hysteria when necessary and unnecessarily encourage panic buying and behavior.

  7. Melissa Willis

    Watch Denis Phillips on ABC action news & Facebook. He is the chief meteorologist from Tampa area. Good & honest. RULE #7

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