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Hurricane Irene: Why hurricane hyperbole never goes out of style

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“Weather channel is calling Irene 'storm of a lifetime'?” one person tweeted. “Did they already forget about Andrew, Rita, Katrina, Hugo, Floyd?”

But many such assessments followed governmental warnings as well as the storm's size, unusual path and potential bull's eye on New York City.

Only a day earlier, President Obama urged Americans to follow the advice of the Second Fleet, which moved an aircraft carrier out of the storm's path. Moreover, Craig Fugate, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned Americans against following wind speed categorizations of the storm too closely, since destructive, even deadly, floods and major power outages from the storm's formidable rain and surge remain a possibility.

If authorities struggle with getting the balance of forecast and warnings right, a few mistakes and over-representations from the media are understandable, says Leonard Steinhorn, professor of communication at American University.

“There's really nothing negative about the media erring on the side of public safety,” he says, “But on the other hand, the media love these sort of dramatic, exciting stories, they love the visuals of reporters sitting out there rain-drenched with wind blowing through his or her hair – it's excellent visuals, and it's a visual medium.”

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