There is a debate (see here and here) playing out in the media world and beyond about whether Hurricane Irene was Hurricane Hype.
This likely comes from the fact that the media centers of the world -- Washington, D.C. and New York -- were in the crosshairs but saw relatively little damage.
The Outer Banks took the first hit, and had attracted a large gathering of reporters from across the country. N.C. 12 was indeed broken up, cutting off towns from the rest of the world, but much of the national attention had shifted by the time that became clear. Irene was headed for New York.
The rest of the Outer Banks saw -- relatively speaking, now -- little damage.
But here's the thing: The beaches for years have been largely escaping the movie-like scenes of destruction and death that the words "hurricane warning" seem to evoke. (The Gulf Coast in Katrina being the exception, not the norm.)
We see TV reporters hanging onto poles at the beach, over and over.
Many of those houses behind them in their endless streams of video have been jacked up, to avoid damage. The building codes are better; roofs don't all blow away. And people heed warnings, and leave.
Where the deaths and damage are -- and have been -- is inland.
Since 1970, most of the deaths from hurricanes have been far from the shores.
That was the case in Fran here in 1996.
In Floyd in 1999.
In Isabel in 2003.
In New Orleans from Katrina in 2005.
And in Irene.
If the national reporters had all been posted in Pamlico County, warning us all of the expected flooding from both surge and rain -- and then stuck around to see it -- the story might have been told differently on the large scale. It would have been dramatic, too, as many residents have reported to us of the sudden and historic rise in water in places like Belhaven and Stumpy Point.
Image if an outlet had captured video of Joenisha Brown, wading through chest-high water with her four children hanging on to her neck and arms?
Those folks in Vermont aren't on the coast.
They also aren't in the media capital of the universe.
That's the world we live in...
Here's a piece, from 1999, explaining where the real story in a hurricane is. The message from Joel Cline -- formerly of the National Hurricane Center -- is as spot-on today as it was then.
June 1, 1999
MANY HURRICANE DEATHS OCCUR INLAND, METEROLOGIST WARNS AS HURRICANE SEASON BEGINS
Residents of inland counties should take note that flooding after a hurricane can be deadly
By J. Andrew Curliss, staff writer
The hurricane season opens today with a dose of sobering news for the Triangle: People in inland counties - not on the nation's coastlines - are more likely to die when the big storms sweep ashore with winds, rain and heavy surf.
And for the most part, the killer isn't the wind. Or the ocean.
It's the flooded creeks, streams, rivers and lakes that swell up for days after a storm is long gone, said Joel Cline, a weather service meteorologist in Raleigh who once worked at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Cline and others have analyzed three decades of storm figures in advance of this year's tropical season, which begins today, peaks in September and ends Nov. 30.
Those figures show that 6 of every 10 people who died in hurricanes since 1970 were killed in inland counties. And of those, about 7 of every 10 died in flooding.
Experts see some success in the numbers, mostly in a steady decline of deaths attributed to "storm surge, " the wall of water pushed ashore by a hurricane's strong winds.
But they now see gaps in educating people of a hurricane’s consequences inland. Cline is scheduled to outline his figures today to state emergency management officials in Raleigh. Then, he'll begin a media blitz across the Triangle, Sandhills and Piedmont that he hopes will help to prevent any more inland deaths.
"We seem to know that it's not safe to go to the coast in a hurricane - the warnings for the most part are being heeded there," Cline said. "And so our thinking is changing. The killer used to be the storm surge. That was fact. But we need to turn our attention to inland areas. That's where our people are dying."
It's particularly important now because experts think the Americas may be on the threshold of a decades-long period of increased hurricanes - fueled by shifts in deep ocean currents, increased rainfall in Africa and warmer global temperatures.
Many are predicting 1999 will be an above-average year for the storms, with at least three severe hurricanes forming with winds greater than 110 mph. An average season has 10 tropical storms and six hurricanes, two of which are severe.
"It can be a worrisome thing, " said Jay Barnes, director of the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and author of "North Carolina's Hurricane History."
"There has been this lull for several decades in the frequency of hurricanes, and it's coincided just at the time that we've seen a tremendous amount of growth on the coast. There is a lot of property out here that is vulnerable."
But only the Old Farmer's Almanac ventures a guess of where - or when - such storms will make landfall. Mixed in with planting tables and "zodiac secrets, " the Almanac says a hurricane or tropical storm will threaten Georgia or the Carolinas from Sept. 27 to Sept. 30.
Still, cities across the state - not just on the coast - have been taking notice.
Since Hurricane Fran walloped much of the Triangle in 1996, officials in Raleigh, Durham and elsewhere have used grant money to buy up flood-prone houses and structures. More than half of the two dozen people killed in Fran died in inland counties, most because of fallen trees or in traffic accidents.
Cline said his figures cover all U.S. deaths, though North Carolina data are in line with the trend.
"People used to think, 'Hey, we're in Wake County. We're far from it. We're safe, ' " Cline said. "We don't want that type of thinking anymore. We want everyone to be particularly aware of the risks hurricanes bring, even in the Triangle."
He said North Carolinians should watch hurricanes that strike any U.S. coastline because many eventually affect parts of the state.
Cline said that anyone who lives near a body of water, no matter the size, or in a mobile home should evacuate to higher ground as any tropical storm approaches.
People should pay close attention to all flood warnings, and should not walk or drive near any creek, stream or river that has left its banks. Parents should keep an eye on children under age 13 - they are the single biggest group of people killed in hurricane flooding.
"A lot of times, people are just curious," Cline said. "They want to run down and look at the creek because it's as high as it's ever been. Well, I'd say that's plain stupid."