Spin Cycle: Hurricanes, Tornadoes,
and Other Cyclones
Florida is a land that we call paradise, but it happens to be a peninsula sticking down into the middle of something known as Hurricane Highway. Hurricanes are a part of our life, and global warming foretells, for us, an increased intensity of hurricanes and an increased frequency of hurricanes
—Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), June 8, 2001
In the fall of 2002, how did Tropical Storm Isidore, a weenie by hurricane standards, manage to knock Saddam Hussein off the top of the news? That's because, in news currency, the word “hurricane” rhymes with “war.”
Given that in almost every year many hurricanes have the potential to hit U.S. shores, it is astounding how few are real monsters. A really destructive storm, Category 4 or 5 on the 1-to-5 SaffirSimpson rating scale, crosses a U.S. coast about once every seven years or so. The last of the three Category 5s that have hit since good records began in 1872 was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, over a decade ago. But each and every one, monster or not, beneficial or deadly, seems to bump to news story Numero Uno.
There was a signal event that crystallized the relationship between hurricanes and television. In September 1961, big, mean Hurricane Carla blew up southwest of Cuba, somehow managing to avoid the Yucatan Peninsula, a great wrecker of huge storms. As Carla sashayed languorously northwestward through an overheated Gulf of Mexico, the news director for KHOU-TV in Houston, a young fellow by the name of Dan Rather, had an idea. He convinced CBS network headquarters in New York to extend their then 15-minute