Wednesday, September 06, 2017 3:40 pm
Irma is not a 'Category 6' hurricane, and other viral hoaxes about the storm
Abby Ohlheiser | Washington Post
The viral hoaxes targeting those looking for information about Irma online began early, with a viral map last week that showed the hurricane following Hurricane Harvey's path, headed straight toward Houston.
The map, of course, was fake. On the internet, fake news and viral hoaxes are inevitable ahead of a natural disaster. As people search for real-time information and images about storms such as Irma, it's very easy to make a shareable, but fictional, post go massively viral. Some examples:
– A viral map claiming that Irma would hit Houston is fake
Last week, the National Weather Service sent out a warning to be on the lookout for fake forecasts, impersonating those that come from experts:
"Keep your eyes out for fake forecasts. THIS is what an official NOAA advisory looks like. Note: forecast only goes out 5 days."
- NWS (@NWS) September 1, 2017
And as it turns out, they had a very good reason to warn about this. A fake map showing Irma making a beeline for Houston had tens of thousands of shares on Facebook. The now-deleted post claimed, "Everyone needs to pay attention to Hurricane Irma. She's predicted to come through Mexico, hit us and everything in between up to Houston. She's already a Category 2 and hasn't even got into warm water yet."
Irma became a Category 3 hurricane last Thursday, and was strengthening. But it was still too early to tell much about where – or whether – it would hit the U.S. mainland.
– Irma is not a "Category 6" hurricane, and it won't become one.
Irma is a massive storm. As of early Wednesday, it was tied for the second strongest storm ever observed in the Atlantic. Irma is a life-threatening monster of a hurricane.
But Irma is not a "Category 6" hurricane, and it won't become one. There's no such thing as a "Category 6" hurricane.
The origin of this myth seems to be a blog post by Michel Snyder, whom Snopes describes as an "end-time enthusiast." Snyder's article, on The Economic Collapse, was headlined "Category 6" If Hurricane Irma Becomes The Strongest Hurricane In History, It Could Wipe Entire Cities Off The Map." It didn't explicitly say that Irma was a Category 6 hurricane, but the headline and article implied that it could – or should – be. The article has been shared on Facebook more than 55,000 times.
That article was then reposted at the Freedom Outpost, with the same headline, and shared on Facebook 40,000 more times. The Clarion-Ledger spotted a good, old-fashioned fake news post from a CNN spoof site claiming that "HURRICANE IRMA could be a category 6 by the time it hits east coast."
Although meteorologists have discussed adding a Category 6 to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale over the years, such an addition isn't imminent, or being newly considered in any significant way. The scale currently measures storms from 1 to 5, based on wind speed. Irma is a Category 5, which already means that it is capable of inflicting "catastrophic" damage.
To put this in viral headline terminology, Irma isn't such a monster storm that scientists are scrambling to create a new category to describe it. Category 5 already means that Irma is extremely serious.
– The danger of Irma isn't being intentionally exaggerated by a liberal forecaster conspiracy in order to push a pro-climate change agenda
On Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh weighed in on Hurricane Irma – specifically, forecasts predicting potentially catastrophic damage in Florida. His remarks prompted a bunch of headlines implying that Limbaugh had suggested Irma itself was a "liberal hoax." And although that's a bit of an exaggeration of what Limbaugh said, his remarks do still propagate a myth about Irma forecasts that's being picked up in some conservative circles.
Limbaugh's core accusation is that, essentially, weather forecasters have a liberal bias, and that they intentionally exaggerate major weather events such as Irma to scare people into believing in climate change. Here's part of what he said in some pretty lengthy remarks about Irma:
"Now, my theory – and it's only a theory – is that because of the biases, because of the politicization of everything, because you have people in all of these government areas who believe man is causing climate change, and they're hellbent on proving it, they're hellbent on demonstrating it, they're hellbent on persuading people of it. So here comes a hurricane that's 10 to 12 days out and here come the initial model runs, and if it's close – sometimes it's not close, sometimes the hurricane will turn to the north out in the Mid-Atlantic and there's no way you can fake that. But if, if they are going to approach a hit on the U.S., you will note that early tracks always have them impacting a major population center."
This is not what's happening. Irma is a Category 5 storm, one of the strongest ever witnessed in the Atlantic. It is already life-threatening for those who live on the islands in its immediate path over the next couple of days, and current predictions show that it is possible that the storm is on a path toward Florida. Although Florida officials and media outlets are warning residents of its potential danger – and advising preparations – forecasters are still speaking of its impact on the U.S. mainland in tentative terms.
And if it seems as though the entire state of Florida is panicking as Irma approaches, that's probably because of the uncertainty of what the storm will do as it nears the mainland, and not despite it, as Limbaugh seems to think. Here's what my colleagues at The Washington Post had to say on Wednesday:
"But it was still not clear Wednesday how much of the state could be imperiled by Irma. The uncertainty of Irma's track and the geography of the Florida peninsula combined to create an unusually broad, essentially statewide sense of emergency in a place where most of the population lives along the coasts. Irma could potentially ride up either side of Florida or track further west into the Gulf of Mexico and endanger the state's panhandle."
– The shark pic is still probably fake.
This is a warning. If you see a picture of a shark swimming down a highway in the wake of Irma, be wary. It's one of the most popular fake photo genres to emerge after major flooding, and the photo you're seeing is almost certainly photoshopped.