Hurricane Ian has demolished towns across America, yet it seems as though no one is talking about it.
Ian is far from insignificant. After intensifying to hurricane status in the Cayman Islands, Ian became a Category 4 as it slammed Florida on September 28th, and later South Carolina. Historic flooding and 150 mile-per-hour winds have caused wreckage of countless homes and businesses, leaving communities in shambles. The death toll of the hurricane has risen to at least 70, and this number is only expected to grow as recovery efforts progress in the coming days to look for the thousands still missing.
Despite this catastrophic rampage, it seems like media coverage of Ian has been a second priority. Instead of platforms covering the hurricane’s updates and impacts, sites and discourse have been dominated by less urgent topics, such as Ned Fulmer of YouTube channel “The Try Guys” being caught in an infidelity scandal, controversy over the film Blonde, and “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah both stepping down from his position on the show and kissing singer Dua Lipa in the streets of New York.
So why is the devastating natural disaster not getting more attention?
One potential reason is that Americans are becoming desensitized to natural disasters. After all, in recent years, the United States and countries around the world have faced more environmental catastrophes than ever before. The World Meteorological Organization has reported that over the course of the past 50 years, the number of natural disasters has increased five times over. A United Nations report comparing the period from 1980-1999 to 2000-2019 has shown that reported disasters, total affected, and economic losses due to these disasters have increased considerably. For instance, during 1980-1999, there were 1,389 floods globally, while from 2000-2019, there were 3,254.
While disasters like Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, and Harvey were covered in-depth by the media, recent natural disasters seem to have been cast to the sidelines. News sources often cover only a fragment of catastrophic weather. Segments typically include wind blowing through trees, ominous images of cars submerged in water, and honing in on the story of an individual who just lost their home. However, news sources more often than not fail to identify the more significant realities of natural disasters, such as their direct links to climate change and how they disproportionately impact marginalized populations. A Media Matters study revealed that during 2021’s Hurricane Ida, only 4% of cable news segments mentioned climate change.
In September alone, meteorologists have had to keep their eyes on a total of six brewing storms of various degrees, beginning with Tropical Storm Danielle and being followed by Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, and Ian. The lack of media coverage of these storms suggest that Americans are not only becoming desensitized to natural disasters, but also that they are tuning out an issue clearly being spurred by climate change.
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that the increase in overall temperatures will cause warmer seawater, which in turn will produce storms with greater rainfall and higher winds. The storms that do hit land are more likely to be severe; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expect to see an increase in hurricanes reaching Categories 4 and 5, which will cause both catastrophic physical damage and significant economic losses.
Not only do media sources fall short in sharing the whole picture of natural disasters, but they also fail to bring awareness to natural disasters that do not directly harm the United States. Many Americans may not even know that Hurricane Fiona ever even occurred, which just dissipated on September 28th, despite the Category 4 storm devastating the Caribbean Islands and Canada.
The lack of media coverage in relation to hurricanes is not something to be ignored. By sidelining natural disasters, the deadly impacts that accompany climate change are also cast aside. Rather than normalizing these disasters and moving the focus onto coverage of inconsequential events, we must recognize the constancy and severity of natural disasters as a direct result of global warming. While pop culture-related events may be more eye-catching and interesting overall, such news pales in comparison to the devastation so many have experienced due to Ian, and the devastation many more will experience due to climate change’s under-discussed impact on natural disasters.