Florence gave Beaufort Co. a ‘drunk donkey’ weather guy & the forecast fatigue we love to hate

Hurricane Florence landfall captured by International Space Station cameras

Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on September 14. Cameras outside the International Space Station captured views minutes after it made landfall.
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Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on September 14. Cameras outside the International Space Station captured views minutes after it made landfall.

Let’s talk about a “drunk donkey,” people’s need to know, and forecast fatigue.

Because, even as Hurricane — now, Tropical Storm — Florence looks like it will (for the most part) leave Beaufort County alone, those three things will be with us when the next storm comes, whenever that is, which will be too soon.

The “drunk donkey,” AKA Mike Boylan, is the Florida man behind Mike’s Weather Page, according to the Tampa Bay Times. That’s where a lot of folks go for their hurricane info — close to half a million people follow the Facebook site.

Florence gave us the drunk donkey, a barb Boylan — a weather hobbiest with no formal meteorological training — seems to think was lobbed at him, one with roots in an Alabama Twitter account that exploded on television screens in Savannah and, quickly thereafter, smartphones and mobile devices across the country.

The vibes flowing from those screens were some of the same ones many of us here in Beaufort County felt as we followed the storm, its shiftiness and the uncertainty swirling around it.

The backstory: On Wednesday, as the European Model — one of many tools forecasters use to make constantly changing storm projections — showed Florence taking aim at our area, a viewer asked Savannah TV station WTOC meteorologist Jamie Ertle a question.

“This is the track of Florence,” Ertle said, standing in front of a graphic showing the storm’s path, “and I already see a question from someone: ‘Are you going to show the European model?’”

“Yes, I’m going to show the European Model,” Ertle continued, clearly perturbed. “And I’m going to show rain and what it looks like as it approaches land, not the scary, tight isobars” — Ertle clapped her hands four times to emphasize those last three words — “that a person named Mike is showing across the internet, all right?

“And from a very reputable meteorologist named James Spann in Alabama, any drunk donkey can show a European model, OK?” she continued, paraphrasing a tweet from Spann.

On Sept. 5, Spann — who boasts almost 400,000 Twitter followers — tweeted, “A friendly reminder; posting deterministic model output with tropical cyclone positions 10 days out to get shares and likes (or to scare people) isn’t cool. It serves no good purpose. A drunk donkey could pull this data and post it.”

Someone later shared one of Boylan’s post-donkey tweets — Ertle’s segment included — with Spann and asked him, “Did you say Mike was a drunk donkey?”

“Never heard of him,” Spann replied.

Ertle issued a Facebook apology Wednesday night and said she was trying to show the European Model in context, not a “scary looking image.”

Boylan was all LOL (“laughing out loud,” for those who avoid social media) about the whole thing, and said he was crafting a logo and printing T-shirts.

And the whole thing likely illustrated how many of us have felt at points as we’ve watched Florence, and tried to figure out where she’d go.

Erica James sometimes follows Mike’s Weather Page and had heard chatter of the drunk donkey kerfuffle on the radio, she said Friday afternoon, as she and friends Shea Taff and Connie Dolan nursed drinks and noshed food at the outdoor bar at Cheap Seats Tavern 2, in Bluffton.

Shea Taff, Connie Dolan and Erica James pose for a picture at Cheap Seats Tavern 2 on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, in Bluffton, S.C. Wade Livingston

James talked about the European Model Boylan shared, and how it made the rounds on social media in Beaufort County.

“I went to the grocery store to stock up after I saw it,” she said, expressing her disdain for hurricane spaghetti models.

“It’s almost too much information,” James, who moved to the Okatie area from New York four years ago, continued.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Taff chimed in.

And yet Dolan, of Bluffton, who’s lived in the Lowcountry for almost two decades — and who generally shares her friends’ feelings on information overload — said the build-up to hurricanes in the 24/7 information-cycle era is less stressful.

“The stress level went from 10 to three,” Dolan said, adding that if 1999’s Hurricane Floyd had happened in today’s world, well, she might not have spent hours in traffic trying to evacuate to Atlanta.

Dolan also evacuated for Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and last year’s Tropical Storm Irma.

Still, Dolan “hates” the lead up — the uncertainty — surrounding storms.

James called it “hell on wheels.”

Taff talked about the “drama,” how media outlets have a lot of “repetition” in their constant coverage, how they might “stir up a reason to tune in.”

“I don’t want to say (the media) is trying to instill fear in people,” Taff, who studied journalism in college, said. “But maybe they are, to try to get them to (evacuate).”

The trio also talked about the non-committal-ness of government officials — the idea of rescinding a mandatory evacuation order for the county but still strongly encouraging people in low-lying areas to leave.

The friends’ conversation mimicked a hurricane, sometimes pivoting in different directions, sometimes gusting with frustration, ultimately passing.

As James said, the next storm will come when it comes, and we’ll all hit the reset button.

And when we do, maybe we can try to understand why Ertle was so perturbed, likely because she was in the position of trying to forecast the unknowable thing that everyone wants, needs, to know, right now.

Even Boylan was in the same boat.

Regardless of what you think of his broadcasts — which might have the flavor of sports-talk radio — he makes it clear that he’s a hobbiest, and that we should go the National Hurricane Center for the official forecast.

And we will.

And we’ll be glad when the storm misses us; we’ll know it could have ended differently, and we’ll keep our friends elsewhere up the coast, where things are much worse, in our thoughts.

Yet, we’ll still look at Mike’s Weather Page next time.

And, as James said, we might check out anything that pops up on our phones.

It’s information — hopefully reliable, if we choose our sources wisely — and officials always tell us to be vigilant.

It’s something to talk about.

As annoying and informing and concerning and useful and uncertain and exciting and exhausting as it is.