We felt the surge of the water float our car sideways before fully realizing that this was no outer band of a hurricane sweeping over the area on Friday evening. As the rainwater seeped though the doors, the abandoned cars came into view with alarming regularity. Once at home, we saw the storm surge flowing down the street, and homes were already being flooded by 9 p.m. This was a full-blown hurricane coming over, and the so-called experts hadn't properly warned us this time.

The "latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center" we had heard before the power went out had put the track of Irene as still going up the West coast of Florida. The Websites and television news always show the expected general direction, plus or minus a hundred miles (we fondly call it the Cone of Death), and the Cone wasn't supposed to come over us. So, with no hurricane warning issued by early afternoon, there was plenty of traffic out on the streets that night, and many restaurants and bars were open and doing business.

Millions of tax dollars go to those weather geeks, and we got nothing much for our money this time. Those working at the National Hurricane Center, Tropical Analysis Forecast Branch, and the Technical Support Branch couldn't figure out where Irene was headed even though they're equipped with the latest computers, satellites, and reconnaissance planes.

The lame excuses that followed over the weekend didn't help. The response from the federal employees was that Irene wasn't well-defined and was cha-chaing over Cuba. And oh yeah, some "guiding trough" sneaked up on them.

Well, fine. Tell us that. Say something like, "Hey, this big blob of moisture could go any which way, so prepare for anything, like a HURRICANE landing on top of you tonight. So don't drive around."

Sometimes members of the news media can be real pains in the ass.

We heard that a member of an elite unit had parachuted into South Florida to take on the The Herald and give us a national perspective on what's ailing this once venerated newspaper.

The almighty New York Times had decided it was time to give The Herald the once-over and assigned Felicity Barringer the task. She broke a story about the failed attempt of The Herald to hire editor Bob Rivard from the San Antonio News Express for the executive editor job.

This was the first big hire for publisher Alberto Ibarguen and it fell apart. So was Felicity in town to dissect The Herald's problems à la the recent New Yorker piece? Probably not. We hear that she was charmed by Alberto.

She had talked to a number of media types in town both on and off the record. So we assumed that she would talk to us about her general impressions of the paper. Of course not. As we've seen before, The New York Times wants it both ways. You talk, they don't.

"Oh, I can't tell you anything prepublication," said Ms. Barringer, "Sorry." Then she decided to talk off the record, but she merely rambled on about why she didn't want to talk.

We think she's buying into Mr. Ibarguen's plan to mimic the strategy of the Tribune Co. and produce a number of niche publications while allowing the flagship daily just to flounder. The Herald has a new Jewish paper coming out and a faux alternative weekly called Street that is hiring castoffs from the Miami New Times. Good luck.

Got a tip? Call 954-233-1581, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].

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Tom Walsh
Contact: Tom Walsh