OPINION: A FLORIDIAN'S VIEW OF CORNOAVIRUS MODELING
Floridians have a lot of experience with modeling…we have hurricane season. EVERY YEAR. As a small child growing up in Miami I remember magnetic tracking board on my school room wall and news printed ones at home. Models and forecasts are part of a Floridian’s life. One thing you could always count on was the forecast being wrong. I remember my father often saying only a fool would try to predict the path of a hurricane.
One thing you can count on though is the onslaught of hysteria. The minute the TV cameras show up to report on a slight breeze, bottled water flies off the shelves, along with canned goods, batteries for radio and the usual hurricane supplies. “Prepper gear” in today’s parlance.
And the TV weathermen convert a slight gust of wind at some waterfront setting into a major news event with an impending “Cat 4 or 5”, drowning out any other possible news stories on the ‘boob tube’.
Over the years, there have been all kind of tools these ‘weathermen’ used to postulate on the path of the onslaught and devastation that are predicted to ravage lives and property. In the infancy vague wind directional indications (it's a nor'easter a blowing) advanced to barometric statistics (the glass is falling). Technology continued to advance to hurricane hunter airplanes radio broadcasts finally graduating to the new-fangled spaghetti models and ‘cones” that are used today that integrate observations and satellite images along with meteorological physics, and aggregation of raw historical data.
Perhaps if the Spanish Conquistadors had had today's technology, Mel Fisher might not be a world renowned personality!
Based on hurricane models, governments declare emergencies, promote evacuations and move around assets (electrical workers, national guards, water supplies, etc.), to best address probable landfalls and intensities of weather-related disaster. This application of technology to modern life applies to the reaction to coronavirus based on models. Notice how the financial responses and declarations of emergency, even the panic buying, price gouging, and hoarding seem eerily similar to hurricane path announcements.
But even with all that ‘science’ and ‘technology’ and “data” how often do we have more than a day’s notice about the actual path of one of these forces of nature?
Best case scenario, hurricane models, after all the years of research, at the end of the day, we have a map with colored lines that cover a land mass involving as much as 1/3 of the country. Remember when President Trump included Alabama as a hurricane disaster target based upon a model? The model and the President could have been right - but was that likely?
So what does this have to do with Corona virus? My daily ritual is now an elongated hurricane watch. 24-7 new, government emergency officials with meetings and announcements, daily press conferences. Media hysteria, consumer “Prepping” and hoarding, and the usual price gouging that go along with the fear of the imminent impending disaster.
Listen closely though. The impending disaster is based on virus models. The ‘scientists’ issue disclaimers about how little is known about the virus and how ‘new’ it all is. Nevertheless, model they do, and like weathermen of old, forecast doom and gloom for a group that may or may not ever be impacted a whit, but hunker down in the bunker ‘just in case’.
After all, we know of few historical precedents other than the Black Death and the Spanish Flu to base comparisons on, and 2. The coronavirus is a novel phenomenon who's epidemiological characteristics are not well known.
All this means that the corona models are worse guesses than hurricane predictions. It seems like the Federal government is issuing evacuation orders for Oregon based on a hurricane headed for Florida. If you stretch out the string, and expand the cone, any hurricane could theoretically go around the world.
They are all potentially grade fives and direct hits. This is foolishment.
Yet, the most extreme models seem to be being used to steer the course of officialdom's reaction to coronavirus. There is no option against lockdown orders, no opportunity for the viral equivalent of hurricane parties (at least not legally). The hysteria and hype is worse than a local TV station predictably putting weathermen out on a pier with wind and rain swirling around and his squealing about impending doom. This pitiful squib will be used in ads for the next three years to signal the alertness and caring virtues of the station. We all take this with a grain of salt. Old-timers and natives, especially so.
While there is intelligent reaction, preparation, and recovery in regard to coronavirus, maybe just maybe we might consider taking a careful look at virus models like hurricane models – with a healthy skepticism.
Are hurricane models useful? Yes. They help you do some planning, but, farther out the less useful and increase in accuracy until they are almost 100% accurate at the moment of impact. This seems to be the case in Corona while California was expected to be ground zero, but it ended up being a big nothing. Not even a “Cat 1” in hurricane lingo.
Models, and the consequent building up of reactions basically fomenting "crises too good to waste", can do more harm than good. Will coronavirus be a one-off 9-11 or an annual hurricane forecast challenge?
Perhaps in the sober view of hindsight Coronavirus modelers will join weathermen as fools for trying to tell us where and when the disaster will hit.
Submitted by: David McCallister, SSH FL Director