Hours before the projected landfall of Hurricane Matthew, conservative media that often traffic in climate denial questioned official reports from scientists and meteorologists about how bad the storm would be.
The Drudge Report’s homepage led with a headline questioning whether the storm was fizzling, even as national, state, and local officials called for residents to heed warnings to care for loved ones, take shelter, or evacuate.
STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED! https://t.co/4NjoClC2Jf
— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) October 6, 2016
Earlier in the afternoon, Drudge’s personal Twitter account pulled a favorite term of Trump supporters to question whether there was a political motive behind the breaking news warnings surrounding the storm.
“The deplorables are starting to wonder if govt has been lying to them about Hurrican Matthew to make exaggerated point on climate,” Drudge said on the verified account.
So now the hurricane strength is a conspiracy pic.twitter.com/aK4oVp525u
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) October 6, 2016
As if to confirm that the prior tweet was not a joke, Drudge played meteorologist Thursday evening, an hour before projected landfall, questioning whether the National Hurricane Center was inflating projected wind speeds.
President Obama declared a state of emergency in Florida Thursday morning, and the National Hurricane Center warned of “potentially disastrous impacts for Florida.” Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) warned earlier on Thursday that “this storm will kill you.” Local officials urged residents to heed evacuation warnings that covered about 1.5 million Floridians on the east coast.
“People do not seem to get it and are not leaving,” Martin County Sheriff William D. Snyder told NBC News. “I’m not saying this to be theatrical … I asked my captain of detectives if he had body bags, because if we get 140 mile-per-hour winds in mobile home parks, we are going to have fatalities.”
The storm, which hit Haiti earlier this week, killed at least 136 people, and the country’s president described the situation as “catastrophic.” Haiti suffered historic damage from two earthquakes and a Category 2 hurricane six years ago.
Hurricane Matthew is looking, by most accounts, to be a historically dangerous storm, featuring a “worst case storm surge scenario,” specifically for the Southeast United States.
— John Upton (@johnupton) October 6, 2016
Hurricanes draw strength and precipitation from warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures. If humans continue to emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the oceans will continue their record warming pace, and storms will continue to get more intense. Hurricane Matthew has broken records for accumulated energy and how long a storm has stayed a Category 4 storm.
Rush Limbaugh ridiculed climate science on his show, after spending a minute or two dismissing the threat of past hurricanes like 2005’s Wilma as overblown, and mocking people who say cutting carbon emissions can reduce the likelihood or intensity of extreme weather. Then he suggested that hurricane forecasting depended on political and electoral factors “because there are votes.”
“These are acts of God,” he said, according to a clip shared by Media Matters. “Do you have an insurance policy on your home or anything? You know the force majeure, the ‘act of God,’ which is events that you can’t control, that man has no say-so over? Hurricane is one of those, but I guess the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is going to steal the purview of hurricanes away from God. And next we’re going to go on, we’re going to stop war with climate — Look, the long way around telling you that there is politics in everything. There’s politics in the weather. There’s politics in the forecasting of the weather. There’s politics in hurricanes. There’s politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes.”
“There’s politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes.”
The Weather Channel issued a special statement asking people to take Matthew seriously. “We are concerned about reports of people deciding to stay in areas under mandatory evacuation orders,” said meteorologist Brian Norcross. “This is a mistake, this is not hype, this is not hyperbole, and I am not kidding.”
— Brian_Henderson (@brian_henderson) October 6, 2016
Norcross is no stranger to hurricane warnings, having helped to communicate the threat of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Even noted climate denier Donald Trump warned residents to take the storm seriously:
Inbox: Donald J. Trump Statement On Hurricane Matthew pic.twitter.com/OZ5tD6s7iK
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) October 6, 2016
Other conservative media figures, such as Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, did not mince words about the severity of the threat of storm surge, saying that if the storm tracks 20 miles to the west, “you and everyone you know are dead — all of you — because you can’t survive this… and your kids die too.”
Later Thursday night, Drudge’s site changed its banner headline from denying the intensity of Hurricane Matthew to denying the reality of climate change. The headline says “Hillary blames hurricanes on ‘climate change’” and links to a month-old post on a climate denier blog, written by Marc Morano — himself known as “the Matt Drudge of climate denial.”
The science says that Hurricane Matthew is as strong as it is because of climate change.
Morano, the author of the post Drudge links to, has said he thinks climate scientists should be “publicly flogged,” frequently published the email addresses of climate scientists for cyberbullying, and the organization he works for has received funding from the oil industry. He previously worked for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rush Limbaugh.
In the wee hours of Friday morning, Drudge was still at it, updating the site’s headline and photo (but keeping the old link) to something which appears to try for a deeper subtext about gender, weather, and science.