This one. The channel of “GOOD Magazine”. I take it it’s one of those ironically named things, like how Fox News’ Slogan is “Fair & Balanced”, because the bad data is strong with this one.
Let’s take a look at one of their YouTube videos titled “Top 10 Most Powerful Hurricanes Ever“.
Let’s start at 0 seconds in. Do you see a problem?
I see a problem. The title of the video is “Top 10 Most Powerful Hurricanes Ever”. What does that mean? What is their metric for “Most Powerful”? Hmmm, maybe we’ll find out after watching this video for a while. Let’s see…
Okay, 15 seconds in, the text on screen tells us that they’re clarifying that “most powerful hurricanes” means “biggest hurricanes”.
…really? Because I think for most people “biggest” defaults to meaning “biggest by area”, and I’m not quite convinced at all how big a hurricane is tells anything about their power. (Watching the video a bit, one can see that in fact this is not the case and the video uses “biggest” in a more metaphorical sense.)
All right, let’s roll their top 10 through.
Done watching it? How many things bothered you? If your answer is zero, you should go and rewatch it again, until you find something fishy. No really, there are things in this top 10 that are fishy that do not require knowledge about hurricanes to detect.
Let’s start with realizing what their metric of hurricane power is: it’s the smallness of the central pressure. But even they decide to put this metric second in their data display, so certainly it should also be nonobvious to them that this is a nontrivial clarification to make?
But second of all, how reliable is their data on central pressure (which, incidentally, appears like it should have been labeled minimal central pressure—the central pressure of a hurricane changes over time)? Notice that they report one hurricane (the “Labor Day” Hurricane) from Gregorian calendar 1935, long before the other hurricanes mentioned. What was the quality of meteorological instruments back then?
It turns out the “Labor Day” Hurricane occurs significantly before accurate hurricane data became available, and “892 mb” is merely the hurricane’s pressure at landfall. As hurricanes tend to weaken around landfall, the storm was likely more powerful (and its central pressure a lower reading) at some point prior at sea. (Alternatively, since they didn’t explicitly say “minimal” on the data label, one could suggest that maybe they are reporting landfall central pressure rather than minimal central pressure, but in that case the landfall central pressures of other hurricanes are incorrect, so this is a theory of more discrepancy.) This fact was ignored simply because data was unavailable because of the state of meteorological technology eighty years ago, and the data point that was the strongest data available was presented as the strongest data. Other hurricanes from way-back-then were strong enough to potentially be close contenders for this list, but their data is unavailable, so their possibility is silently discarded.
They also present wind speeds. Like how they left out the “minimal” before “central pressure”, they also left out the “maximal” before “wind speed”. But also notice that all the wind speeds presented are divisible by 5 except for Katrina’s. Did it just happen that among the top 10 only Katrina’s maximum wind speed was not divisible by 5?
It turns out that hurricane wind speeds are typically reported to the nearest 5 mph in the US. I have no idea where they got their 174 figure for Katrina from, but it’s probably not from the same source as their figures for the other hurricanes on the list.
Speaking about mph and the US, isn’t it odd that all the strongest hurricanes decided to pick on North America? Do hurricanes have a thing against imperial units? (If this helps the US get off the imperial system, I don’t think I actually mind that much.)
It turns out they get away with a technicality here, because “hurricane” is a term that’s local to North America. There are more powerful cyclonic storms than the ones presented in the Western Pacific, but there they are not called “hurricanes”; they’re called “typhoons”. Still, this is a technicality against intuitive interpretation, and storms of the same meteorological nature that just happened to be called different names should not be discounted in the creation of such a list.
Okay, so circles appear on a map above this presented quantitative data. It looks like they mean to present the path of travel that each of the hurricanes took. But first of all, the paths are wrong. They do generally have the shape that the actual paths of the hurricanes had, but the paths are quite shifted from the actual paths the respective hurricanes took.
But also, one would suppose that the circles are equidistant in time. (They’re certainly not equidistant in space—note Gilbert’s path versus the paths of the others, for instance.) That is, one would think the amount of real-life time it took for the hurricane to move from one plotted location to the next location is the same as the amount of real-life time between the hurricane being at that second location and being at the one after that. But three days pass between the second and third circles shown for Hurricane Wilma whereas only six hours separate consecutive circles at the end of the path presented for Wilma (that is, if we assume that the presented path is just a position-shift from the correct path, and not something crazier).