Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wacko weathermen

Everyone has a theory about what's causing major hurricanes like Katrina and Rita -- including, unsurprisingly, the wackos of the extremist right.

Would you believe, for instance, that they're actually being cause by the Japanese mafia, using a weather machine made by Russia in the 1970s?

OK, so we've heard theories like this before. The Militia of Montana used to speculate that the U.S. government -- er, excuse me, the New World Order -- was causing all kinds of weather disruptions with a piece of equipment up in Alaska called HAARP.

But what's unusual is when one of them begins broadcasting those theories into people's homes under the guise of being a normal weather forecaster on a mainstream TV station.

It happened recently in my hometown area of southeastern Idaho, where a TV weatherman named Scott Stevens has been touting the theory on his nightly broadcasts on Pocatello's KPVI.

The Idaho Falls Post Register [which requires a subscription to view its stories] carried the story earlier this week:
The predictions of local weather forecasters are not usually national news, except in the case of KPVI meteorologist Scott Stevens. Stevens has recently gained national attention for his theory about Hurricane Katrina and deadly storms in general.

He believes the Japanese mafia created Katrina as revenge for Hiroshima. The Japanese group is one of several, Stevens says, that likely possess the required technology: an electromagnetic generator developed in 1976 in Russia. He predicts the gangsters, Japan's Yakuza, intend to destroy another U.S. city within the year, probably by unleashing an earthquake or volcanic eruption in the West.

An Internet search of his theory turns up thousands of hits.

Most of the publicity is negative.

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette includes Stevens' theory under the heading "Wasn't joking, Part III." It follows the claims of a street evangelist who says God unleashed the hurricane because New Orleans hosts five abortion clinics and a yearly homosexual convention, and an Israeli rabbi who says the storm was God's way of punishing America for President Bush's support of the Gaza Strip pullout.

Another Web site labels Stevens' assertion "the worst conspiracy theory ever."

But Stevens said fringe theories are often initially debunked by the mainstream.

He first hit on the theory about six years ago.

"I was having trouble with accuracy of forecasting in 1998 and 1999," he told The Science Detective, an Internet radio program.

He stumbled onto a Web site describing the concept and technology, which is detailed on Stevens' Web site, He says a little-known oversight in physical laws makes it possible to easily generate large amounts of electromagnetic energy to create and control storms.

You also have to appreciate his supporting evidence:
Stevens said oddities in Katrina's behavior support his theory.

"The center of the storm passing over the national hurricane center, that was a clear calling card," he said. "It's saying, 'You idiots! Look what we can do.' The whole behavior of the storm was curious."

National hurricane expert Rob Young said Stevens' theory is not based in reality.

"I have been doing hurricane research for the better part of 20 years now, and there was nothing unusual to me about any of the satellite imagery of Katrina," said the Western Carolina University professor, who will appear Friday on a PBS special about Katrina. "It's laughable to think it could have been man-made."

At first, KPVI defended airing this nonsense:
Bill Fouch, KPVI's general manager, said Stevens is entitled to his opinions, comparing them to political or religious beliefs journalists suppress on the job. Fouch said Stevens' growing exposure isn't a problem "as long as he keeps the TV station and the ownership out of it and acknowledges that it's his opinion."

Stevens just announced yesterday, though, that he's stepping down from his position at KPVI to promote his theory full-time.

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