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Signs about mandatory evacuations in Florida before Hurricane Irma struck in 2017. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A new study finds that partisan conservative media led to "hurricane skepticism" among Trump voters before Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September 2017, discouraging evacuations.

Why it matters: As the divided response to the coronavirus pandemic underscores, how we view the world politically is increasingly determining how we view the threat of natural catastrophes. With extreme weather on the rise, that's a dangerous recipe.

What's happening: In a study published Friday in Science Advances, researchers from UCLA examined evacuation patterns for the hurricane using GPS phone location data from each affected voting precinct, which allowed them to compare the behaviors of likely Clinton and Trump voters living as closely as 500 ft. apart.

  • They found Florida residents who voted for Donald Trump were between 10% and 11% less likely than residents who voted for Hillary Clinton to obey evacuation orders.
  • That partisan gap was not present during Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 or Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

Context: The researchers theorize the partisan gap seen in Irma was due at least in part to conservative media pushing hurricane skepticism before the storm hit, casting doubt on official predictions of its severity and the need to evacuate.

  • They cite a broadcast from Rush Limbaugh a few days before the storm's arrival, where the conservative radio host blamed government officials and the media for overhyping the hurricane to "advance this climate change agenda."
  • While such "hurricane trutherism" existed in pockets before Irma, the researchers noted an unprecedented spike in Google searches for skeptic content in the days leading up to Irma.
  • Irma ultimately caused 123 deaths in Florida, and it was the most expensive storm in the state's history.

Of note: There is evidence that at least some people in Oregon are resisting evacuations from the state's wildfires in part because of baseless rumors that left-wing activists are setting the fires so they can loot abandoned houses.

The bottom line: It's frightening to realize a growing number of Americans trust partisan media over authoritative sources — even in matters of life and death.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 10, 2020 - Science

Theta becomes 29th named storm in record hurricane season

A satellite image of Subtropical Storm Theta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/Twitter

Subtropical Storm Theta formed in the Northeast Atlantic Monday night, becoming the 29th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center confirmed.

Why it matters: The formation of Theta, which was some 995 miles southwest of the Azores overnight, breaks the record for the most named storms in a season — set in 2005. The World Meteorological Organization sets 21 alphabetical names for every season (excluding Q,U, X, Y and Z). This is the second time ever it's used all and had to turn to the Greek alphabet.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further context on the hurricane season.

Treasury sanctions cryptocurrency exchange over ransomware transactions

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during a congressional hearing in June 2021. Photo: Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of the Treasury announced Tuesday it will sanction cryptocurrency exchange SUEX for allegedly facilitating financial transactions for multiple ransomware actors.

Why it matters: The sanctions, the first against a cryptocurrency exchange platform, are a part of the Biden administration's crackdown on ransomware in response to several high-profile cyberattacks this year.

Biden pledges to double U.S. climate funding to developing nations

U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly on September 21, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz-Pool/Getty Images)

Staring down a "borderless climate crisis," President Biden told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that the U.S. will double public financial assistance to developing countries, including money to help them adapt to present-day climate impacts.

Why it matters: The failure of industrialized nations to fulfill a 2009 pledge to devote $100 billion annually to developing countries is a major impediment to a successful UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, which starts next month.

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