For those unfamiliar with the term, Silly Season is part of news media parlance. It refers to the latter part of the summer, and is caused by a reduction in both sales of newspapers and people watching the news media. It is caused by two major factors; a reduction in genuine newsworthy items in the summer, and also by people who pay less attention because they have better things to do (such as summer vacation, promoting skin cancer on the beach, and beloved little ones hanging around the house and making the summer an absolute pleasure).
To offset the reduction of revenue, the editors look for more sensationalistic (and sometimes just plain weird) news to boost sales. Traditionally popular items were moral panics or child abductions. An unfortunate side effect of the Silly Season is that legitimate but unusual news is sometimes neglected or ignored.
Now for the news. A friend of mine asked me about this news article. The headline was " Former Space Camp Instructor Predicts Giant Tsunami in the Atlantic on Upcoming May 25". Since that is today, I thought it worthwhile to give it a look. The news article was instigated by Eric Julian, a pilot and air traffic controller. The scientific basis for the story is the near approach of a fragmenting comet called Z3P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (Zippy for short). Zippy is about 10 million kilometres from Earth and it's fragments are as close as a few million kilometres (about 10+ times as far away as the Moon). From credible information available, there is absolutely no danger.
From Eric Julian, there is ample evidence for worry, including a crop circle showing the Solar System, with the notable exception of the Earth. How do you interpret a missing planet in a crop circle to mean that a comet will impact the Earth on May 25, 2006? Did the circle come with an interpretive guide? This "evidence" is detailed on the webpage of the Exopolitics Institute (Political Analysis and Activism in Extraterrestrial Affairs, no less). On his own web page warning of the event, Julien mentions compelling psychic evidence, and asks others for their paranormal support. There is also some sort of link to extraterrestrials and some ancient prophecies.
I have to admit that I have not been fair to this person, and I have only read a very small amount of his warning. However, since my research gives me a fair background in tsunami dynamics, I did take a glance at his flooding maps and timing charts for a hit in the Atlantic Ocean, just south of the Azores. In my professional opinion, and not to put too fine a point on it, the tsunami information is basically crap! First, his maps for timing the passage of a tsunami take no account of the ocean topography, which is the primary factor determining both the path and velocity of tsunami motion. I also checked some areas in the Atlantic Provinces, and he has flooded areas that are higher than nearby places that are lower. For example, the highest hills on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland are near Bauline, which he has underwater.
More to the point, while Zippy is a subject of some exciting research into comet structure, NASA has no worries. They have a program for tracking Near Earth Objects (NEOs), complete with all identified NEO approaches through 2020.
Normally I wouldn't bother either myself or you about this trash. But there was a more serious side to what has been going on regarding Julien's prediction, and it also points out a danger of the Silly Season. In this case, the news spread through coastal communities in Morocco. Many locals, remembering the 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia, have evacuated to high ground, in spite of information from the government and from the national meteorological office showing that the comet posed no danger. Locally, we have received some calls asking for information on the comet impact.
I am disappointed that several media sources bothered to even mention Julian's revelation. News sources hoping for legitimacy should choose not to proliferate such mendacity. People can be hurt by such items. When those in Morocco who evacuated get back to their homes, how much of their property and livelihood will have been stolen or damaged by looters, and how many injuries and how much suffering will have occurred? There are many people spouting nonsense; the danger is when "reliable" sources spread this information.
There are two lessons and a warning in this. First, check the validity of unusual news stories, regardless of the source. Second, don't assume that Silly Season news items only occur in late summer. Finally, those who cry wolf without good evidence and common sense should be fed to same.
Whoops! I just saw a whitecap through the window. Excuse me…