Rush Limbaugh has created a storm of his own by suggesting that the "panic" caused by Hurricane Irma benefits retailers, the media and politicians seeking action on climate change.
The conservative radio personality's swerve into meteorology had Al Roker, the "Today" show weatherman, saying Wednesday that Limbaugh was putting people's lives at risk.
Limbaugh's lengthy soliloquy on his radio show the day before was apparently set off by seeing a rush on supplies of bottled water in south Florida, where he lives. The powerful Hurricane Irma is still in the Atlantic Ocean, but forecasters warn it could affect Florida by the weekend.
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"There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it," Limbaugh said. "You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic. You don't need a hurricane to hit anywhere. All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and dangerous."
Businesses that sell supplies like batteries and water prosper amid fears of an impending hurricane, he said.
"The media benefits with the panic, with increased eyeballs," he said, "and the retailers benefit from the panic with increased sales, and the TV companies benefit because they're getting advertising dollars from the businesses that are seeing all this attention from customers."
He said the media makes impending storms appear bigger and more dangerous than they are. "These storms, once they actually hit, are never as strong as they're reported," he said.
The constant challenge for authorities during an approaching hurricane is persuading people to get out of harm's way, a task made more difficult by instances where storm tracks shift and predicted mayhem doesn't materialize. Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged Floridians to keep a close eye on Irma, prepare for the worst and not ignore an evacuation order when it is issued.
Their task is made more difficult when an influential figure like Limbaugh delivers a contradictory message.
"We have to be very vigilant," Roker said on MSNBC. "There are some out there who say we should ignore this, that it's hype. That it's fake news. That it's part of a climate change kind of conspiracy. It is not. This is life threatening. It could be devastating, and if anyone tells you otherwise, it is almost criminal."
Roker didn't mention Limbaugh's name on MSNBC, but on Twitter, he made it clear whom he was referring to.
Limbaugh's voice is part of the "noise" of uninformed opinions that is detrimental to getting a clear message across to citizens, said Bryan Norcross, senior hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel. But he's less concerned than Roker, believing that most people know that their local authorities are the most important voices to listen to in the case of an impending storm, and that Limbaugh is not a weather expert.
"People may love Rush for many things, but they're not going to ask him what the pain in their chest is all about," Norcross said. "They're going to go to their doctor."
Norcross said he's concerned about climate change and that research may show that man's impact on the environment fuels more powerful hurricanes. Right now, he said, he's more concerned about the impact of Irma.
Limbaugh briefly addressed the issue again on his Wednesday show, apparently upset that Ben Jacobs, a political reporter at The Guardian, tweeted that the radio host was "a hurricane denier."