748: Worst-Case Scenario

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Worst-Case Scenario
To get serious analyses of hurricanes and oil slicks, see Jeff Masters' blog. To get serious discussions of worst-case scenario thinking, see Bruce Schneier's blog. To get enough Vitamin D, don't read any blogs and go outside instead.
Title text: To get serious analyses of hurricanes and oil slicks, see Jeff Masters' blog. To get serious discussions of worst-case scenario thinking, see Bruce Schneier's blog. To get enough Vitamin D, don't read any blogs and go outside instead.


This comic is a reference to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Top kill is a reference to a procedure used as a means of regaining control over an oil well that is experiencing an uncontrolled eruption of crude oil. Michael Bay is an American film director known for his over the top special effects and plots, one example being the Transformers movie franchise.

Should the proposed firestorm actually happen, residential areas and hundreds of square miles of sensitive vegetation would be fouled by the mix of oil and sea water. A firestorm would certainly make the bad situation worse, and would certainly make a great scene in a typical Hollywood disaster movie. Lightning could set an oil slick on fire, in regions where the oil is most dense and very fresh. About 50-70% of the evaporation of oil's most flammable volatile compounds occurs in the first 12 hours after release, so fresh oil is the most likely to ignite. However, the winds of a hurricane are so fierce that any surface oil slick of flaming oil would quickly be disrupted and doused by wave action and sea spray. Heavy rain would further dampen any lightning-caused oil slick fires. So Michael Bay's firestorm would not actually happen in real life. However, if he decides to direct a new movie...

This comic is a commentary on the state of broadcast journalism and how they are always looking for speculation and voyeurism rather than facts. That they ask if Mr. Bay's proposed firestorm will have any effect on the then-upcoming congressional elections just serves to underline how little the journalists actually care about the damage that has actually been caused.

James Carville is a political commentator who was born and lives in Louisiana, and thus relates to media, politics, and Louisiana at once.

The title text has a reference to Jeff Masters, who was director of meteorology at Weather Underground and runs a blog (archived), and Bruce Schneier, who is a world-renowned security expert and also has a blog and several books. Vitamin D is a vitamin that the human body can synthesize with the aid of direct sunlight; the joke, "go outside", is Randall accusing us of all being shut-ins.


[Two reporters, Cueball and Ponytail, point microphones toward a scientist, Megan.]
Ponytail: Dr. Scientist! The "Top Kill" has failed! What's the worse-case scenario for the gulf?
Megan: The worst-case scenario is what's happening now.
Ponytail, out of frame: Yes, but is there any way it could get worse?
Megan: Sure, but there are real disasters happening now, and you're substituting speculation and voyeurism for the investigative journalism we—
Ponytail: Screw this! Let's ask Michael Bay.
[The reporters, now joined by a camerawoman, approach Michael Bay with their microphones.]
Michael Bay: The worst case? A hurricane tracks into the gulf, whipping the surface of the spill into a frothy mix of oil and air.
[An alligator-filled conflagration atop a massive ocean wave approaches land.]
Michael Bay, narrating: As the storm surges through the bayous, sparking power lines ignite the fuel air mixture into a roiling, alligator-filled wall of flame.
[A map of the gulf coast of Louisiana and southwest Mississippi is depicted with the current routes of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers highlighted. An arrow indicating a new primary flow of the Mississippi's waters into the Atchafalaya points toward southern Louisiana.]
Michael Bay, narrating: Plowing northward, the fire hurricane destroys the Old River Control Structure in Concordia, rerouting the Mississippi westward and sweeping Morgan City and the heart of cajun country out to sea.
Michael Bay: James Carville emerges from the conflagration riding a burning alligator...
Ponytail, out of frame: Will this affect the midterm elections?
Michael Bay: Massively.

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Done! Herobrine (talk)

"frothy mix" is a reference to Rick Santorum. 03:17, 29 March 2013 (UTC)

The comic was published on June 2, 2010. I strongly doubt it was a reference to Santorum. 17:36, 17 July 2013 (UTC)

The original "frothy mix" incident occurred in 2003 and came back into the news during Rick Santorum's Presidential primary campaign in 2013. So frothy mix could still be a reference to that incident. Dawfedora (talk) 21:40, 20 July 2013 (UTC)

But probably isn't, given that fluids being agitated forms a froth. So it's just the correct word for the situation. -Pennpenn 03:31, 10 December 2015 (UTC)

Isn't this tantamount to blackmail: "In 2010 Savage said he would take the site down if Santorum donated US$5 million plus interest to Freedom to Marry"? -- Weatherlawyer (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

No, blackmail is the practice of withholding information that may be damaging to a person's reputation in return for money. Putting that "information" up on a freely accessible website is pretty much the opposite of withholding it. Maybe it's coercion, but it's a "threat" to leave something up that is already there. I'm not sure if there is a word for it, but "blackmail" isn't it. -Pennpenn 05:45, 14 January 2016 (UTC)
The word is "extortion". -- The Cat Lady (talk) 16:30, 19 August 2021 (UTC)

The link to Jeff Masters's blog is down, apparently due to some restructuring of the website. The only current blog written by him I could find on that website is Category 6 (co-authored by Bob Henson): https://www.wunderground.com/cat6 19:37, 16 January 2021 (UTC)

Good catch. Found the relevant article to the comic ("What would a hurricane do to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?") in the WunderBlog archives and changed the link to that; but the pictures are still broken, so also added a Wayback Machine link to the original from when the comic was published. – Yfmcpxpj (talk) 14:34, 4 February 2021 (UTC)