The prescription for “alert fatigue”

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Each year, we coastal dwellers enjoy the long days of summer in the beautiful paradise we call home. We let friends and relatives stay with us, and we beam over their jealousy – I mean their praise – of our proximity to such a wonderful beach locale. Before we allow our egos to swell too large, we’re reminded that we often take a very painful hit, especially during the months of June through November. Hurricane season knows just how to humble even the most proud beach-lover.

A slide from Meteorologist Dave Gorham's presentation during the 24th Annual Hurricane Symposium.

A slide from Meteorologist Dave Gorham’s presentation during the 24th Annual Hurricane Symposium.

With the busiest month of hurricane season approaching, we’ve already experienced some small developments in the formation of Tropical Storm Chantal and last week, Tropical Storm Dorian. Even though these were storms that fizzled instead of flared before landfall in the U.S., I still got a twinge of anticipation that these storms could have developed into major hurricanes, and wanted to be sure I was prepared if they did.

This rush of adrenaline could be from my relative newness of living in a coastal city. I moved to Houston from the Midwestern city of Dallas (Go Cowboys!) and have not experienced my first full hurricane season until this year. My husband, on the other hand, is a native Houstonian, and shrugs when a potential hurricane is announced. He even chuckled as I made initial attempts to put together a hurricane preparedness kit. (Thanks to Meteorologist Dave Gorham and his Employee Hurricane Preparedness Presentation at ImpactWeather’s Hurricane Symposium, I have the best checklist to use.)

Hurricane Sandy vs. Cold Front on Oct. 26, 2012.

Hurricane Sandy vs. Cold Front on Oct. 26, 2012.

Then it hit me – my husband has a full-blown case of (drum roll please) “alert fatigue.” We in the weather services industry know this as a symptom of hurricane season. Each year, the media will hype a storm until it’s dumped its last rain drop on land. We want to plan, prepare and evacuate when the time is right whether it’s a bad thunderstorm or a Category 5 hurricane. Veterans like my husband have heard this song and dance before and will hang out until “last call” is announced.

Both extremes, however, can be deadly and dangerous. In a recent article from Women’s Health, a young woman told of her experience with Superstorm Sandy in 2012. She evacuated for Hurricane Irene in 2011 and nothing happened to her house – no flood, no interior water damage, nothing. So when Hurricane Sandy came creeping around the corner, she didn’t feel it was as important to evacuate ahead of the storm. This had dire consequences for her boyfriend, her pets, and her. This is a sad example of “alert fatigue.”

Others who live in Hurricane Alley have experienced it and suffered from it too. Even though a Category 2 hurricane may be minor the first time around with very little damage to your community, it doesn’t mean the second Category 2 will be as kind, but it also doesn’t mean it will be worse. Because wind speeds within the cone of a hurricane track can vary wildly, every storm is different. Let me reiterate that – every storm is different.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur prescription for alert fatigue is simple – plan for the here and now. Comparing a current storm to a previous one is not a smart way to gauge your preparation and sheltering plan. According to the Red Cross, only seven percent of Americans have taken basic preparedness steps for a potential hurricane, such as creating a hurricane kit. That’s 93 percent who are not ready or resilient and could use a little dose of anticipation to keep them alert. Watching the news, purchasing water and non-perishable items ahead of the crowd, and evacuating when you are told too are simple things you can do to stay one step ahead of the hysteria.  Also, take warnings seriously.  Just because the last one may have resulted in little or no consequence does not mean the next one will be benign.

We at ImpactWeather are predicting an active hurricane season, so there’s no place for alert fatigue in our forecast.

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