I just returned from the 2015 National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas. The event was fantastic, giving everyone who attended the chance to interact in ways that the larger conferences simply are not capable of fostering. I came away with a renewed sense of hope that the nation is, as a whole, in pretty good shape when it comes to forecasting and tracking hurricanes. However, the preparedness side of things leaves a lot of questions that we may or may not get answers to during the upcoming season.
The single biggest problem that I see, believe it or not, is that we have not had many high-impact hurricanes in a long time. Sandy was an exception in 2012 but that was also in an area that very rarely has to deal with anything like that at all.
I am beginning to see something take shape that worries me. The lack of hurricanes intruding in to our normal, busy lives is leaving us vulnerable and susceptible to disaster later on. Just like being exposed to germs that don’t kill us helps to strengthen our immune system, being exposed to hurricanes on a regular basis teaches (forces) us to take action against future events. We literally build up a resistance for hurricanes and their nasty impacts. We won’t become immune but we can become more disaster resistant.
However, if you isolate yourself in a sterile environment for a number of years, then suddenly go to Chuck-e-Cheese on a busy weekend, I can assure you that the attack to your immune system, what little of it there is, will be swift and severe. The same will likely hold true in the hurricane world. It’s been too long without a major test and thus people simply won’t be prepared to fight.
What is the solution? Simple, we need to have hurricanes to keep our minds focused on being hurricane prepared. Now before you get all tense and full of angst against me for making such bold claims, consider this: in 2005 after Katrina, it became clear that we needed to do something better as a country to prepare for hurricanes. Thus, when Rita and Wilma came along, people really took notice. Sure there were some mistakes, but I am talking about building up resistance to hurricanes. The 2004 and 2005 seasons forced people along the Gulf Coast to become more hurricane resistant. Now, we need a booster shot of sorts.
Again, I go back to my medical analogy. We get regular booster shots to keep our resistance up against deadly diseases. If we falter, we are open for invasion and our immune system is throttled, sometimes with lethal results.
I believe that the lack of hurricanes is actually hurting us in the long term. Out of sight, out of mind, right? We have discussed Florida on numerous occasions: no hurricanes in almost 10 years. NONE. Not a single one. Talk about being vulnerable! Florida is a prime example and when the next hurricane does make landfall, it could overwhelm the system, literally, and lead to a rather unpleasant experience.
If we had hurricanes making landfall along the U.S coast every year, on a regular basis, we would do more to combat their effects. The absence of such malevolent weather leads to apathy and eventually we forget about such monumental events like Andrew or even Wilma. Hurricanes become more about legend and history and less about a real and serious threat.
I cannot blame anyone for not having the urge to prepare for something that seemingly doesn’t happen much anymore. What’s the reason why anyone should? Play the odds and just hope this year isn’t the one when the next “it only takes one” comes knocking.
There really is no solution to this quietly growing problem. Local television stations will continue to run their annual hurricane specials over the next few weeks. Conferences such as the one I just attended will go on as they always have. In the grand scheme, these efforts will reach only a small fraction of the people who would eventually be impacted by a hurricane or tropical storm. The die-hard weather geeks will tune in to the hurricane specials or pick up the latest hurricane guide at the grocery store. Everyone else will go about their various concerns and the complacency will grow beyond our ability to cope when the next great storm is upon our doorstep.
I will say this, the men and women who will forecast such an event are the best in the world. They will stand ready to defend against what is probably going to be a very weakened immune system that we call our coastline. The forecasts will be the best the science can bring us but will it be enough to combat nearly a decade of major hurricane landfall drought? I guess we will find out sooner or later.
M. Sudduth 9:20 AM ET April 14