The Mental Toll of Covering Hurricanes
This isn't going to be like most of my posts on this blog. Normally I teach you about a concept with forecasting or weather, or even go over an event. This time though, I wanted to talk about something personal and possibly shine a light on what many Louisiana meteorologists have gone through in the past 2 years.
I wanted to start off by saying we are lucky here in Lafayette. While most of the parish lost power for a few days last year from Hurricane Delta it has really been to our east and west where things have been much, much worse. So when I talk about what I have gone through just know there are others that have been through some truly devastating moments in their life and for that, I am grateful for at least avoiding things that could have been so much worse.
At the time of writing this article (beginning of September 2021), Louisiana has seen 6 tropical systems, 4 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes in about a year's time. These numbers especially for such a small part of the Gulf Coast are astonishing. These high numbers have honestly led to some burnout on my end so let's talk about the toll these storms take on forecasters.
Long Duration Lead-Up Unlike most weather events, hurricanes can have very long lead times. It is possible that we are watching some thunderstorms in the Atlantic 1-2 weeks before something makes landfall. Anxiety builds over time and even I have fallen under the trap of becoming almost obsessed with models runs. Plenty of sleepless, anxious nights ahead of the event, and the storm possibly hasn't even formed yet.
Preparing Once it seems like there is a legitimate threat, then comes the preparations. Buying extra food, water, supplies. Filling the car with gas. I think this is the time when it sort of hits you that things could be drastically changing for you in just a few days. It is not a good feeling. Of course, preparing is necessary but it is one of those things where it can almost trigger a feeling of impending dread.
Landfall I think one of the hardest things I have faced (multiple times) in the past year is knowing my house could be severely damaged when I get back from the station. In some cases, meteorologists have seen their whole houses destroyed in the past year. It is something you have to acknowledge but you also know you are going into work with the goal to save lives. Arriving at work the shifts are brutal, the hours are long. You may go days without getting any real sleep. The focus is on the community and keeping them informed and safe during the storm. I mainly do field reporting during these events so I have seen the damage first-hand and it truly can be terrifying to be in these storms. Power goes out and you can be in the dark, no real connection to the outside world except for your cellphone (if the towers still work). It is easy to be scared but you have to keep your safety first in mind during these events. The work is draining and you have to keep pushing through all the stress knowing everything around you is possibly being destroyed as the seconds go by.
Talking to Survivors This part of covering a hurricane is tough. I have been out just hours after major hurricanes have moved through. People just wandering the streets, everything to their name is gone. You have to find a way to help them, console them in this time. You also have a job to do; get the story and let these people's voices be heard. I never had more guilt than during hurricane Laura when I saw a hotel full of people that likely didn't have homes to go to anymore. The looks on their face were just defeated and scared. I knew I had a bed to return to in Lafayette that night but many of these folks didn't. In the coming days and weeks after these storms you visit these people who have lost everything, the devastation just seems to go on as it can take a long time for people to get the help they need.
I think the tough part is we haven't gone through this once here in Louisiana the past year but several times. Maybe it is doable once or twice but seeing our communities hit time after time and having to go through all the stress of forecasting and covering these events has been tough. Hopefully, this gave you a window into what we have had to deal with here in Louisiana. My hope with this article is to make you more aware of the mental toll that these storms have taken and what people might be going through even if we don't talk about it very much. I am not the best about talking about these things but I wanted to talk about my experiences and hopefully, this was a worthwhile read for you. - Cory Smith