Jaxton Kimble

Jaxton Kimble

- making stuff and rambling about it -

Schrödinger’s Storm Prep

A person in a rain slicker holding an umbrella turned inside out by a strong wind
Photo credit: cromaconceptovisual via Pixabay

One of the things that is especially double-edged for me about tropical storms and hurricanes is the you can see them coming element. Sure, some of that is my anxiety, but also there’s a lot of ancillary detritus and accumulated obstacles that aren’t internal — or not entirely.

These storms are slow-moving (at least geographically) disaster. That feels like it should mean there’s time to prepare. But they’re only partially predictable. There’s a reason folks call that wedge on the storm track map the cone of uncertainty.

So, fine, Jaxton, then everyone should prepare for the worst-case scenario and we’re all fine. But which worst case?

During my first big hurricane after moving down here, the storm was long-predicted to slam directly into where I lived at the time. We talked about evacuating. We had two relocation options: one staying with friends to the south of us, the other with friends further inland and north. Both of them had big, solid houses, and were reasonably well outside the standard-wisdom path.

We ultimately stayed in place. I won’t for one second say I was confident in the decision — then or now — but after we hunkered down, the storm made an unexpected turn. It came on land near our friends to the south, then hooked in and up to hit the friends inland.

Everyone was fine physically, but there were major, lasting power outages in both place, and some nasty downed trees. So in the end, my idea of prep for the worst would have had me stranded. With wonderful people, mind you! But nevertheless stranded. This was a fact my then-partner was keen to point out when the next storm hit: It was fine last time, so … and thus we get to another complication.

Every time you prepare for the worst, and then the worst doesn’t happen, it gets a little easier to believe that the problem is actually your concern level. Which is to say, it’s not that things could have gone as badly as you prepared for, it’s that you were over-prepared. Or, as often is the target, The Media Scare Tactics pushed you to over-prep.

And even if you retain caution and preparedness, plenty of folks around you don’t. Some of them are more nuisance than anything else, like the cranky neighbor mocking you for pulling down hurricane awnings for Just A Tropical Storm. But what about when it’s an employer?

More than once the cautious among us have had to push against local “storm veteran” management in order to get the space and time to prepare (or, in one case, leave the state altogether). More than once, thankfully, my home came out intact after.

In the rush of relief folks feel, it’s easy to turn and say “See? It was all for nothing!” Except of course that it’s not. If we could always count on a storm to jog left or right, we wouldn’t need the cone of uncertainty in the first place. More fun with human nature: the same folks who like to laugh about people who worry too much are often just as quick to shake their heads and wonder why the folks who were hit didn’t “prepare better.”

The fact of the matter is, there’s no such thing as exactly the right amount of worrying and prep for something that’s only semi-predictable. What happens after the uncertainty cloud has finished passing over isn’t a useful metric for “who was right,” since there’s another cloud behind it which eventually might slide differently.

This is probably a metaphor for something. Probably for a lot of things. Maybe eventually I’ll find a way to write a story where hurricane prep is a resonant stand-in for the ways we force people to protect themselves exactly enough against looming dangers on the horizon, punishing them after the fact if they fail in one direction or the other. For now, though, I have to pull my garbage cans back out from where I hid them to avoid weaponized garbage during the storm.

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