Hurricane Barry Hype vs. Reality

New Orleans hurricane disaster

Louisiana Experienced Barry Last Week

An example of hype vs. reality, Hurricane Barry is a case study of how cultural preparedness influences people’s reactions to events. Last week, Tropical Story Barry made landfall in Lousiana as a Category one hurricane. It built up over the Gulf of Mexico, forming on July 10th as it moved to the coast. Twenty-inch rainfall totals were forecast.  Early on Saturday, July 13th CNN reported that people were still waiting for it to make landfall. 

Days before the storm, media sources went into overdrive preparing for the cyclone. Barry was the second storm and the first hurricane of the 2019 annual season. So, it was big news.

Predictions were that the hurricane’s most significant impact would be the rainfall it would dump in a short time. The cyclone caused extensive flooding, but the storm stalled over the Gulf of Mexico. It was a weaker tropical storm when it came ashore on Saturday afternoon.

Not a Hurricane Katrina, Despite the Hype

The storm losing steam before landfall was good news for the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. However, it did not stop weather and media outlets from hyping the event. Every storm is considered a potential Hurricane Katrina, the deadly Category five storm that devastated Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in 2005. 

Hurricane Barry was never predicted to be as strong as Hurricane Katrina. Regardless, the media gave their usual dire predictions that people could lose their lives. They urged evacuation and to prepare for extensive damage. None of this advice is terrible, of course. It just fails to take into account the cultural norms of the people who live along the Gulf Coast. 

Hurricane Barry Reality

Grab Your Hurricane and Party

The city of New Orleans is known worldwide for its party atmosphere. It doesn’t mean that the people of Louisiana or the adjacent gulf states don’t take storms seriously. However, just like Californians with earthquakes and Northeasterners with blizzards, locals take their hurricane events in stride. 

While coordinating a response with locals last week, what struck me most was their relaxed attitude. They attended briefings, provided status updates, and listened to guidance. Working the event, I did not doubt that people were getting ready for the storm. But, as one guy said, a hurricane is a reason for them to grab a beer. We got a laugh out of that. 

It was a good reminder. The comment highlighted the reality that like the famous Hurricane drink, Louisianians would ride out the storm their way. The media hype wasn’t getting to them. They are used to their world getting shaken up. 

Disaster or a Big Rain Event - You Decide

All of this is not to downplay the storm’s impact (see NOAA’s damage assessment). However, it did remind me of the importance of understanding culture when engaging people in disaster response. Just as I wrote about in my blog last week, California Earthquakes – All Disasters Are Local, preparedness is personal, it comes down to community. 

Hurricane Katrina was a significant event for the region. But, cyclones are commonplace enough that people on the gulf coast don’t overly stress about them. There is also over a decade’s worth of progress since Hurricane Katrina; you can read FEMA’s outline here

I enjoy exploring the idea of cultural preparedness, and recognizing events can be big or small depending on perception. And, as I wrote about in my blog, Quick Analysis of Natural Disaster Impacts Over the Past Five Years, major weather events happen frequently. In future blogs, I plan to explore how cultural norms, economic resources, and geographic location influence preparedness.

Let me know your thoughts on this first US hurricane of the 2019 season and other similar events worldwide. 

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