Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Several friends from elsewhere called to see how I was faring with the monster hurricane making the news across the county. After twice explaining the disconnect between what they were being told and what was actually happening, I decided to write an article about it.

Here is what people all over the U.S. were looking seeing on television at 10:03 am Monday Sep 2, 2019

And here is a live photo I took in Boca Raton, Florida at 10:03 am Monday Sep 2, 2019

The tiny waves on the pond are evidence of gentle breezes

It is not raining. Sorry for the lack of network-quality footage, but Jim Cantore and the crews have rushed northward in their search for devastation and frenzy. Of course there will be high winds and heavy rain – it’s a huge tropical storm. It makes for good television, so they have been relentlessly interrupting programs with breathless updates, wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth. Florida satirist Carl Hiaasen describes the tv weather reporters as “jabbing in febrile excitement at the floridly rendered “cone of doom.” 

When we turned on a college football game on Saturday, the network had already gone to permanent picture-in-picture at the lower right corner of the screen. Then they ratcheted up the tension with the rare picture-in-picture-in-picture, a visual triple lutz given a 9.6 by the judges.

Keep in mind that waiting for an oncoming hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle from far off on the horizon

The prudent don’t run in terror, nor do they become squirrels in the street, bug-eyed and paralyzed until leaping away at the last second. You may hit the brakes, but hurricanes do not. Long-range thinkers don’t have to get in the long lines at gas stations because they keep the tank filled in advance. When it needs topping off, they do it early in the morning or late at night. They don’t mob the stores for bottled water, because they don’t need to. It’s the difference between hurricane preparedness and hurricane panic. Old hands keep an inventory that includes water, batteries, candles, and the things they forgot to buy the last time a hurricane came by. Some remember to buy lighters and matches.

The bigger problem to prepare for is what you’re going to do when power is interrupted

It’s great that you bought canned goods but if that electric can opener is all you’ve got, you’re going to cut yourself while trying to jab cans open with screwdrivers and pointy knives. Some homeowners buy generators. Most, not all, buy fuel in advance.

The TV screams about 18-23 foot storm surges because it’s high drama

Low drama would be admitting that maximum storm surges occur only in open seas, and that when they come ashore, it may be 3 or 4 feet that washes only a few yards inland.

People head for the hills

Flights fill up quickly and with cars now the only way out, panicked people get on highways clogged with evacuees. Every time someone runs out of gas traffic backs up even farther. Soon tens of thousands are stuck in their unmoving cars, which are not good places to be in a big storm. Friends from Miami bolted one year and couldn’t find an empty room until Atlanta, 600 miles away. Some people board up windows, but that’s the last-minute crowd. The long-term thinkers have storm shutters over their glass doors and windows. They keep out the wind and rain and also protect against flying debris. Planners toss the patio furniture into the pool, where it won’t blow away.

Why is a behavioral scientist writing about a hurricane?

Most research is planned and executed by those who run around like chickens with their heads cut off before a hurricane, doing things fast, cheap, and at the last minute, making one avoidable mistake after another. The long view ensures full preparedness, cooler heads, and level thinking. And when bad things happen anyway – as they sometimes do – smart people who take the long view and prepare well in advance are ready for them. 

Forgive me for rushing through this article, but I’ve got to get it published before the sun comes out.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.