Last week, my little corner of Florida spent several days in the center of the “cone of uncertainty” for Hurricane Dorian. And that has given me a lot to think about.
Before I go any further, let me say that I am grateful for forecasting, weather models, and all the things that make it possible for us to prepare for a hurricane. I am especially grateful for the National Weather Service (NWS), and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) and the great work they do putting out watches, warnings, and coordinating with local Emergency Management Organizations.
BUT, because of the advanced notice – also the nature of Hurricane Dorian (it was a very slow moving storm) – creates a fertile ground for anxiety and panic.
So, I’m going to take a couple of days to process and note the important things about this experience.
My first observation is that hurricane preparation is a lot like being pregnant and having a baby.
I may be thinking about this because my daughter’s birthday was last week and we were getting ready for a hurricane, but here we go:
- When you’re getting ready to have a baby you have no idea what you need – just like for a hurricane.Remember when you were getting ready for your baby to come into the world? The color of the nursery seemed SUPER important, didn’t it? Will this color stimulate their intellectual growth? Is it soothing enough? Am I projecting and unhelpful idea about what it means to be a boy or a girl with this color?
But once you had that baby, did you pay any attention to that color?
In the same way, when you’re getting ready for a hurricane you focus on a whole bunch of stuff that may or may not be helpful. You buy a generator, 100 gallons of water, and eight loaves of bread. You get a propane tank (whether or not you have anything in your house that needs propane). You buy brand new plywood to board up your windows…even though the old plywood was actually just fine.
Is any of this what you probably need? Are baby wipe warmers necessary? Probably not. But you felt like you were getting ready and that matters.
- Estimated due dates are not guaranteed arrival timesWeather forecasting is based on averages, models, and a lot of factors going on outside the hurricane. Ocean currents, the temperature in Texas, the high pressure front over Ohio – these things all effect when and where the hurricane will arrive. And a lot of people complain about inaccurate forecasts, but I think it’s important to remember that most hurricanes don’t make landfall, and there just aren’t that many hurricanes a year (and they all form under similar but unique circumstances). So forecasters really don’t have enough aggregate data to know exactly what’s going to happen, but the forecasts they make are remarkably good.
Same thing with your baby. You get a due date, but your baby might be ready early, they may need a little more time. That estimated due date (and the forecast from the National Weather Service) is different than FedEx tracking number.
- Having the baby is hard, but it’s not the only hard partI have lived in Florida for 10 years. We have only waited out three actual hurricanes, and we have been super lucky because we’ve never been hit by a hurricane directly.
My experience with pregnancy, especially my first pregnancy, was that I thought that being pregnant, going into labor, and having the baby was the hard part.
That part was hard. But, all in all, it was over pretty quickly.
Parenting goes on and on. You have to wake up and feed the baby in the middle of the night. You have to change diapers. You get to watch them learn to recognize your face. They learn to smile. They crawl (and then everything in your house is suddenly super dangerous in ways you never imagined). They grow into little people.
Parenting is a long, long, long process compared to giving birth.
Hurricanes are like that.
Waiting through a hurricane is hard. It’s windy. It’s rainy. Sometimes your phone goes off with a tornado warning. It’s loud (and then it’s quiet, then it’s loud, and then it’s quiet — actually that’s a lot like giving birth, too). The storm moves over with bands of wind and rain. Then there’s this eery quiet in the middle (very similar to transition in labor). At some point the power might go out. Sometimes you hear the cracking of tree limbs.
But, assuming you make it through the hurricane part – just like with birth and labor – it really is after the hurricane passes that the hard work begins. If you don’t have power, you have to figure out if it’s you or everyone. You have to be sure not to drive through puddles of standing water. You want to check on all your people but maybe the cell phone towers or internet aren’t working. You need to see if your drinking water is safe. You may have forgotten to prepare coffee, and didn’t realize how caffeine depended you are when you were collecting hurricane supplies.
There’s clean up – again – we’ve only ever experienced the most minimal of damage, and it’s still a lot of work. If you lose power it’s uncomfortable because all that rain the hurricane brought in brings perfect conditions for frogs, mosquitoes and other creatures to breed, so you’re getting eaten by bugs AND there’s no air conditioning. It takes time and patience. Also, you don’t know when things are going to feel normal again.
And your body feels gross (so in that sense, it’s also a lot like having a baby).
- The way people want to help you after you have a baby and the help you actually need may not be the sameAfter my babies were born, I found myself inundated with adorable, beautiful, and wonderful baby clothes. So many sweet outfits. And I was so grateful and so appreciated the thoughtfulness of this gesture from people I cared about.
Also, it’s super fun to buy baby clothes, and I, too, will take any opportunity to buy baby clothes.
But do you know who I loved the most after my second baby was born? About two weeks after my daughter was born, a friend came over. She brought dinner for my family, and then she washed my dishes while I took a nap. I cannot tell you how much I love this woman because she knew what I really needed in a way that I would never have asked for, and it meant so much to me to get that help and a little break.
So, as much fun as it is to offer to hold the new born baby (probably the new mom doesn’t want you to hold her baby), and give the new born baby clothes (probably baby spends most of the time swaddled in a blanket) – the more actual helpful things are not as much fun: babysitting older kids, washing dishes, bringing food that they can eat for days.
It’s like that with a hurricane. If you’re paying attention to the devastation that has happened in the Bahamas, I hope that you feel moved to support these people. It feels SO GOOD to have a food, clothing, or bottled water drive to send to these people (and they do need those things). But it’s important to ask yourself if you’re the best person to provide these things.
Here are some resources if you want to help:
Before you send stuff, please watch this CBS report about why you should donate money to reputable relief organizations.