Hurricane Fatigued? You're Not Alone.

Sep 2, 2015

Last week forecasters saw a meteorological first: three Category 4 hurricanes (Kilo, Ignacio, and Jimena) were swirling in the central and eastern Pacific at the same time.
Credit NOAA

We’re halfway through Hawai‘i’s hurricane season and we’ve already seen nine tropical cyclones. Fortunately, none have posed a serious threat to the islands and no tropical storm or hurricane warnings have been issued so far. But state officials worry not only about the rest of the season - but also about fatigue and a dangerous complacency. HPR’s Molly Solomon reports.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve seen a lot of storm coverage this year. “We’re getting anecdotal stories of people [asking] when is this going to end?” says Doug Mayne, the administrator of Emergency Management for the State of Hawai‘i.

Not anytime soon. That’s according to the National Weather Service, which says we’re still only halfway through hurricane season. Mayne says tropical cyclones are to Hawai‘i what earthquakes are to California or tornadoes to the Midwest. Keeping an eye on major storm systems comes with the territory. “Part of living in Hawai‘i, especially during El Nino years, is this series of what seems to be storm after storm after storm,” said Mayne. “There seems to be no end to them right now”

This constant barrage of storms could bring more than just passing showers and muggy weather. Research shows a peak hurricane year could also have adverse effects on our health. “There’s a lot of stress and anxiety that can go along with receiving a lot of warnings for hurricanes,” said Katherine Aumer who teaches psychology at Hawai‘i Pacific University. “Especially if those hurricanes actually pan out.”

Aumer says states like Hawai‘i and Florida are more susceptible to what she calls ‘hurricane fatigue syndrome’, a psychological impact of the repeated battering from storms. The burden of preparing for a major hurricane can bring on additional stress and exacerbate anxiety already present in daily life. “If a hurricane actually hits, you have to take preventative measures. You have to go out, get some water, prepare your home,” said Aumer. “The concept of actually trying to go out and do something might seem like too much stress.”

Stress from storms that end up passing the islands can also trigger a false-alarm response. While Hawai‘i has seen more than 150 tropical cyclones since 1950, it’s only been directly hit by a hurricane three times in that same period. Even so, ignoring warnings can be dangerous.

“We hear it every year that something’s going to hit, that something’s going to happen. But they don’t actually pan out,” said Aumer, who says this can lead to a cry-wolf situation. “That’s when you run into the risk of people not taking the warning seriously. And that becomes an issue because if a hurricane does hit and people don’t take the warning seriously, people could get hurt and there could be a major loss of life.”

Aumer is no stranger to disaster preparedness. She grew up hunkered down during tornado season in Iowa. She says people that go through a significant amount of weather-related stress do gradually begin to adapt.

“People build resilience after a while. You receive so much you kind of adapt to that way of life,” said Aumer. You go, ‘Oh there’s another warning, that’s just where we are. That’s just where we live.’”