For those living in hurricane-prone areas, there's a wariness and a weariness brought on by the United States hurricane season. As a hurricane's path slowly moves, weather forecasts are watched like steak on a grill. Timing is everything.
Will this one hit my area? Will it impact me and my family? Should I buy more food, water or medicine now? What about plywood for the windows? Or is this just a false alarm?
One Florida resident tweeted, "As a Floridian, I've always wanted snow days where I could skip school and just chill at home. But I've come to realize that we do have them. They're just called, ‘There's a hurricane coming straight for Florida as a Cat 4 false alarm it changed course but we're still not sure' days."
That's why forecasting hurricanes is serious business for meteorologists who are acutely aware of residents' concerns and also deeply committed to saving lives by alerting the public and protecting property, businesses and more.
The best approach? "Prepare for the worst when the threat is real. Hope for the best," said AccuWeather meteorologist Randy Adkins.
But what happens when residents in the path of yet another possibly destructive hurricane have grown weary of preparing?
In the days before Hurricane Dorian, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina declared states of emergency, and mandatory evacuations affecting millions of people were ordered for areas expected to be hit hard. Not all residents of those states were on board with those plans. Nor were they all impacted, as Florida, in particular, was spared the worst of what initially was expected by some forecasters.
In South Carolina, Ryan Colucci thought the state's mandatory evacuation of large parts of the coast was overkill, he told The Wall Street Journal. He said for the past several years, officials warned of storms threatening low-lying Charleston, with requests for residents to evacuate.
"The storms always missed," he said. "I think people are really pretty sick of it."
AccuWeather meteorologists understand the concern. "We're very cognizant of our responsibility and the importance of getting information around hurricanes and all severe storms as precise and as accurate as possible and explaining the impact so that people, companies, emergency management people and the government agencies we serve make the right decision," said AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper was aware of possible complacency when he spoke to state residents at a press conference as Dorian approached. "Please don't let familiarity get in the way of good judgment," Cooper cautioned.
The storm wariness can weigh on more than just those who may be impacted.
"In 2004, there was an 'over-warning' by some other forecasters about a particular Louisiana hurricane," said Myers. "2005 came and those forecasters were a little cautious about 'over-warning' on a Louisiana hurricane again -- but this time it was Hurricane Katrina. We were concerned, on the other hand, because we knew it was going to be a disaster, and we were particularly concerned because of other peoples' false alarm to some degree the year before. That's why it's so important to be authentic."
AccuWeather warned in advance that "50 to 70% of New Orleans would be underwater for days or weeks." AccuWeather estimates it saved 11,000 lives with that forecast. Congress later commended the company, noting its early warning and how "the extra time could have aided evacuation of the region."
The Weather Enterprise, for many years, has discussed and debated the need for a way to communicate the powerful overall impacts of a hurricane, understanding that the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which has been used by meteorologists for decades, classifies storms by wind speed only.
AccuWeather created a revolutionary new scale based on a broad range of important factors to help people and businesses better understand the full impact of hurricanes and tropical storms. The AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes is based on four very important contributing factors: high winds, of course, but also flooding rain, storm surge and the financial damage and economic impact from the storm. (For more details, click here.)
So how should a possibly hurricane-weary public respond as hurricane season continues?
"Take the appropriate measures to ensure that you are safe, which means evacuating if you are on the coast or in a flood-prone area, making sure you are up-to-date on prescriptions in case you cannot access a pharmacy, having formula and water bottles if you have an infant to feed and having a means of contacting someone in case of an emergency," Adkins said. "Cell networks may become unreliable in the event of widespread power outages, so being able to reach help is critical."
"At AccuWeather, we do not overhype things," Myers said. "We are also realistic about what the threats are and where, and we take that responsibility to give people the unvarnished truth about potential threats and impacts very, very seriously. We have built up a reputation over 57 years and people trust us. We work very hard with each storm to maintain that trust by providing people and companies with the most balanced, realistic and up-to-date forecasts and warnings we can."