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What is Hurricane Amnesia?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “hurricane amnesia” is used to describe a very common trend in hurricane-prone areas of the world, in which people tend to forget the potential severity of hurricanes in the intervals between major storms. As a result of hurricane amnesia, communities and individuals may fail to plan as well as they should for big hurricanes, and as a result, they are at risk of increased hurricane damage. Organizations which focus on weather safety such as emergency services and government agencies often find hurricane amnesia extremely frustrating.

Hurricane amnesia can manifest in a number of ways. Most classically, people underplay the dangers of hurricanes outside of hurricane season, or in regions where severe hurricanes have not touched down for several years. As a result, they regard awareness campaigns and proposed safety reforms as scare tactics created by industries which profit from hurricane preparedness, rather than recognizing such campaigns as an important way to make their communities safer.

Someone with hurricane amnesia may disregard the dangers of living in a beach home, or of failing to take basic measures to make a home safer during storms, such as maintaining shutters. Hurricane amnesia can also cause people to neglect to lay in stocks of supplies which might be needed in a prolonged storm, such as candles, batteries, matches, first aid supplies, canned and dried staples, and so forth. They may also fail to be aware of evacuation centers in their area, or choose not to donate to or support causes which promote hurricane safety in their regions.

Hurricane amnesia can also lead people to neglect evacuation plans, either failing to organize such plans, or allowing plans to lapse. This means that people may not be prepared to evacuate quickly in the event of a major storm, which can cost emergency services time and potentially endanger people when they are asked to evacuate. Not being conscientious about hurricane preparation may also mean that people ignore weather warnings or fail to heed evacuation orders because they belittle the danger.

Severe hurricane seasons tend to cause hurricane amnesia to evaporate very quickly, but safety organizations are often surprised by how rapidly people become complacent again, even after major storms which cause severe damage. People who live in hurricane-prone areas should be aware of the issue of hurricane amnesia, and they are encouraged to keep up on emergency supplies, evacuation plans, and home maintenance to make sure that they are safer in the event of a severe storm.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Dec 09, 2011

Some tourists develop sudden hurricane amnesia when an approaching storm threatens their vacation. They have been so looking forward to going to the ocean that they talk themselves into believing that the storm won't be that bad.

I have friends who headed to the Gulf coast, even though a hurricane was predicted to reach the area by the third day of their vacation. They spent a few days enjoying the strong breeze and large waves that preceded the storm, but on the third day, they were terrified.

The wind blew so hard that it sucked the patio furniture off of their balcony. The storm surge brought the water up past the first level of their hotel, so they couldn't even see land below.

They may have had hurricane amnesia this one time, but I really don't think they will ever have it again. They will never plan a vacation during hurricane season again.

By seag47 — On Dec 09, 2011

I know far more coastal residents who have been mentally scarred by a hurricane's devastating effects than who experience hurricane amnesia. Once they have lost family members to a storm, they will never be the same.

I have a friend whose brother died in a hurricane. Now, every time there is so much as a tropical depression, she heads north to my house.

I am happy to take her in, and I told her that I will gladly provide shelter to any of her acquaintances down there, as well. She told me that most of them don't pay much attention to hurricane warnings, even though she begs them to leave the area.

I don't know what she would do if she lost someone else to a hurricane. Her friends don't realize that by underestimating the power of the storms and staying put, they are putting those who care about them through the wringer.

By lighth0se33 — On Dec 08, 2011

I think that people should take full advantage of technology such as hurricane tracking software and keep themselves alert to the situation. News stations near the coast use this software to save residents' lives, and they should make use of this service and evacuate as recommended.

Hurricane amnesia caused my friends to stay at their beach house until it was too late to evacuate. They thought they would wait until the storm was almost there to leave, and they quickly forgot how severe the damage could be. By the time they started driving out of town, several roads had flooded, and the bridge to the highway had washed away.

They watched the news, and they knew that evacuation had been recommended two days earlier. They decided to track the danger themselves, when they should have listened to the professionals. They had to ride out the storm without power as the mighty wind whipped about the windows, and they were quite afraid.

By StarJo — On Dec 07, 2011

@chivebasil – The thing about tornadoes is that they can strike anywhere, so rebuilding in the same spot doesn't put you at a high risk of getting hit by another one. The area of the country known as “tornado alley” does get the most of them, but just to show how unpredictable they can be, my husband's hometown of Jamestown, New York, that hadn't seen a tornado in 75 years, got hit hard last year, and several people's homes were destroyed.

Hurricanes hit coastal areas, so residents always know that they are putting themselves in danger by living there. They reason with themselves that the benefits of living near the beach outweigh the chance of losing everything to a hurricane, and this way of thinking may lead them to stick around during these storms to try and protect their property.

By Domido — On Dec 06, 2011

As someone or other famous said – it’s not that the wind is blowing. It’s what the wind is blowing!

People do forget how dangerous these storms can be! My husband used to work at a golf course near Myrtle Beach, and he could never get to safety during these big storms because of two reasons.

One, the golf course threatened anyone’s job who left early before a hurricane. Two, because there were golfers dumb enough to try to hit a little ball around the course as a storm was coming in!

It never failed that my husband would have to cut up trees that had fallen, and risk his own life, during the middle of a storm because of folks just plain full of hurricane amnesia.

Every once in a while, though, these adamant golfers realized that the wind was blowing an Oak in their direction. Then they'd decide it was time to head home. Sheesh!

By Eviemae — On Dec 05, 2011

Oh, yes. I know all about hurricane amnesia – and it absolutely irks my nerves!

I live near the East Coast, and we have seen our fair share of severe hurricanes over my thirty two years. We’ll have a bad season, and then a few years will go by when we don’t have any really bad storms hit us directly.

Do you know it’s almost like people get disappointed if they prepare for a hurricane that turns and goes back out into the ocean!

Then there are those folks who act as if they are invincible. They go strutting around like roosters spurting stuff like, “It’s just a little bit of wind,” and “That stuff doesn’t scare me. Just stores trying to make money.”

I call those particular people idiots.

By John57 — On Dec 05, 2011

@julies - I live in a state where we don't look forward to hurricane season because we have had more than our share of them.

Whenever I listen to the hurricane forecast, I try to take it in stride. There have been times when the local hurricane news made you feel like you needed to get out right away, and nothing ever happened.

There are a lot of emotions and torn feelings involved when this is your house, family and pets that are involved.

I don't ever want to put my family in danger, but there have been many times when it does not get nearly as bad as they are predicting it will be.

All that being said, I have seen hurricane amnesia with many people in my local area. Sometimes I think part of this thinking is - surely we have had our share of bad hurricanes, and it won't that bad this time around.

Many of these are very powerful storms that you really don't want to think you can beat if they hit land. I have a hard time seeing this kind of thinking going away, as part of it seems to be human nature that goes pretty deep.

By chivebasil — On Dec 04, 2011

Its seems like hurricane amnesia is a phenomenon that applies to lots of different kinds of natural disasters. People whose homes have been destroyed in a flood will rebuild in the same flood plain. Towns which have been destroyed by tornado will rebuild in the same spot and often on a more ambitious scale. Home builders will often rebuild homes collapsed by earthquakes without any extra safety features built in. It is all the kind of willful ignorance that helps people to get by.

The reason we so often repeat our mistakes is because we don't want to deal with the consequences of change. Imagine the old couple whose home was destroyed in a tornado. They have no home and now they have to move to a new town. This can be too much to handle. Sometimes they will cling to the familiar in an effort to return to normalcy.

By julies — On Dec 04, 2011

I don't live in an area of the country where we get hurricanes. The only time I have been in one is when we were visiting Florida and hurricane Ike hit. We were staying in a very safe hotel, and the only way it affected us was it delayed our travel plans home for a day.

We were attending a convention inside the hotel, so it didn't even ruin any outdoor plans we might have had.

This makes it easy for me to watch the hurricane videos on TV and wonder why people are so reluctant to leave their homes. I think if I lived in a place like this, I would make sure I made took the right steps to be prepared for something like this.

It seems like not matter how many times these hurricanes happen, you see law enforcement people putting their lives in danger to make sure people are safe.

By mitchell14 — On Dec 04, 2011

@helene55- I think that this also is just the way people are in general. Any sort of bad event "won't happen to me", and so people forget about it until it really does happen. As for me, though, I'd rather not live in places known for their severe weather.

By helene55 — On Dec 03, 2011

@burdici- I have read pshychologists' studies on this, and it seems that people just refuse to believe it will happen. It also reminds me of plane crashes and auto accidents -- because they seem so unlikely to happen to any one of us, we don't really think they ever will. And so every time there is a car accident or plane accident, the people involved act surprised.

By fify — On Dec 03, 2011

I knew of this concept but didn't know what it was called. It's very interesting to know how the human mind works after experiences like hurricanes.

My family experienced Hurricane Katrina. It was such a horrible disaster that I thought we would never get over it financially or emotionally. But just five years later, our home and life is back in order and it's as if Hurricane Katrina never happened.

I wonder if human psychology tries to forget bad events and memories to make ourselves feel better?

I think it's a good thing for our psychology, but when it comes to being prepared for future disasters, it's probably true that it's harming us to feel and think this way.

By burcidi — On Dec 02, 2011

I don't think that this trend is only applicable for hurricanes and hurricane prone areas. I think it also happens to people in areas that experience other kinds of natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes.

There was an earthquake in Turkey recently and despite the fact that this area had been hit by earthquakes so many times before, many people died and buildings were destroyed. I think it had been several decades since the last earthquake so people had completely forgotten about the danger.

As long as we don't take lessons from our past experiences and keep forgetting the nature of the landscape and environment we live on, these kinds of catastrophes will keep harming us.

By serenesurface — On Dec 02, 2011

I heard a hurricane center expert on TV talk about this the other day. He was saying that the biggest danger is not hurricanes, but rather hurricane amnesia which causes people to not be prepared when a hurricane hits.

He gave the example of emergency kits and despite taking the time and effort to put together a kit at home immediately after a hurricane, people tend to forget about it later and do not renew and update their kits over time. Things like batteries, medications and food can expire and become useless in that time period. So when a hurricane does hit, the kit doesn't serve its purpose.

I think the expert made some really good points. I also went back and took a look at my emergency kit and found several things that expired. I'm going to buy new ones and make sure to check on it every couple of months.

We need experts like these to keep reminding us that a hurricane can hit at anytime and just because it hasn't happened in a while doesn't mean that we're safe.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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