Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
Hurricanes are types of tropical storms that form in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and eastern Pacific Ocean. Hurricanes affect millions of people who live along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts each year. Parts of the Southwest United States and the Pacific Coast can also experience severe weather associated with hurricanes, which include tornadoes, floods, and heavy winds. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 created life-threatening conditions for residents, including prolonged power outages, storm surges, and municipal service disruptions.
It’s normal for hurricanes to cause people to experience emotional distress. Feelings such as overwhelming anxiety, constant worrying, trouble sleeping, and other depression-like symptoms are common responses before, during, and after these types of storms. Other signs of emotional distress related to hurricanes include:
- Fearing that forecasted storms may develop into a hurricane even when the chances they will are low
- Constant yelling or fighting with family and friends.
- Having thoughts, memories, or nightmares related to the storm that you can’t seem to get out of your head
Who is at Risk for Emotional Distress?
Forecasts for hurricanes and tropical storms can last for days as they take shape. People living in hurricane-prone areas as well as anyone who has struggled to recover from experiences with past storms may be vulnerable to distress before the event occurs. Other people at risk for emotional distress due to these types of storms include:
- Children and teens. After a hurricane, young people may worry that another tropical storm will happen again. They may become overly dependent, have trouble eating and sleeping, or show physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches.
- Older adults. Older adults are more likely to need social support to reduce the effects of stress and move forward on the path of recovery. Some older adults may also be dealing with the loss of physical capabilities and possibly independence.
- First responders and recovery workers. These individuals may experience prolonged separation from loved ones (depending on the severity of the storm or hurricane) and show signs of mental fatigue.
Once warnings and evacuation orders are issued, the risk for emotional distress becomes greater:
- You may feel unprepared, isolated, overwhelmed, or confused. Uncertainty about where to go during a hurricane, how to keep your pets safe, or whether you will be able to continue taking any medications can cause emotional distress.
- You may lose contact with a loved one in an impacted area due to power and Internet outages.
- You may experience difficult memories and emotions associated with similar traumatic experiences in the past.
- If you are relocated, being in an unfamiliar environment can be difficult, especially for people with limited physical mobility, economic means, or knowledge of the English language.
Returning to a home, business, school, or place of worship impacted by a hurricane may cause additional distress, especially if there is structural damage. A temporary or permanent loss of employment may also occur.
Remember, too, that the anniversary of a disaster or tragic event can renew feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness in disaster survivors. Certain smells or sounds, such as smoke or sirens, can also trigger emotional distress. These and other environmental sensations can take people right back to the event, or cause them to fear that it’s about to happen again. These “trigger events” can happen at any time.
People can experience a wide range of emotions before and after a disaster or traumatic event. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. However, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope when these events happen. Learn about coping tips for dealing with hurricanes, tropical storms, and other types of disasters.
Additional Resources for Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
- Disaster Preparedness for Pets at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
- How to Cope with Sheltering in Place – 2014
- Hurricanes and Other Tropical Storms at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Hurricanes at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Hurricanes at Ready.gov
- Managing Traumatic Distress After a Hurricane at the American Psychological Association