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About two weeks ago, Hurricane Ida blew through eastern Louisiana. As a strong Category 4 hurricane at landfall, it was one of the stronger hurricanes to hit Louisiana in its history (and in fact, was higher in windspeeds than Hurricane Katrina). Due to improvement in its levee system, New Orleans fared much better, but many other areas of Louisiana were hit quite hard, and were still having their power restored, two weeks later.

Presumably, at least.

After the initial disaster, the news cycle moves on to other thing. And to be fair, there is a lot going on, such as the Fall of Kabul, and a world wide pandemic that is killing over a 1000 people a day in my country. But today, another storm, Hurricane Nicholas, is moving across Texas and Louisiana. Much weaker, it is still causing damage due to its high rainfall. Curious about how it was complicating the recovery from Ida, I was reading a Weather Channel report describing how Nicholas was putting already-affected areas at risk, and mentioned how the largest building in Lake Charles was still uninhabited. I then reread the sentence and realize it was about the damage of Hurricane Laura, which happened in 2020, a year ago. Apparently, Lake Charles, a year after landfall, was still recovering, with many buildings still covered by tarps.

My personal experience with tropical storms was to be the outer bands of a single weak tropical storm (Tropical Storm Arlene, in June of 2005, presaging the record breaking 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season). It is hard for me to put the news of storms in context. Beyond the initial reporting of storm surges and flooded streets, tropical storms and hurricanes often take a long time to recover from: but it is hard to make a story out of a tarp patching a home's roof. Also, the initial strength of the strike might correlate with the long term damage.

I have lived almost all my life in the Western US. Wildfires are a yearly event, with some years being worse than others. I have sometimes been a little surprised and amused when people in other parts of the country have expressed concern at wildfires. A lot of the time, wildfires are not "disasters", but just a normal part of the summer. Treating them like natural disasters would be like treating snow in Minneapolis as a natural disaster. Sometimes I have had thousand acre fires burning a few miles from my house, and while it is discouraging, it is usually part of life. I have been to burnt areas after the fires go away, and I have seen first hand the difference in what fires can be like: some areas truly are burnt down to the ground, while in others, charred stumps might be interspersed with green trees. Occasionally, wildfires do destroy a town, as in Paradise, California. But when it comes to wildfires, I have enough personal experience that I can understand, at a basic level, the size, intensity and aftereffects of a fire.

But with tropical storms and hurricanes, I have no idea. I've never been inside of one, and never seen an area a week, month or year after impact. I have been in New Orleans, but it was a decade after Katrina. I really have no context between a storm that presents a nuisance for a week, and a storm that might permanently change a community. Tropical storms and hurricanes are a serious issue in the United States, and it looks like they will continue to become more serious. But I have no personal way to understand them. Hurricane Harvey, in 2017, cost around 125 billion dollars in damage. How do I even conceptualize what that looks like? 3,000 Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh destroyed at once? What does the real impact of tropical storms and hurricanes look like? Despite these stories having heavy coverage in the news at the time of impact, I feel uninformed on their long-term consequences.

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