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Atlantic storm Lee thankfully did not end up walloping parts of Maine the way it seemed like it might earlier last week. And naturally, that has led to some grumbling around the watercooler and on social media about the storm being overhyped and our collective anticipation being over-the-top.
But we’ll say this: There are worse things than being overprepared.
First and foremost, Lee still took a tragic toll here in Maine even if the severest projections did not materialize across the state. The storm claimed one life when a large tree fell on a Winterport man’s vehicle on Saturday while he was driving, and his family is now mourning the loss of an “amazing father, uncle, brother, friend,” according to a GoFundMe page.
Lee also knocked out power for thousands and thousands of Mainers. A whale watch vessel separated from its mooring in Bar Harbor and washed ashore. A top state legislative official and his fishing partner thankfully and narrowly avoided additional tragedy. They were rescued Friday morning after a “giant rogue wave” flipped the 40-foot lobster boat they were working on, the lawmaker said.
Even with the high winds, stormy seas and heavy rain in some parts of the state, Lee’s overall impact was not as damaging as some worst-case fears earlier last week. That is reason to breathe a collective sigh of relief, yes. However, we should all resist the understandable pull to say the heightened sense of alarm and preparation was somehow an overreaction.
As other states and communities, particularly those frequently in the path of hurricanes, have learned the hard way, there can be a difficult balance ahead of extreme weather in terms of communicating and understanding risk. Even with advances in technology and modeling, storm tracks and severity can change. Look at the way Hurricane Ian surprised people last fall, with disastrous consequences.
There is a constant tension in adequately warning people so that they can be prepared and safe, without overreacting in a way that causes panic or a distrust in future warnings. Authorities (and the media) need to take care not to sound like Chicken Little, and the public must avoid the phenomenon of “anchoring” when they lock themselves into an early forecast and don’t adjust their preparation based on evolving predictions. In the midst of this balance, we should all recognize that it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
Also, just because the track of a storm ends up sparing some areas, that doesn’t mean its impacts suddenly disappear. Storm devastation doesn’t stop at state or international borders. That is worth remembering as our neighbors (and significant trade partners) in Maritime Canada wrestle with their own storm fallout after Lee.
Encouragely, the most powerful sentiment across Maine in Lee’s wake has appeared to be appreciation — appreciation that it could have been worse, and appreciation for the people working to minimize the impacts. For example, patrons at Ken’s Place Seafood Restaurant in Scarborough applauded a group of electrical workers and tried to pay for their meals on Saturday night, as reported by News Center Maine. The workers declined the free food but directed the money toward ongoing fundraisers the restaurant is involved in to support local charities.
“Nobody had to do that. Just clapping and cheering was enough. The fact that they wanted to pull money out of their pockets to do something like this was above and beyond,” the restaurant manager told the TV station.
The impulse to support the utility workers was a good one, even if it ultimately proved not to be needed. A similar thing could be said about preparing for the worst ahead of the storm.
The unfortunate reality in Maine and other parts of the country is that people should expect extreme weather to become both more frequent and more powerful, fueled by climate change. The worst case scenarios for individual storms might not all come to fruition, but we still need to be prepared for them.