What Should You Do When Weird Weather Shows Up?


Sometimes, all you can do is make sure you buy enough food at Harris Teeter to get ready for weird weather.

Sometimes, all you can do is make sure you buy enough food at Harris Teeter to get ready for weird weather.

So we’ve had another situation of weather causing bizarre things to happen. Whether it’s snow in Atlanta or a major hurricane in New York, Americans seem to never tire of comparisons to the zombie apocalypse or The Day After Tomorrow. Never mind that in a few weeks we’ll forget this never happened, while those affected may still not have their old house back almost 10 years later.

So this all leads me to what we should and shouldn’t do, at least when it comes to community-building and placemaking and management, when a natural disaster happens.

Take those personal natural disaster plans seriously.

Don’t be the person who giggles when it’s time to stop, drop and roll. You’ll want to roll into a ball if you didn’t remember to pack a blanket, clothes and everything else that goes into a roadside disaster emergency kit. So you’re a bike or subway kid, throw an extra shirt and your meds into your bag. Even planes will let you carry those on. Let your pipes drip. Sprinkle the ice melt. Make sure you can fit in the bathtub. Drink enough water and put on sunscreen.  Drive slow, but not too slow. Sometimes we need to admit that there are some effects of natural disasters we can prevent.

Act as a region or have a plan for regional disaster preparedness

As we saw in Atlanta with #snowgridlock, and of course famously with Katrina in New Orleans, the powers-to-be were not even ready for what they saw. Yes, you may salt the roads. Yes, the weatherman on TV may move the eye of the storm further south. But that doesn’t excuse why you don’t have enough money for the right amount of disaster preparedness.  It doesn’t allow you to blame the municipality next door that you don’t like and claim as a blight on society. Anyone who wants and needs to go to a shelter should be able to. If people want to guard their homes or stay outside, let them (I just warned them about their safety). However, if you as a municipality have no real plan for the weather, then yes, you deserve the shame that you get. Side note to all the issues involved with no transit in Atlanta. Yes having more MARTA trains could have helped.  Still,  the night this was all happening, I saw two trains come into the Greensboro station and sit there for 30 minutes to an hour longer than they should have. Remember when half of Manhattan’s tunnels flooded during Hurricane Sandy? Transportation breaks down sometimes. Sometimes.

Don’t laugh at or perpetrate problematic stereotypes of people in trouble.

We love to use weather events that are abnormal to bring up stereotypes, right? The only exception would probably be with earthquakes and tornadoes. I was quite disturbed with the coverage of the Southern #snowgridlock that was making fun of people sleeping and staying wherever they could for upwards of 24-48 hours, which in some cases meant Whole Foods, Home Depot, The Waffle House  and at worse their car claiming that this is why we as Southerners were so backwards. So all the folks that get stranded at Logan and JFK during northern storms are funny too? Oh and don’t get me started on the “refugees” of New Orléans from Hurricane Katrina.

Keep the Home Depot or _______________(business/school/church) Open To Make Sure People Are Ok

There’s a reason schools are routinely used as disaster shelters when people know that something big and bad is coming. They have room for tons of cots, they have massive cafeterias, many have locker rooms with lots of showers. Hence why the kids that were stuck at them were better off than the rest of us. What I loved about what happened in the 2014 Atlanta and Birmingham situation is that I was that so many of these non-traditional shelters stayed open and did what they could to keep people entertained and fed and the like. Southern hospitality is the one stereotype I love and I love it because that’s community and placemaking at its highest point.

Don’t Share Information That’s Not True

If you don’t listen to anything I say on this post, please listen to this, be careful what you tweet or share on social networks, especially when it comes to a major storm system or something else that is happening in real time. Hence why I shared multiple views of the Atlanta storm and emphasized the ground coverage being done in Atlanta by news outlets and Instagrams and Twitters from actual residents of the cities that were affected. Also, make sure your information on relief efforts is coming from the right area nonprofit. All Red Crosses are not the same and able to do the same things. Also, tweeting something like the name of someone who died before the family can get the phone call is also insensitive.

Feel Guilty When You Can’t Keep Something Bad from Happening

Some of us chatting about the Atlanta storm response were reminded of 2005 in Raleigh. I thought I was going to take the campus Wolfline bus back to my dorm , but instead all the buses stopped running and Hillsborough Street was gridlocked, along with much of the Triangle. All that kept me from doing is getting a ride home versus walking like I normally do. Other people were stranded at schools and offices too. Yet, this time Raleigh closed school early, preventing any surprises as far as weather from affecting the students and parents throughout the county. Yet, the folks who get hit by freakish tornadoes and 100 year floods can’t always be ready for the worst. That’s ok, just do your best as individuals and as a community to be ready.

So this ends my PSA on disaster preparedness and coping. Hopefully this reminder will help us continue to grow stronger communities, especially when we and the weather are at our worst.

About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.