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Weather Eye: Stories from the Front

Americans live in a data rich environment. Every move we make these days seems to leave behind a trail of numerical footprints that tell a story about our location, our preferences, and even our state of mind.

But data don’t tell the whole story.

For the Weather Eye project, the New America team analyzed national data in order to identify which counties in the country deal with the most chronic, severe weather. Then we took a closer look at the people behind the numbers in Caddo County, Oklahoma; Cumberland County, Maine; Essex County, Massachusetts; Tulsa County, Oklahoma; and Walsh County, North Dakota. Each has had about 30 declared national disasters in the last 45 years (approximately a disaster every other year), so we thought these communities, more than most, would have some stories to share about resilience.

In every county but one, local officials, emergency managers, volunteer leaders, scholars, and reporters welcomed our questions and shared their experiences. Although we interviewed more than 40 people, we know we don’t have the whole story of disaster resilience in America, or even in these particular places. Indeed, while we were conducting our research, one of the worst hurricane seasons in American history hit Puerto Rico, Houston, and Miami, none of which made our cut for chronic, severe weather over time.

For the people and places we did speak to, however, we found great stories and consistent themes. Local press play an important role in resilience, as do strong social and professional networks, built in “blue sky times.” We heard about the dangers of complacency and disaster fatigue, and the importance of tailoring resilience to fit local circumstances. There seems to be a transitive property of disasters, in that lessons learned can make a community more resilient to other kinds of adversity. And people told us that in many places, weather may not be the problem at all, but rather it’s the underlying social vulnerabilities.

“Weather Eye: Stories from the Front” is meant to be a dynamic narrative – we hope to add to the stories over time. Indeed, if you live in Caddo County, Okla. or Gloucester, Mass., or any of the other places we’ve profiled and you want to give us a different spin or a correction, please feel free to email us at weathereye@newamerica.org

Contents

Findings

Caddo County, Oklahoma

Essex County, Massachusetts

St. Louis County, Missouri

Tulsa County, Oklahoma

Walsh County, North Dakota