“What a bust.”
“Yeah, some storm.”
It was a common theme Monday morning as Dan and I walked along the boardwalk of our NJ shore town with our 4-year-old twins. The entire area had gone into hurricane preparation mode in anticipation of Tropical Storm Hermine. Dunes were built, boats were secured, outside furniture was put away and, in some places, businesses were forced to close.
But the storm never came. In fact, it didn’t even rain. The overcast, slightly windy weather on Saturday gave way to sunshine on Sunday and Monday.
What did come were the news vans, which arrived in droves, no doubt planning to get the typical shots of reporters shielding rain and wind while yelling into the microphone. Instead, they got footage of kids flying kites and reactions from angry store owners who lost business because of “a bunch of hype.”
In one news segment, a restaurant owner blamed the media for the quiet Labor Day weekend crowds, and another berated NJ Governor Chris Christie for prematurely declaring a state of emergency in three counties. “They have to recognize there’s a significant economic impact before they make these decisions,” the owner told a Philadelphia news outlet.
It’s a fair point, considering that Labor Day weekend is a huge revenue generator for seasonal businesses, and nothing hurts that more than a bad forecast — particularly one that warns beachgoers to stay away.
But if you really want to talk about “economic impact,” just ask anyone who was affected by Sandy, the superstorm that decimated the East Coast four years ago. Unbeknownst to them, the Weather Channel reporters at our local beach were standing on a boardwalk that had to be rebuilt after the storm. If they looked a few blocks south, they’d see a pavilion that’s finally being restored. And all along the shore, there are houses that have been raised in the past few years to avoid further flood damage.
I think it’s safe to say that the potential impact a hurricane can have far outweighs the impact of revenue loss for a weekend. If anyone should understand the meaning of the phrase, “better safe than sorry,” it’s the people who live and work at the Jersey shore. We know that a storm can change its course. Just as a hurricane can intensify, it can also weaken. This time, that’s what happened. When Hermine hit Florida early Friday morning, it was a Category 1 hurricane, but as it moved across Georgia, it was downgraded to a tropical storm. All of this, however, occurred long after most people had changed their plans for the holiday weekend.
The right call was made. And while it may seem like an inconvenience for business owners, it was, in fact, the best possible outcome. We didn’t lose power, our basements weren’t flooded, our homes weren’t damaged. It’s a shame the local merchants couldn’t understand that.
Fortunately, some people chose to view the situation differently, taking advantage of the change in forecast by offering specials to attract customers. One restaurant posted a sign saying “Our deck is open!” and offered happy hour deals, and a water park gave out discount passes to those willing to “brave the storm.”
To me, those are the people who get it. Instead of shaking their fists at officials who are forced to make a tough call, they chose to make the best of a less-than-desirable situation. And what’s more, they realized it’s never a good idea to complain about a non-event to people who have been through the real thing.
Because, as we know, a calm is always better than a storm.