Any place, as I tell people who argue with me about the perils of living in New Orleans, has its dangers. In the Midwest, there are tornadoes. In California, there are earthquakes and forest fires. Other places are subject to floods, droughts, blizzards, mudslides, and various other horrors that Mother Nature can choose to unleash at any time.

You pick your geographical poison, to some extent, and here, it’s hurricanes. The good thing about hurricanes is that you have so much warning – we’ve known Irma was a threat for more than a week now, and although knowing in advance doesn’t prevent the destruction, it can definitely save lives. The flip side of that coin, though, is the advance warning coupled with the uncertainty and the shifting paths of these storms can provoke anxiety well before it’s called for.

In the case of Hurricane Irma, at this point (I whisper), it looks like New Orleans is safe and we can do little more than help those already affected, pray for a turn that spares Florida and/or a general weakening of the storm, and open our doors and hearts and wallets to anyone who needs to evacuate. 

That has not stopped me – or many of my friends – from losing our collective minds this past week, and although the steps below were inspired by Irma, they are unfortunately applicable every year from June 1 to Nov. 30 and especially during late August to early September.

If you want actual practical advice on what to do before, during, and after a hurricane, I know those resources exist. I even know some actual tips myself, just by virtue of living here most of my life: Get all of your important documents in one place, take pictures of your house before you evacuate for insurance purposes, refill all your prescriptions, and empty your fridge and freezer.

My favorite tip – which I would have called a “hint from Heloise,” but which now seems to be called a “life hack” – is to freeze a cup of water and then put a penny on top of it. If the penny is no longer on top of the ice when you get home, then you lost power long enough for the ice to melt and thus all your food needs to be tossed out. 

There are tips for evacuating – bring snacks for the kids, prioritize items with sentimental value over items with monetary value, and be sure to never let your gas tank get more than half-empty during hurricane season – and for riding out the storm – fill zip-top bags with ice, stock up on batteries and bottled water, and heed the dire warning to write your Social Security number on your arm so they can identify your body if you die.

These tips are not those tips. These are my own personal guidelines for how to drive yourself (and those around you) as crazy as possible between now and Nov. 30.


  1. First, congratulate yourself on choosing the perfect city for this kind of exhausting mental frenzy: New Orleans is still recovering from Katrina, the levees are far from foolproof, and parts of the city recently flooded from just a normal late-summer thunderstorm. In addition, depending on your temperament and the duration of your residency here, you’re probably not fit to live happily in any other American city and you likely have an intense and at least partially irrational emotional attachment to the Crescent City.
  2. The next key part is to pick a storm to fixate on – or, if you’re feeling especially ambitious, several storms. For maximum crazy-making potential, start tracking the storm at least 10 days out before any of the models come into agreement. It’s also important to pick a storm that only threatens your city in the vaguest sense. If the threat is real, please stop reading this and check out actual hurricane advice from a reputable source. But if you’re not even in the cone of uncertainty and it’s waaaaaaay too soon to tell what the storm is going to do, focus all of your energy on obsessively refreshing the tracking models.
  3. If the tracking models show the storm heading close to you when you’re still at least five days out, panic. If the tracking models show the storm missing you, loudly declare that those spaghetti models are never right at first.
  4. For good measure, find and watch the weather forecasts from Aug. 25, 2005, which said with high confidence that Katrina was going to hit the Panhandle. This is nightmare fuel, and YouTube is full of it.
  5. Try to relax with a book that you pulled out of a poorly stocked neighborhood Little Free Library only to find that the book is set in Grand Isle, Louisiana, in the days before Hurricane Betsy hit. Keep reading it anyway.
  6. Walk around your home, office, and usual haunts with a deep sense of dramatic irony, as if you are the only character in a disaster story who knows that the city is about to be destroyed. Think dark thoughts like, “Will this tree even be standing in a month?” and “Am I wasting time doing 18 loads of laundry if we’re going to have to evacuate with just the clothes on our backs?” and “Why bother cleaning off my desk; it’s going to blow away.”
  7. Schedule all meetings, conferences, and doctor’s appointments with the same sense of impending doom fogging your brain. Mentally add, “As long as the city is still standing” to every calendar alert you send.
  8. Check the tracking when you wake up at 3 a.m. to pee. Convince yourself that letting down your vigilance on this will actually allow the storm to creep into the Gulf and head right toward us.
  9. Read a wide variety of weather blogs, none of which agree and none of which you understand because you only actually care about the weather for about three weeks a year, maximum.
  10. Add on some extra superstitions – female-named storms are worse, booking hotel rooms in advance will cause the storm to miss us, making plans you’re looking forward to in September or October is pure hubris and will cause the storm to hit us, etc. Give it your own personal flair. Make it yours.
  11. Whenever anyone tries to reassure you, tell them why they’re wrong.
  12. Whenever anyone says it looks like the storm will miss you, scream that they’re jinxing you.
  13. Make the list 13 items because you hate the number 13.


All this and more has been how I’ve spent the past week.

And although I’m sort of making light of it, you have to have a sense of humor (and a superstitious streak) to live here.


That said, two things are true:

  1. Hurricane Irma and all other named storms are no joke. Irma in particular is huge and terrifying and deadly, and even though I’m not always the best or most diligent pray-er, I’m praying like crazy for anyone in the path. I don’t want Irma or any other storm to hit New Orleans, obviously, but that certainly doesn’t mean I want it to hit Florida. My deepest hope right now is that this monster turns right back out to sea without doing any more damage; secondary to that is that everyone who can get out does get out and that there is no further loss of life.
  2. Anxiety and PTSD are also no joke. Especially during hurricane season, it’s easy to get triggered. My own father, who is 79, has lived through a lot of shit, and doesn’t really take mental illness all that seriously because he thinks he is “stronger than that,” ended up in the hospital with a panic attack while watching Hurricane Harvey coverage. I’m grateful, of course, that it was “only in his head,” but at the same time, something in your head still needs to be addressed. If you find your stress and anxiety getting to the point where it’s actually affecting your quality of life, please talk to a doctor. Talk therapy and/or the occasional benzo can make a huge difference. (I speak from vast personal experience.)


Stay safe. Stay vigilant. And Irma, STAY AWAY.