A new study polled Hurricane Irma survivors in Florida.

By Kimberly Holland
January 14, 2019

For people who live in the path of a hurricane, the days before the storm hits are filled with boarding up homes and businesses, tying down boats, and preparing for power and water outages.

In between, there's watching, reading, and listening to the latest news about the storm's location, strength, and projected path. And while it’s imperative to stay updated in order to stay safe, new research says that consuming too much pre-storm news can actually have adverse effects.

In a study published in JAMA Network Open, researchers from University of California Irvine report that people who watch or read media in the days before a hurricane makes landfall are more likely to have negative mental health outcomes after the storm has passed. The more media consumed, the greater the impact.

That’s because of a unique factor the researchers call forecasted posttraumatic stress responses. The UCI researchers use this term to explain the pre-storm psychological predictions people make about themselves for post-storm life.

“Individuals who anticipated being particularly stressed afterward were paying a lot more attention to the media in that pre-storm period, at a time when uncertainty was high, and the media was sensational,” Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychological science at the University of California Irvine, and the senior author of the study, told the Tampa Bay Times.

For this study, Silver and her fellow researchers sent a smartphone survey to 1,600 Floridians between the ages of 18 and 91 in the 60 hours immediately prior to Hurricane Irma’s landfall in September 2017. The survey asked participants to record how much time they had spent watching TV, scrolling social media, listening to the radio, or reading print news.

A month later, the researchers sent a follow-up survey to those same participants, and 90 percent responded. This second survey asked them to record their stress and mental health in the days since the storm made landfall in the Florida Keys and Monroe County as a category 4 storm.

What they found was that people who reported watching the most news in those pre-landfall days were “repeatedly ruminating or feeling anxious in the aftermath,” Silver told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Now that their research has identified the role pre-storm psychological stress can have on post-storm mental health outcomes, Silver hopes it will pave the way for improved hurricane-related communications from emergency management personnel and public health officials.

They also point to the importance of consuming media, in all its forms, with an eye toward safeguarding your own mental health. If you stay glued to your TV, you may succumb to stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues as a result.

“One of the important messages from this is that people should pay attention to the amount of media they’re exposed to," Silver told the Tampa Bay Times. "We’re not suggesting not paying attention. But the degree to which they’re immersed—if the radio or TV is on in the background as they scroll through social media—about an uncertain threat takes a toll."

To make hurricane preparedness as smooth as possible, have a plan in place before there’s a hint of a storm. Devise a plan for your family (including pets and livestock), home, boat, and other belongings. Here are helpful links: