10 Lessons from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

hurricane blowing palm trees

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated parts of North America as they made landfall in Texas, the Caribbean Islands, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Florida, and other locations in August and September 2017, forcing many to evacuate their homes and leaving thousands stranded without power and left to deal with the damage wrought to their towns. Many Ashford students and faculty were among those affected. Faculty member, Forbes contributor, and Tampa resident Dr. Jaime Kulaga was displaced after Hurricane Irma struck Florida. Below, she shares 10 lessons that the storms of life can teach us, and how, in spite of such trials, creating a sense of community can help you prevail.

Be Patient

Waiting can be tough. Over the years I have learned that patience is not easy, and I have tried to become increasingly more patient as I have matured. Yet doing so is not easy. As I waited for Hurricane Irma’s arrival, I felt myself ruminating and creating scenarios in my mind that did nothing but stir up anxiety within me. I teach my clients to “worry when it’s time to worry,” and I’ve repeatedly found myself returning to these words in both the prelude and aftermath of the hurricane.

Humor Works

I also was reminded while waiting for Irma that there are very few things in my control in this world. Hurricanes, and the path they choose to take, are one of the things I can’t control. So in the midst of this storm, I worked hard to control the one thing that I could: my attitude. Since I could control my attitude, I used humor to bring laughter in a time of uncertainty. I spent hours looking at memes about Hurricane Irma, sharing with family and friends who also laughed with me. While the situation itself was the furthest thing from funny, taking my mind down a path where I could find a smile was much easier to manage than something I could not control. Normally, I would say spending hours looking at memes is a complete waste of time, but in this situation, where the entire state was shutting down and proactively evacuating, humor minimized my anxiety and nerves for a moment.

Be a Minimalist

More, more, more is our way of life. But when you are told to evacuate your home, suddenly you need nothing. I looked around my beautiful home and couldn’t even fill one full suitcase. In my normal day-to-day, if I go to a hotel for even an overnight stay, I have three pieces of luggage. Suddenly, with the risk of my house being completely dismantled and facing an emergency evacuation, very few material things mattered. I realized that when it comes down to it, I needed nothing but family pictures, yoga pants, and my stuffed animal from when I was a kid.

Things are Replaceable

A home, a car, a boat, a mansion, a race car, a yacht. Mother Nature doesn’t care what stands in her way. You can work a lifetime for it, and when she is ready, she can take it all from you in one fell swoop. Gone. The theme of Hurricane Irma was to save yourself and your family; things can be replaced, and people cannot. What mattered most to me in those moments were my kids and husband. I know that I’ll keep that in perspective going forward when I am “too busy” to give them time. In the end, they matter most. Everything else is replaceable.


One of the scariest things about Hurricane Irma for me down here in Tampa was that her wrath came in the dark. It was 10:53 pm, and I was sitting in the middle of a monstrous storm. The wind was so loud all around the home I was in, but I was somehow untouched. I went to open the curtain to see the destruction and what I was hearing, but it was so dark that I couldn’t see anything. Was a tree starting to fall toward the house? I had no clue. At this point I was reminded of the power of visualizing. When you can see things, they become less scary and clearer to you. If you visualize your goals and dreams, the path will be less scary and clearer to you.

Have an Emergency Account

As I sat and thought about the power of Hurricane Irma and her potential for destruction over the city I live in, I was glad that we had saved as a family for unforeseen emergencies. I thought about the rebuild process and how services I offer, and so many other small businesses here offer, would no longer be a priority in society’s eyes right away. Rightfully so of course, but student loans and mortgage companies will still want their payments. Life once again reinforced to me that there is an importance in saving. Even when circumstances change for you, life around you still goes on, and that costs money.

Anxiety is Draining

The entire hurricane journey was a rollercoaster of emotions. The ups and downs were draining. When the storms ended, my body had time to catch up and reflect on the journey and stop living in adrenaline mode. Somehow I was living in both fight and flight modes with Irma. I was exhausted. I went to bed at 5:30 pm the night Irma left Tampa Bay and slept until 6 am the next day. Looking back, if I would have worked even harder to “worry when it was time to worry,” perhaps I would not have had as much anxiety and thus exhaustion.

There is No Place Like Home

Even in the darkest points of the storm, Tampa stood together.

This movie line has got to be one of the truest of all time. When I was told to evacuate my home, I loved and appreciated my home even more than I already did. Not sleeping in my home and not knowing if my home was being leveled, made me miss and be grateful for my home more than ever. Seeing my home after the storm, still standing, was an incredible feeling. Sleeping in my own bed and not at a shelter, friend’s home, or out of state was an amazing feeling, and my support goes out to those who have yet been able to return home, and won’t be able to for some time. More than ever I want to take part in the rebuilding process for those who lose their homes during a natural disaster.

Positive Vibes and Prayers Work

Whether you believe in God, positive energy, or something, anything, bigger than yourself, you’re right. Irma reminded me that there is something much bigger than us out there. For Tampa, I hope our eyes have been opened, or at least we all question, the universe more. With only hours to spare, what could have hit us as a high category 3 hurricane was downgraded to hit us at a category 1. Hurricane Irma shifted inland, taking the eastern wall away from the ocean waters so that the wind ended up pulling water away from the shore. It literally appeared as if we had a reverse tide. For me, it seemed that something bigger than myself, plus the energy of the entire country sending us positive vibes and prayers, clearly worked.

The Sun will Shine Again

The storm was mostly gone around 9:30 am on Monday, September 11, 2017 here in Tampa. At 10:01 am the blue sky and beams of sun came out over my home. This deadly monster of a storm whizzed by us, and moments later the sun shone as if nothing ever happened. But these sunbeams showed me that life goes on. That you have to rebuild, begin again, but you have the support of a community to help you do so. Hurricane Irma showed me that tough times are inevitable, but the sun will always shine again. Even in the darkest points of the storm, Tampa stood together as a city, offering support, hashtagging with #TampaStrong to update one another, neighbors helping neighbors. You can find many similar stories across the country.

Thank you for allowing me to share my personal reflection of Hurricane Irma with you. This event was eye-opening to both myself and my family in so many ways. For those of you who were impacted by Harvey’s or Irma’s power, my heart, positive vibes, and prayers are with you. I hope that you and your family are safe and that you are somehow stronger than you were just days ago.



Written by Dr. Jaime Kulaga, faculty member in the College of General Education.

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