Like many of my peers who came of age in the ’90s, there was a period of time when I was dead-set on becoming a meteorologist, or more specifically, a storm chaser. Say what you will about the questionable science and shaky storyline, but the film Twister made extreme weather look extremely cool. Only a few months after the movie debuted, I got my first glimpse into the real-life havoc a storm can bring while visiting family in Raleigh, North Carolina, a mere week after Hurricane Fran pummeled the state capital. Twenty-three years later, the image of a BMW smashed down to its wheels by a centuries-old oak is still crystal-clear into my memory.
That is the reality of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather—and truthfully, a crushed car is only the tip of the iceberg. Last year alone, meteorological disasters (flooding, drought, wildfires, storms, etc.) cost the U.S. $91 billion and included 14 weather events that each exacted more than $1 billion in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As jolting as these statistics are, they don’t tell the human side of catastrophe: the farmers who lost hundreds of acres, small business owners who lost their livelihoods, and families who lost their homes—or even their loved ones.
Like it or not, extreme weather has become the new normal, and contingency plans are a must, particularly for restaurants. After all, operators are affected on a variety of fronts: Crop failures disrupt supply chains, a stunted local economy diminishes discretionary spending, and the physical impact—be it flooding, freezing, wind, or fire—threatens brick-and-mortar stores. The latter is exactly what happened to Terri Stark and her husband, Mark, in 2017. Nearly two years after the Tubbs Fire destroyed one of their restaurants in Northern California, they were finally able to reopen this May. That same year, Hurricane Maria forced chef Yimara Medina and her family to leave their native Puerto Rico and seek work stateside.
These stories, along with others, are a testament to the resiliency of restaurants and, more importantly, the people behind them. There are plenty of lessons to be gleaned, but in the end I hope their experiences leave you with a bit of hope. No one—not even action-adventure storm chasers—can predict the weather, but with a thorough game plan, we can ride out the storm until sunnier days return.