by Sean Woods

You are sitting in your house when the Category 5 hurricane hits. Wind screams through the neighborhood. You sweat. You feel your heart stop when the roof lifts and rain pours in. You move up onto the second, then third floor of your home. Every step you take moves you through two or three feet of seawater. You try to houdini your way out of the flooding cage that you once called home. 

Imagine as you will, you can’t feel how this hurricane will hurt you until you are waist deep in rising water. But unless we can convey the real horrors of this kind of devastation to citizens and government officials in advance, people will drown. Too many people will not and obviously do not take evacuation warnings seriously. Conventional warnings and pamphlets (or the aftermath reporting on the weather channel) have historically not been effective at getting people to evacuate. Rather, such warnings have made staying through the event enticing. Even public officials often downplay the warnings – historically so few storms turned deadly. Unfortunately, climate change is changing the frequency and intensity of these storms – and the poor and people of color are often the least able to evacuate without the awareness and planning of local governments. The sound file here is intended not only to allow the listener to experience a natural disaster, but to have a way into understanding the differential impact on upper or upper-middle class citizens and those from marginalized populations.

Storytelling through audio immersion (no pun intended) into storm devastation and tidal surge can prove a dramatic motivator. Audio serves as an excellent storytelling method, because it allows an audience member to use their own imagination as they connect to personal experiences that put themselves in a location or emotional state. The use of sound alone can reinforce location, mood, time period, and the train of thought – recordings can drown the listener in the acoustic experience. Audio alone can often carry more emotional impact than audio and video together or video alone.