O the dreadful wind and rain—From Dr. Jeff Masters’ excellent Weather Underground site:
He gives a list of some all-time biggies, then continues:
Posted By: JeffMasters at 12:24 PM GMT on August 28, 2005 Updated: 12:36 PM GMT on August 28, 2005
Katrina is in the midst of a truly historic rapid deepening phase—the pressure has dropped 34 mb in the 11 hours ending at 7am EDT, and now stands at 908 mb. Katrina is now the sixth strongest hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic. At the rate Katrina is deepening, she could easily be the third or fourth most intense hurricane ever, later today.
They’re talking about this being the kind of storm that can reshape coastlines. Hurricane-force winds could be felt up to 150 miles inland. The Mayor of New Orleans has ordered a mandatory evacuation, and the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi have ordered that all the lanes on the interstates be switched to “outbound.” Best-case scenario for New Orleans still has the levees breaking and the city under fifteen feet of filthy water—and it doesn’t look like we’re going to be a best-case scenario. As of mid-afternoon, the storm’s stats are worse than Hurricane Camille’s—and while Camille was intense, it was also physically small. Katrina is huge.
Katrina’s winds and storm surge Maximum sustained winds at flight level during the 7am Hurricane Hunter mission into Katrina were 153 knots, which translates to 160 mph at the surface, making Katrina a minimal Category 5 hurricane. The winds are likely to increase to “catch up” to the rapidly falling pressure, and could approach the all-time record of 190 mph set in Camille and Allen. Winds of this level will create maximum storm surge heights over 25 feet, and this storm surge will affect an area at least double the area wiped clean by Camille, which was roughly half the size of Katrina. Katrina has continued to expand in size, and is now a huge hurricane like Ivan. Damage will be very widespread and extreme if Katrina can maintain Category 5 strength at landfall.
Major casualties a strong possibility: Walter Maestri, New Orleans’ Director of Emergency Management, is saying on TV that FEMA has modeled this scenario, with a Cat. 4 or Cat. 5 hurrican making a direct hit on metropolitan New Orleans, and that FEMA estimated 40,000-60,000 casualties.
There are tens of thousands of people in New Orleans who don’t own cars. The city kept its light rail system; that’s why it’s so charmingly walkable. I’m not seeing any news reports of non-automobile-based evacuation plans. The Army might have been able to help deal with this, but they’re not at home.
Something useful you might do: This would be a very good moment for people outside the Gulf Coast area to put up “Hi Mom, I’m okay” check-in pages. Here’s the rule: Collect names. Swap lists. Keep it simple. Bill Shunn put up a good one on 9/11. It allowed you to type in your name plus a one-line message. He expected it would mostly be the NYC SF community checking in there. By the time he had to shut it down, people all over the world were going to his site to try to find news of their missing loved ones.
I’ll add one suggestion to the general rule: if you put up a page, police and moderate your lists. Bill Shunn had jerks posting all kinds of garbage to his site. There weren’t a lot of them, but nobody needs to read that crap. Also, if you don’t delete vandal posts, you’ll get lots more of them—it’s like graffiti.
American RadioWorks’ prescient article, Hurricane Risk for New Orleans. Read it now before the site gets swamped.
Where’s the Louisiana National Guard while all this is going on? A lot of them are in Iraq. Overseas deployment of Reserves and National Guard units have stripped emergency-response resources all over the country. (For instance, small-town and rural police departments, volunteer fire departments, and ambulance crews have a big overlap with Reserves and the National Guard. More on that later.)
Here’s a post from Making Light, last year, on the subject of New Orleans’ vulnerability.
By the way, New York City is also vulnerable to hurricanes. Making Light is in a Zone C evacuation area, which means that in the event of a major hurricane making landfall south of the city, we’ll be flooded. That’s as opposed to the large swathes of the city that are Zone A evacuation areas. Zone C means “get out”; Zone A means “get out or die.”
The Air Force took its planes out of Elgin AFB in the Florida Panhandle, and the Navy sortied yesterday from its base at Pascagoula, Mississippi, because it’s a lot easier to ride out a hurricane at sea than to be battered against a hard coastline. (Jim Macdonald: “Storms at sea are great fun as long as you aren’t actively sinking.”) Gulfport, Biloxi, and Mobile are looking at a real bad day. That whole long strip of the Gulf Coast is battening down (again). Global warming: It’s not just a theory. More on that later, too.
Why newscasters will be fretting about the exact path of the storm: The worst hit from a hurricane comes from the right front quadrant of the storm—two o’clock and three o’clock on the dial. New Orleans is the most vulnerable point on the coast. Damage there will be worst if Katrina hits west of NO. It’ll still be horrendous if the storm hits east of New Orleans, but it won’t be quite as bad. On the other hand, if it hits on the east side, it’ll be harder on Biloxi, Gulfport, Mobile, etc.Here’s an article by Chris Mooney—blogger, and author of The Republican War on Science, imminently available in bookstores, shipping from Amazon now—from last May, which describes what a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane would do to New Orleans:
Here’s Chris Mooney’s weblog post from 7:45 this morning.
Such a storm, plowing over the lake [Pontchartrain], could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical “bowl” of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris. … A direct hit from a powerful hurricane on New Orleans could furnish perhaps the largest natural catastrophe ever experienced on U.S. soil. Some estimates suggest that well over 25,000 non-evacuees could die. Many more would be stranded, and successful evacuees would have nowhere to return to. Damages could run as high as $100 billion.
(Hmmm. I missed the name of the guy being interviewed right now on the Weather Channel. He’s saying the same things, almost word for word, that Chris Mooney said in that article last May.)
If I have additional material I’ll add it inside this post, so it’ll stay on top of the stack. I’ll try to incorporate stuff posted to the comment thread, but I may not be able to keep up, so check it out.
Other sources and places:
Pimp Junta, New Orleans is about to be destroyed. PJ referred me to:
Stormtrack (subtitle: Oh crap, not again), where the current lead story is Bigger than Camille, time to pray. 3:45 p.m.: Subsequent posts include “Hurricane Katrina expected to devastate New Orleans,” “Urgent Weather Message from NWS New Orleans,” and “Katrina continues to strengthen.”
Also via PJ, some New Orleans webcams.
The French Quarter has shut down and is boarding up.
Authorities have announced voluntary evacuations in zones 1 & 2 in the Mobile area, where they’re saying there’s a possibility of a twenty-foot storm surge.
Delta, United, and US Airways are shutting down outbound service.
The U.S.S. Alabama is in the path of the storm. Director Bill Tuttle says employee and their immediate families are being allowed to hole up in the ship for the duration, and notes that she “moved slightly” during Hurricane Camille. Roll, Alabama, roll…
2:00 p.m.: Storm’s still getting stronger. Windspeed increasing, 906 millibars, track still heading for New Orleans. 2:40 p.m.: 902mb, wind 184 m.p.h., eye’s 29 miles across. Millibars: lower is badder. Comparisons: Camille was 909mb when it came ashore; Andrew was 922mb. This is a terrifying storm. 3:00 p.m.: The Weather Channel is flatly saying, “This is going to be catastrophic.” Their weather-junkie reporters are saying they’re not going to be staying. 3:07 p.m.: CNN is reporting tornadoes inside the hurricane. 3:50 p.m.: Mayor Billy Duke of Gulf Shores, AL is describing the storm surge in terms of “tsunami-like conditions.”