DISTURBANCES TO WATCH IN THE ATLANTIC ON THIS 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF KATRINA
Tropical disturbances are trekking across the tropical Atlantic as we would expect this time of year. None appear especially threatening at this point, but this is where we watch for development as we approach the peak of hurricane season.
Disturbance #1 will likely move through the Caribbean islands as a disorganized moisture surge over the next few days. It is plowing into very dry air ahead of it, but it appears that conditions will become a bit more conducive for development when it reaches the western Caribbean Sea mid to late week.
Disturbance #2 is also involved with dry air. It is not expected to develop at this time.
Disturbance #3 is trapped in an area of light steering currents in the far eastern Atlantic. Once it starts moving in the next few days, it has a good chance of eventually developing into a tropical depression or tropical storm. It’s no immediate threat to land, however, and may never be.
The next storm named will be Tropical Storm Nana.
At about 8:30 AM Eastern time, 15 years ago this morning, the first floodwall failed in New Orleans from the pressure of the Gulf storm surge generated by Hurricane Katrina. Thus began the cascade of failures that doomed the city, and killed some 1,500 New-Orleans-area residents, mostly in or near their homes.
The initial reports were optimistic that New Orleans would be okay because the top winds had dropped to Category 3 as some dry air infiltrated the circulation, and the storm’s track had jogged a bit to the right. We knew that the Mississippi coast was in big trouble, and indeed it took the full force of the storm surge Katrina produced.
But there was a hidden danger that nobody knew about. The flood walls were not up to spec. When Katrina surged water out of the Gulf, the first failures were on the east side of the city. When the wind came out of the north over giant Lake Pontchartrain, the resulting surge toppled barriers and the city flooded from that direction as well.
I never imagined I would see widespread suffering in the United States beyond what I saw after Andrew in southern Dade County. But it happened in New Orleans, and it was worse.
New Orleans is thriving today, but as a metropolitan area with fewer people. Many homes were never rebuilt. Lots in the northern part of the city remain empty, as they do along the Mississippi coast. Prime real estate overlooking the Gulf of Mexico is vacant. The total devastation from Hurricanes Katrina is still too fresh a memory.
The morning Hurricane Andrew hit South Dade, there were reports in the national media that Miami had dodged a bullet. It wasn’t as bad as feared. Those ill-advised statements were repeated that morning 15 years ago that Katrina came ashore, and we hear them today about Hurricane Laura.
There is a buzz in the media – social and otherwise – that Laura was not as bad as forecast. This is a 100% false premise.
The forecast for Hurricane Laura was as good as any hurricane forecast is ever going to be in our lifetime. The winds were as strong as forecast. The storm surge was at high as forecast. It was as good as it gets.
The fact that the Laura disaster was not as bad as it could have been is a different issue.
Andrew would have been a different scale of disaster had it come ashore 15 miles farther north and devastated downtown Miami, South Beach, and the economic center of the region. And Katrina would have been much worse if it has not weakened just before landfall to a Category 3. Imagine the New Orleans nightmare with Category 3 or 4 winds ripping roofs off houses along with the massive flood.
Laura’s wobble to the east meant that Lake Charles, the population center of southwestern Louisiana, did not get flooded. It only suffered widespread damage from the wind. Areas near the coast, just to the east of the river that would have taken water into Lake Charles, were still inundated by a massive storm surge from the Gulf. It will take years to recover, if they ever do.
The fact that many fewer people live in those coastal communities than in the city is fortuitous, and has nothing to do with the weather forecast.
People who are looking for precise hurricane forecasts will have to move to a different planet to find satisfaction. In our world, we warn for something close to the worst-case event that can reasonably happen based on the known errors intrinsic to the forecasting process. Any other course would be reckless.
Bravo to the forecasters at the National Hurricane Center who made tough decisions, so they didn’t over-warn, and no doubt saved lives by motivating recalcitrant people to get out of harm’s way.