Catastrophic Hurricanes in Hurricane Season? Don’t be Surprised, be Prepared.

Tuesday August 29th marked the 12 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall and wreaking havoc on the coast of Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina is known as the United State’s most destructive storm according to the NOAA; however, Hurricane Harvey is on pace to rival it.

These storms have much in common. They serve as cautionary tales and current reminders of the limitations of modern weather predicting technology.

Hurricane Katrina

Katrina is one of the five deadliest hurricanes to ever strike the United States. Katrina was a large storm with a very distinct eye. Katrina had a very low central pressure that created ideal conditions for high and destructive wind speeds.When upgraded to a category 5, the storm had winds of 175 mph. The path of the storm was well understood and predicted 42 hours before it made its’ initial landfall on August 28th in southeastern Louisiana.

But, by then it was far too late to begin evacuation procedures. In all, Hurricane Katrina would be responsible for 1,833 fatalities and approximately $108 billion in damage. (National Weather Service)

In this great tragedy there were some noteworthy victories for our weather service agencies like NOAA. Advances in computer forecast modeling, as well as continuous data from NOAA aircraft and U.S. Air Force "Hurricane Hunters,"  allowed a hurricane watch was issued 44 hours prior to Katrina’s landfall and was upgraded to a hurricane warning 32 hours in advance.(NOAA) This allowed an additional 8 hours for residents and relevant agencies to prepare. Without this, the impact of Katrina would have been even worse.

These same technologies were utilized in predicting the path and damage Hurricane Harvey is currently inflicting on Texas and Louisiana. Before the storm was able to make landfall, it was well understood that the most dangerous aspect of this hurricane may be days of rainfall and associated flooding. Many of the best models suggested that Harvey would make landfall and bring immediate problems in addition to lingering for days as a weak tropical system. Early model guidance suggested that a weakened version of Harvey could remain parked over the area for almost a week. The National Weather Service is estimated over 15-20 inches of rainfall.

Currently…...

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now reporting that Cedar Bayou, Texas has received a 51.88 inches of rain marking a new rainfall record for any tropical storm or hurricane in the lower 48 states. There is no way to accurately estimate the loss of life or cost of the damages so far; however, there is much to learn from these catastrophic events.

Takeaways

  1. If there is a storm predicted to make landfall and a sizable impact, evacuate if possible. Local and state governments often cannot issue evacuation orders because there is not enough time to implement a plan at the state or regional level. This does not mean the coming storm is any less dangerous.

  2. Learn some buzzwords of the weather world. In hurricane season specifically, low pressure systems can be the most intense storms. This goes against our natural intuition to associate “low pressure” with benign. Low pressure = high winds upon landfall.

  3. Understand the geography of your hometown. A problem with Katrina was the levys. In Houston the flooding is horrible; however, Houston tends to flood from extended rain showers. It should not be a surprise to anyone the level of flooding that is currently occurring. A common mistake made by residents of Louisiana and coastal Texas was assuming that the worst of the storm was over once it made landfall.