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Katrina -- Calamitous 'Cane

Jason Samenow @ 11:30 PM

Hurricane Katrina, as of press time (around midnight), remains a Category 5 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 160mph. It appears New Orleans will experience a direct hit. We have written about the range of possible impacts on the city here over the last several days. And the storm has been characterized as "scary", "the worst case scenario" and right here as "the sum of all fears."

You can go back and read through some of the previous posts and comments. We've been fortunate to get some great contributions from some knowledgeable experts through both the site comments and via email. Yesterday, Virginia State Climatologist Pat Michaels emailed me and referred me to a link (from the National Weather Service) that chronicles hurricanes from the 19th century that affected Louisiana. He thinks that hurricane that hit New Orleans in 1856 may be comparable to Katrina. Here's how the Weather Service describes that storm:
August 10-12th, 1856: Hurricane strikes Isle Derniere, Last Island, a pleasure resort south- southwest of New Orleans. The highest points were under 5 feet of water. The resort hotel and surrounding gambling establishments were destroyed, over 200 people perished, and the island was left void of vegetation and split in half. Only one terrified cow survived on the Isle. Last Island is now only a haven for pelicans and other sea birds.

The rain total at New Orleans reached 13.14". Every house in the town of Abbeville was leveled, including the St. Mary Magdalen Church. Rains from the storm flooded the Mermentau River and destroyed crops along the bottom lands. Area rice fields in Plaquemines parish were under several feet of salt water. Nearly all rice was lost. Orange trees were stripped of their fruit. The steamer Nautilus foundered. The lone survivor cling to a bale of cotton and washed ashore sometime later.
Michaels is also concerned about the flood threat from Katrina's remnants in the Appalachians mid week.

Washington, DC: The Week Ahead
We've suspended the usual detailed week ahead coverage to focus on the hurricane. Nonetheless, here's a cliff notes version of what to expect here this week:

Today will be partly cloudy and humid, with just a slight chance of some afternoon showers and storms. High temps in the mid 80s.

Tropical moisure ahead of the remnants of Katrina will begin surging in late Tuesday, bringing an increased chance of showers and storms through Wednesday. High temperatures should be near 80. The greatest rainfall amounts will be to our west --with flood potential in the mountains.

Things should clear out for Thursday through the weekend, with seasonable temps from 80-85.

We also heard from Jim Titus, who works at the Environmental Protection Agency. Titus is among the world's pre-eminent sea level rise and coastal process experts. He made the following observation:
For some practical purposes, New Orleans is 50 miles closer to the Gulf than it was 50 years ago. Marshes and swamps used to lie between New Orlands and the Gulf 100 miles to the south. But those marshes have largely converted to open water. Hence a hurricane no longer has inland characteristics to the same extent, when it gets to New Orleans.

The sad irony is that the City's increased vulnerability resulted largely from human activities that prevents sediment from reaching the wetlands during the spring flood--such as artificial river banks to help the port of New Orleans stay competitive, and river levees that made it possible to convert wetlands into the suburbs of New Orleans.

People have seen this coming for a long time--let us all pray that something happens at the last minute. If New Orleans is spared, it is likely that there will finally be a political consensus to do something about the deterioration of the Lousiana Coast
We'll have continuing updates throughout the day. In the meantime, here is list of useful resources:Pictured: Today's newspaper headline from the New Orleans Times-Picayune

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