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Katrina -- Serious threat for New Orleans

Jason Samenow @ 10:00 AM


Today: On and off showers are likely. Perhaps a break in the action during the early afternoon, with more showers possible late. Cool, with highs in the mid 70s

Sunday: Partly cloudy with a 50/50 chance of late afternoon showers and storms. Highs in the low 80s.
If you live in New Orleans, the bad news is that computer models suggest Hurricane Katrina has its eyes set on you. The good news is that track forecasts for a storm more than 48 hours away usually change -- meaning that the probability of the forecast staying the same, and then verifying is pretty low.

Why am I focusing on New Orleans on a DC weather site? Simply because if New Orleans gets a direct hit from a Category 4 or higher storm (and Katrina may reach these levels), the potential is there for one of the worst weather catastrophes or catastrophes of any sort on U.S. soil in decades. The potential threat has been documented extensively and the New Orleans Times-Pecayune published a comprehensive five part series on this doomsday-like scenario.

Back in June, at an American Meteorological Society Environmental Science Seminar on Capitol Hill on New Orleans and Hurricanes (pdf), I asked Dr. Shirley Laska, Director of the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology at New Orleans University (and one of the presenters) why more resources haven't been devoted to protecting New Orleans, if projections for hurricane deaths in such a scenario are so high (in the tens of thousands). She essentially responded that there isn't a good reason except that it would require more resources than the city is willing to spend for an occurrence with such a low probability. In other words, the price for a good insurance policy is too high--even if thousands of lives are at stake.

As of this morning, Katrina is a Category 3 hurricane with maximum winds of 115 miles per hour. Continued strengthening to Category 4 intensity is likely. And as I said at the outset, most models have her making landfall near New Orleans. However, given the westward trend in guidance, I would not be surprised if landfall is more towards western Louisiana. Tomorrow, I will take a crack at predicting the exact landfall location.

Given the westward shift in Katrina's track, she may not be as big a rain producer for DC as we originally thought. Nonetheless, if we're on the east side of her remnant circulation, we may need to be on the lookout for some strong thunderstorms by Wednesday.

See WxNation's Wire for additional Katrina coverage and links.

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