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The Sum of All Fears: Historic Weather Event Unfolding
New Orleans Under the Gun

Jason Samenow @ 1:00 AM

Katrina is now a very dangerous Category 4 hurricane (llam update, Category 5), headed towards New Orleans. It's possible there has never been a storm as threatening in modern U.S. history in terms of its potential toll on life, property and the environment. Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center, called Katrina "scary" and considers this the nightmare situation forecasters have feared for decades. He advised the mayor to issue the first mandatory evacuation in the history of New Orleans. Howard Bernstein, meteorologist at Channel 9 (WUSA), who worked in New Orleans for many years, published the following comment yesterday here at
It's Saturday afternoon and Katrina is getting stronger and bigger and the National Hurricane Center is predicting that Katrina will slam into the Louisiana Coast as a Category 4 storm with winds of 140 mph and a storm surge of 18 - 22 feet. That would be very, very bad.

Let's go back in time. My first televison job was in New Orleans from 1989 - 1994. I was there when Hurricance Andrew made landfall about 60 miles SW of New Orleans. Close, but not a direct hit. I believe our strongest winds were around 60 mph.

New Orleans and southeast Louisiana have some unique problems with respect to tropical weather. The land is very flat and even more important, much of the land is below sea level. A massive canal and pumping system keep the water out of the city and surrounding areas. These pumps are amazing in the fact that they work so well. Yes, I have seen it flood when we get 14 inches of rain in 3 hours, but a 2 to 3 inch rain in a an hour from a thunderstorm can generally be handled with few if any problems.

With an approach of a tropical system from the south or south-southeast, on shore winds from the east and northeast will pile up water into Lake Pontchartrain. As the storm passes to the north, the winds will change to a northerly wind and push the high water along the levees that protect the city. Should any of those levees fail, all of that high water in the lake would inundate the city. According to computer models, that I remember from 10 years ago, some areas could have 10 - 20 feet of water.

With that much water a potential, where do you evacuate? I'm not up to date on recent plans, but there used to be talk of putting people into the taller buildings down town. Problem there is that as you go higher, the winds are even stronger and the tall buildings will likely lose wndows and suffer major damage as well. Evacuation is also more difficult to the limited number of escape routes. Interstate 10 is the main way out of southeast Louisiana. With limited routes, evacuations orders are given 50 hours before landfall. The storm is expected to hit on Monday, so they'll likely start today.

I also have been thinking about the price of gas. With a storm like this, Gulf of Mexico Oil Rigs are being evacuated. Less supply of crude, higher price for oil. Also, Plaquemines, and Jefferson parisheses have a few gasoline, oil and sulfur refineries, not to mention other parts of Louisiana. If they shut down, less gasoline, higher prices.

Kartrina, did do some damage in South Florida, but it has the potential to change Louisiana like no storm has since Hurricane Betsy in 1965.
Thanks, Howard, for that perspective. Additional information about the New Orleans hurricane threat is available at this Louisiana State University Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes website.

Katrina is (at press time, 2am) a Category 4 storm (Category 5 at 11am) and has grown in size in addition to intensity (max winds at 175mph). Simply put, she's a montrous storm (when I look at the satellite image I'm reminded of the fake 'supercane' images that were used in the movie "The Day After Tomorrow"). She could (has) become a Cat 5 storm before making landfall.

Track guidance (see also this map) from the models has not shifted much from yesterday which is bad news. When models are consistent for run to run, it usually means they're onto something. The saving grace for New Orleans will be if it tracks east of the city, resulting in the maximum storm surge being a bit east of Louisiana delta.

I tend to think the center will move somewhat east of New Orleans--perhaps sparing the city from the worst case scenario, but the margin for error is so low, and the potential impact of any deviation in track so high, that I think efforts to pinpoint the exact landfall should be de-emphasized.

Mandatory evacuations are likely to commence this morning and contraflow (in which in-bound lanes become outbound) has been engaged. The New Orleans media is providing wall to wall coverage of this event. A comprehensive set of resources is available at WxNation's Wire. Here are a few of the key ones:
I'll use the comment area to provide periodic updates today. Feel free to take part in this discussion.

Our weather here in DC should improve throughout the day. Some morning showers are possible, with the possibility of the sun emerging during the afternoon. Expect high temperatuers in the low 80s.

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