Stuff About Katrina You Might Not Know

On the afternoon of Katrina’s Gulf landfall I remember an AccuWeather meteorologist appearing on Fox News to say New Orleans had dodged the bullet–and it had! The New Orleans flooding didn’t come until late Monday evening long after Katrina’s strongest winds were gone.

There will be all sorts of retrospectives about Katrina this weekend as we mark the fifth anniversary. It was the most devastating hurricane in generations. You have probably seen hours-upon-hours of video. There are still things you don’t know.

Though the forecast was a little sketchy early on by the time Katrina was steaming through the Gulf the forecast was well established. Weather Service warnings contained the strongest language I’ve ever seen!

But what good is a warning when you’ve got no way out? That was the problem that faced the very poor people of New Orleans.

The brunt of Hurricane Katrina wasn’t actually felt in New Orleans! If you’re looking for the real wind damage it was east on the Mississippi Coast.

No doubt New Orleans did have wind damage, but it wasn’t major devastation and we wouldn’t be having retrospectives today.

On the afternoon of Katrina’s Gulf landfall I remember an AccuWeather meteorologist appearing on Fox News to say New Orleans had dodged the bullet&#185–and it had! The New Orleans flooding didn’t come until late Monday evening long after Katrina’s strongest winds were gone.

Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of New Orleans and tropical meteorology knew this tragedy was a possible outcome from a landfalling hurricane in a city built mainly below sea level&#178. What we didn’t take into account was how this unfolded after-the-fact.

The storm hit early on Monday. Here’s what I wrote a little after 3:00 AM Tuesday morning

Rick Sanchez was on the air, speaking by phone with someone from Tulane Hospital in New Orleans. The hospital’s spokesperson was talking about water – rising water.

The hospital had seen no real flooding while Hurricane Katrina passed by, but tonight, water had begun rushing in and it was rising at an alarming rate.

I could hear the fear in her voice as she described the water level rising an inch every five minutes. That’s a foot an hour. Already there was six feet of water outside the hospital. Soon, water would reach the level of their emergency generators on the second floor.

Sanchez was taken aback. I’m not sure he originally understood what she was saying. It was so unexpected – so out of context.

She said a levee keeping Lake Ponchartrain out of New Orleans had been breached. The cut in the levee was two blocks long and water was rushing in unimpeded. Even if there were pumps working, and she wasn’t sure there were, they wouldn’t be able to keep up with this deluge.

On CNN, Rick Sanchez kept asking questions, but it was obvious this woman wanted to get off the phone. Speaking to him wasn’t going to help her.

I heard terror in her voice.

That was the first anyone outside the 9th Ward heard about flooding. Silently and under cover of darkness Katrina was delivering her fateful blow… and she was already gone.

&#185 – This is my memory from that time. I’d feel better with documentation. I mention AccuWeather because this is my recollection. Any corrections or clarifications are welcome.

&#178 – New Orleans was originally a trading post built by the French. When Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville established the city he chose to build on the highest ground–the French Quarter. There was little flooding in the French Quarter.

My Sixth Sense And Earl

I can’t tell you why, but I have that same life threatening fear from Earl. Sixth sense? Maybe.

There are two tropical systems currently in the Atlantic. They are not alike. Weather is not like children. I am entitled to favor one over the other!

It seemed obvious from the beginning Danielle would be an ‘outside runner’ staying far enough out in the Atlantic to be no more than a curiosity. On the other hand Earl concerns me and has since its seed pushed past the West African Coast..

Over the years I’ve developed a sixth sense for this sort of thing. It usually works. Not always.

I wrote this five years two days ago:

The Hurricane Center has just christened a tropical depression. Though it hasn’t yet graduated to tropical storm or hurricane status, but “we’ve already picked out a name” – Katrina.

I am concerned by Katrina because it is likely to head toward South Florida, a densely populated area and where my parents live!

It doesn’t look like Katrina will be a major hurricane… but a minimal hurricane is enough for me.

You’ll be reading a lot more about this storm on this site over the next few days.

OK — I missed the major hurricane part which was still well in the future. Still, something compelled me to follow Katrina closely. I was blogging about it a lot long before anyone suspected the kind of trouble it would cause. Even without my post-New Orleans posts it is my most blogged hurricane.

I can’t tell you why, but I have that same life threatening fear about Earl. Sixth sense? Maybe.

It doesn’t make a difference. Tropical systems all receive close scrutiny. The risk is just too great.

Radio Post Mortem

My radio appearance with Faith Middleton seemed to go OK. I like being on the radio, and this didn’t spoil my opinion.

WNPR’s New Haven studio is located in a building dedicated to the arts on Audubon Street. While I waited for the elevator, I looked in at a co-ed dance class in a ground floor studio. It’s nice to see that going on.

I made a wrong turn getting off the elevator and walked into the New Haven Council for the Arts, where I spent a few minutes looking at the exhibited photos. I wonder if they’d hang anything of mine?

The WNPR studio looks like a living room. I’ve never seen anything like that before.

Faith sat in a wingback chair facing me. The control room was at my back. Our microphones were on the kind of boom used by musicians. Unlike most modern radio talk shows, Faith had no audio console. All the technical execution took place in the control room.

Mark Schleifstein, one of the authors of Path of Destruction (the definitive account of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans) was on via telephone. Though he and I disagree about global warming in general and its specific implications for tropical weather systems, we do agree that the storms we get now are strong enough to cause lots of havoc.

When it was over, I called Helaine. She said I sounded scientific. Wow – she’s my toughest (or most honest) critic.

As I said, it was fun to do. Now we’ll see if I can stand listening to myself during the replay that’s on while I drive home.