The Storm’s Gone But It’s Getting Worse

The past 24 hours were the most difficult time yet to watch what’s going on in the areas struck by Hurricane Katrina.

First up was the emotional reporting of CNN’s Jeanne Meserve. Here’s what USAToday said.

“It’s been horrible. … You can hear people yelling for help. You can hear the dogs yelping, all of them stranded, all of them hoping someone will come,” Meserve told anchor Aaron Brown.

“Mark Biello, one of our cameramen, went out in one of the (rescue) boats to help shoot. He ended up being out for hours and told horrific tales. He saw bodies. He saw other, just unfathomable things. Dogs wrapped in electrical lines … that were being electrocuted.”

Brown said Tuesday: “Jeanne conveyed a human being’s view of what she saw. Her reporting was incredibly solid. Her humanity was incredibly real. The marriage of those two elements helped viewers understand the desperate situation.”

There was an equally emotional side to Robin Roberts live shot on Good Morning America. She had gone to the Gulf not knowing the condition of her family. This was where she grew up.

Later Tuesday morning I watched an interview with a man who had lost his wife. He was on the street, a child in tow. He seemed dazed or disoriented as he told the story of being on a rooftop, holding his wife’s hand and then having her slip away.

As she drifted off, she asked him to take care of their family.

It was as sad a moment as could be seen. This man was the embodiment of human tragedy.

When the reporter asked the man where he would go, he didn’t know. His simplicity was his eloquence.

I’m hoping that sentence makes sense to you. I wish I could think of a better way to explain, other than to say, he didn’t need to speak volumes of words to have his plight understood.

I got an email from my friend whose mother had been evacuated from New Orleans home he grew up in to Baton Rouge.

She just called from BR. She’s now being moved to a new shelter in downtown BR because the school where she’s been since Sunday opens tomorrow. Since she probably won’t be going back to NO for sometime, as it’s being evacuated, I told her, once they feel it’s safe, we’ll fly her up to Connecticut and buy her clothes and get her settled. Once NO is able to open up, which could be a month, we’ll go down and survey the damage and decide where she’ll move and get her a new car.

New Orleans looks like a war zone. Very very sad..

Until today this had been a New Orleans story. There is plenty of damage farther east in Mississippi and Alabama. The pre-Katrina story had been set-up better in New Orleans. Now it’s all coming into perspective.

In Mississippi and Alabama the damage has been done. In New Orleans additional damage is piling on.

The breach of a levee I wrote about yesterday continued to pour Lake Ponchartrain into the city. Attempts to stop or slow the flow failed. As i understand it, flood control pumps only would pump the water back into the lake – a vicious cycle.

Civil law began to break down today. Looters were out in force. I watched people brazenly fillet a Wal*Mart. People were walking around with carts, as if they were really shopping.

CNN reported tonight there had been shootings and carjackings.

The city is preparing to move everyone out of the Superdome. It hasn’t been said, but I assume people inside are becoming volatile.

The New York Times is reporting a naval contingent on its way to New Orleans. Where have they been? Why wasn’t this done sooner? I don’t know.

Since the hurricane, the weather has been fine. On the Gulf that won’t last. Thunderstorms will fire up. There’s even the chance of more tropical trouble from the Gulf. After all, the hurricane season doesn’t peak for another few weeks.

Rebuild New Orleans

At some point, we as a country are going to have to reevaluate our commitment to having a city (New Orleans) where it is. Do we want the responsibility, since it is so susceptible?

Should whatever’s destroyed be rebuilt as is, where is, or should we encourage people to rebuild elsewhere?

The more video I see from Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, the more I wonder.

Notes From New Orleans

My friends mom, the one I encouraged to leave New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina was approaching, is fine though her home is not.

My mother rang this morning from the Baton Rouge shelter. She’s fine and in good spirits considering. They’re treating everyone well. She’s come to the realization that her home is gone as is her car. Since most of NOLA is excessively flooded she’s staying put in BR until the officials feel it’s wise to move on. At that point, we may have her fly up to my sister’s in Connecticut. When it is safe to go to NOLA, we’ll go down there to see what the damage is, and then consider alternatives, including whether she should stay in the city. It’s hard to know whether she’ll be away from the city for a one or more. It’s more than likely we’re talking about a longer period of time.

From a Mississippi State classmate who just started a job forecasting the weather as Hurricane Katrina approached:

The national news hounds are blowing this one. I know

I talked to friends watching from other places and CNN

and Fox were saying it was a glancing blow. Just

because there were buildings blown over it wasn’t

that bad. Now that more and more of the flooding

video is being seen I think people are changing their

minds. This will go down as the worst storm in



There is no New Orleans Times-Picayune I can find. Their website hasn’t been updated since Monday’s edition. Their Tuesday front page link leads to last Tuesday’s.


Tuesday, 9:40 a.m.

The Times-Picayune is evacuating it’s New Orleans building.

Water continues to rise around our building, as it is throughout the region. We want to evacuate our employees and families while we are still able to safely leave our building.

Our plan is to head across the Mississippi River on the Pontchartrain Expressway to the west bank of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. From there, we’ll try to head to Houma.

Our plan, obviously, is to resume providing news to our readers ASAP. Please refer back to this site for continuing information as soon as we are able to provide it.

I’ve heard stories of the Brazilian rain forest. If a jungle area is clear cut and then allowed to grow back, it comes back differently. The rain forest is what it is because of how it evolved over time.

There’s a truth in that last paragraph for New Orleans. This city will come back (if it is actually able to come back) different than it was a few days ago. You can’t rebuild tradition and charm. You can’t plan to regain what was there by serendipity.

I’m still not sure we know everything.

Bad News For New Orleans, Out of Left Field

I just finished watching a show I’d recorded earlier tonight. When it ended, I went down to my cable system’s block of news channels to scout around.

Usually, this time of night, they’re re-running shows from earlier in the evening. Tonight, as I hit CNN, I noticed a white LIVE ‘bug’ in the upper left hand corner.

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.

The hospital had to get its patients out. Its patients were by and large critical. The only way to move them would be by helicopter and FEMA would be needed for that.

The other all news stations are in their usual reruns. I have no way of knowing if this is true. If it is, this is New Orleans’ worst fears are realized. Lake Ponchartrain could inundate the city.

I went to WWL’s streaming site, but it’s down. WDSU’s streaming site has static and solid blue video.

CNN is my only source and their info is coming from a woman whose identity I can’t confirm. On top of that, her claim is totally unexpected.

There was nothing at, so I went back to WWL’s website and found a recorded video clip from the mayor. He confirms the levee breach and a lot more.

I thought, based on what I’d seen and heard, New Orleans’ damage was moderate. Based on what I’m hearing now, it’s tragic. The mayor sounds like a defeated man. Some city areas are under 20 feet of water. Highways and bridges have been destroyed. Gas lines have been broken and geysers of flame are shooting up through the water on a few flooded streets.

The Twin Spans are gone. When the mayor said that, the two anchors sitting with him stared in total disbelief.

The Twin Spans are an amazing 23.8 miles across, held in place by 9,000 concrete pilings. During the day, as you approach the middle of the bridge, you can see no land in either direction. At night, you can faintly see the city lights.

Locals say it’s an eerie feeling until you get used to it. Too late for that now, I suppose.

Earlier, I had used the term “fog of war” to describe how much we didn’t know. Now that the fog is lifting, the true extent is damage is coming into view.

Blogger’s note: In my original posting on this entry, I think I confused one roadway for another.


Came across your blog when doing a google search on Twin Spans after what

I heard in the NO Mayor’s interview that according what FEMA told him that

Twin Spans are gone. Well it may be correct but you are confusing the Twin

Spans with the twin Ponchartrain Causeway (the one which is 24 miles long)

and connect the North and South shores.

The TWIN SPANS are the bridges on the I 10E crossing the Lake on the

eastern side of NO.

You will find it in the map below


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

– –

Jignesh Badani

I appreciate Jignesh’s attention and help in pointing this out.

Katrina Comes Ashore

I spent the night at Mohegan Sun, preparing to emcee and event for a few thousand teachers. It wasn’t a good night. My body doesn’t know whether it’s “Tuesday or Chestnut Street.”

I caught a few hours, but was up at four… drifting in and out of a light sleep until my wakeup call at 6:30.

This isn’t the hotel’s fault. This is a top notch hotel (more on that later). It was my body saying “Don’t treat me this way.”

Message received.

Up early, I started spinning the dial, looking for Hurricane Katrina coverage. It wasn’t tough to find. Seemingly everyone had a ‘cowboy’ out in the elements, flirting with disaster.

I saw Anderson Cooper, in the pouring rain, gesturing to a crane he said might topple.

Hey, Andy – get away from the crane. This is only television.

All in all I liked the local coverage I saw last night on WWL much better than what the national news showed. Obviously, their was a different purpose to each particular broadcast. I found WWL’s comforting.

Is that OK to say? Comforting was what was needed.

I moved downstairs to prepare for the event. In the featured speaker’s dressing room, a TV was showing CNN. My last contact with the storm this morning was the report that the roof of the Louisiana Superdome had been breeched.

I think the original story was worse than what actually happened. I would think it wasn’t hype but genuine concern from the anchors and reporters. I certainly was concerned.

Yesterday, I had written about what the forecasters might have been thinking. Today, one of those scenarios came true as the storm weakened prior to landfall and then jogged right, giving a more direct hit to Alabama and Mississippi than Louisiana.

New Orleans wasn’t totally laid to waste. There has been plenty of damage, and once we get out of the ‘fog of war’ we’ll find plenty more. The coasts of Alabama and Mississippi really took the brunt of Hurricane Katrina. That was more than expected.

After the fact, I still agree with the decision to empty out New Orleans. Yes, some people will crawl out of the woodwork to say they rode it out and it wasn’t that bad. That’s not the point.

Tonight I’ll drive home wearing my seatbelt, even though I don’t expect to get into an accident.

Blogger’s note: One of my fellow MSU students just started a new job, forecasting in New

Orleans! He sent a mass mailing to the class which I’ll attach after the jump.

Continue reading “Katrina Comes Ashore”

What Katrina’s Forecasters Are Thinking

I’m writing this from the Mohegan Sun Hotel in Eastern Connecticut. Tomorrow I’ll be emceeing a program for Norwich Free Academy. It starts so early, the only way to make it work was to stay on site.

What a spectacular hotel. It is attached to a spectacular casino, which would be a great place for me to go… but they don’t have poker anymore.

More on all of this tomorrow. Tonight there are bigger fish to fry in the form of Hurricane Katrina.

I’ve got WWL-TV streaming here on the computer. This is much better than watching coverage on the cable networks.

The cable networks are more polished and hard hitting. This local New Orleans station is providing the kind of news people there need.

Carl Arredondo, who I remember from The Weather Channel, is their chief meteorologist. He’s pretty solid.

I just watched another met do a fascinating explanation of the radar display. There’s no time for this except on New Orleans TV where tonight, there’s nothing but time!

I know what the forecasters are thinking… the local guys and the PhD’s at the Hurricane Center. Am I right? Did I miss anything?

Forecasters have spent the last few days scaring the living… well, you know… scaring people. Now they have a moral dilemma.

If the forecast comes true, people get hurt (maybe die) and property loss is great. If they’re wrong, they become the goat. “Why did you make us leave? For this?”

Snow forecasts are similar, but the downside to this is so much greater. This really is a life and death forecast. And, accuracy of track to the degree people want and a good intensity forecast are beyond the current state of the art.

We can be close. We cannot get it exactly right – ever, except maybe by accident.

Tonight I spoke with a friend in the Miami area. She had been through Hurricane Katrina last week when Katrina was a ‘minimal hurricane’. She only got her power back today. She still has no phone service.

New Orleans will be hit so much harder.

She also said, fill up the car tonight. Gasoline prices will skyrocket tomorrow. I’m afraid she’s right on that forecast.

Katrina Is Scaring People

After working this morning, I came home and caught a few more hours of sleep. I’ll explain later, but my day is far from done. I’m driving to Uncasville later this afternoon&#185.

My first TV viewing was to scan the all news channels. The attitude concerning Hurricane Katrina is much different than yesterday. Whether the channels are feeding on each other’s energy or truly understand the gravity of the situation, is an unknown. They are in “Big Story Panic Mode.”

When TV shows back-to-back phoners with no live video, the implication is the story is huge.

This is not misplaced angst. Everything I can see about this storm says the same thing. It’s is a monster.

A few minutes ago, I sent this IM to my friend Bob at FSU:

Geoff (2:36:22 PM): My sense is, this storm has achieved meteorological perfection – and will become unstable as such. The length of time a storm can grow in strength is finite

Maybe that’s an academic point. If Katrina went from its current 175 mph sustained wind to 150 mph, no one would notice the difference.

Force is calculated by squaring the wind speed. So, at this point, it’s not how many miles per hour Katrina increases or decreases, it’s whether that number is a significant percentage of the starting point.

bob (2:47:20 PM): the tv weatherman on new orleans ( ?) couple hours ago actually said “looks like the center my go a little further right than forecast, sparing the city the worst”

bob (2:47:23 PM): i couldn’t believe it

bob (2:47:27 PM): in the midst of mand. evac

bob (2:47:30 PM): of million people

bob (2:47:41 PM): even IF it ends up turning out true, i thought very irresponsible

He’s right. You can’t give people a reason to stay at this point. The downside is just too tragic. I’m sure this is a mixed metaphor, but the risk is much greater than our ability to accurately forecast landfall.

Doing live television for hours on end is no easy task. From time-to-time we’ll all slip. I saw WWL-TV last night and they were doing an excellent job. This guy gets a temporary pass from me – though he shouldn’t have said what he said.

My friend’s mom in New Orleans has left her home. Yesterday I could hear how little she wanted to do that. She was alone and scared. Whatever guidance was being given by officials wasn’t enough to reassure her.


My mother just called on her mobile live and direct outside from the Superdome. They’re bussing her to Alexandria, LA., which is well north of Baton Rouge. She should be there for up to five days. At least the city is smart enough to do that knowing what could be coming.

Thanks, again, for your concern.

This is a much better scenario than her original intention to stay at the Superdome itself. It would seem to me, a building like that is the wrong place to seek shelter, with its high and large roof. And, being in the city, it too is built below sea level.

It won’t be long before Hurricane Katrina is well within radar range. The best pictures come when the storm is squarely within the view of the lowest radar tilt. Right now feeder bands dominate.

If you were at the mouth of the Mississippi right now, you would see heavy rolling surf. The wind would be gusty, but not even tropical storm strength.

From time-to-time the southeastern sky would darken as squalls moved in.

These would be rain storms that start with heavy rain – not easing in from light to moderate to heavy. The drops would be huge… blobs of rain is probably a better description than drops.

And then, as suddenly as the rain began, it would end. As the day went on, these squalls would each become progressively stronger with the time between squalls decreasing.

The big stuff would be there until tomorrow.

&#185 – If you’re not in Connecticut, Uncasville is as centrally located and convenient to get to as the name Uncasville implies.

Katrina Gets Stronger

Hurricane Katrina has grown to 160 mph or Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

These numbers don’t mean much to most of us. What frame of reference is there? You’ve never experienced 160 mph winds (and hopefully never will).

The Hurricane Center’s categories are based on a scale which relates winds speed to specific damage. Here’s what Category 5 really means:

Winds greater than 155 mph (135 kt or 249 km/hr). Storm surge generally greater than 18 ft above normal. Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 ft above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5-10 miles (8-16 km) of the shoreline may be required.

And, like the old time movies with the heroine tied to the railroad tracks, a lumbering train is moving toward New Orleans and there’s no way to escape.

Katrina’s Forecast Stabilizes

Over the past few days I’ve commented on some of the wide swings in the forecast for Hurricane Katrina. Now, it looks like the swings have stopped.


Is this the meteorological kiss of death? Is the Hurricane Center patting itself on the back too soon?

The satellite presentation is massive with a well defined eye. This is still a devastating forecast for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Can’t Sleep

The alarm clock is set to go off in an hour. I can’t sleep. I’ve gotten a few hours of rest, no more.

Hurricane Katrina continues to be my concern. While I tossed and turned, Katrina was turning it up a notch.


Only a tiny portion of Hurricane Katrina is visible on radar. It’s too far from shore – over 300 miles from New Orleans. The satellite image is very impressive with a clearly visible eye. That’s a change from earlier.

While I type this, I am watching WWL-TV New Orleans with streaming video. I think they’re doing an excellent job. I know WDSU is also feeding video, but I haven’t checked them yet.

The most surprising part of the coverage is the lack of traffic showing up on the live cameras. It’s late at night. At this point people are probably waiting until daylight.

WWL is going to learn this kind of coverage is a marathon, not a sprint. They’ll need to keep enough strength and staff to go another few days wall-to-wall.

Katrina – What Can New Orelans Expect?

The Navy has published a study which forecasts the effect of a hurricane on New Orleans. It’s somewhat dry and a little technical, but interesting tonight.

Katrina And My Sleep Schedule

We’ve got a little coverage problem at work. I’ve been asked to work Sunday morning – airtime: 6:00 AM! So, I’ve napped a bit this evening and will try and catch a few more hours of sleep before then.

In essence, I’m trying to put myself on ‘jet lag’.

As long as I’m up, another look at the hurricane progress. Since leaving Florida, Hurricane Katrina has been left alone in the open Gulf of Mexico. She’s intensified, but not as much as I would have thought. Still, the official number at this hour is 115 mph – that’s a wickedly powerful storm.

The forecast path is still a worst case scenario for New Orleans&#185

A common hurricane misconception is that its winds are only affected by the outside environment. Is there warm water? Are the feeders and outflow unimpeded? Is the hurricane being dragged near rough terrain, like mountains on an island? Things like that.

Often missed is the eyewall cycle. Hurricanes are constantly reforming their eyewall, shedding the old one for a new one. During this cycle, the strength of the hurricane’s winds are temporarily reduced, only to spring right back up. If this happens as a storm approaches land, you’ve dodged a bullet… or at least lowered the caliber.

That’s what’s being talked about in this discussion from the Hurricane Center:


At the home page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, there is no new news – none! The website seems to be untouched since Saturday morning, or more likely Friday night. I can’t believe that, under these critical circumstances, but it’s true.

WWL-TV is up-to-date, including information on “contraflow.” Some interstates and other highways now have all their lanes heading north! It works moderately well, but it’s confusing.

New Orleans needs to empty out now. There is no longer enough time to consider the forecast might be wrong. People staying in New Orleans, or much of the rest of Southern Louisiana, do so at their own peril.

&#185 – When meteorologists talk weather, they often abbreviate, using the airport identifier. Bradley International is BDL, Kennedy in New York is JFK, West Palm Beach is PBI. Some are non-intuitive. New Orleans is MSY. I cannot think of New Orleans without MSY popping into my head.

Katrina – Telling Someone To Leave

As much as she fears leaving the house, she needs to fear staying even more. Riding out a hurricane is something people only do once

I just got off the phone with my friend’s mom in New Orleans.

We’ve never met in person, but she knows me. I’ve fixed her computer by remote control. She’s seen me on TV while visiting her daughter in Connecticut. I’ve known her son for over 25 years and he’s a trusted friend.

She understands I’m looking out for her.

“Leave,” I said. “Leave now.”

This morning’s Times-Picayune showed the path well to the east of New Orleans. That’s changed.

The latest from the Hurricane Center, and all my other normally reliable sources say, Hurricane Katrina is major trouble. She has the potential to be as devastating as any hurricane in my lifetime.

Over the phone my friend’s mom has always sounded younger than her chronological age. Speaking to her now, her real age showed.

Driving long distances are very tiring to her. She didn’t know where there would be shelters to accommodate her. She wasn’t quite sure where ‘north’ was, when I said to drive north past Lake Ponchartrain as far as she could go.

As much as she fears leaving the house, she needs to fear staying even more. Riding out a hurricane is something people only do once. Once is enough to make them realize they never want to do it again.

And, as has been said by me and others, New Orleans is a special case. It is incredibly susceptible to flooding. It floods regularly from heavy rain. Flooding from the direct hit of a Category 4 storm would be of historic proportions.

I wish I could run down and toss her over my shoulder, carrying her to safety. It’s not that easy. There’s no access. She’s alone. She’s probably coming to the realization that there’s something to fear.

As I hung up the phone, I said, “Next week when we speak, I want you to complain that I made you leave your home… and for what? I want to be wrong about Hurricane Katrina.”

I’m scared I won’t be.

Tough Calls

Just spoke to a friend whose mom lives in New Orleans.

“Tell her to leave today,” I said.

The storm won’t be there until Monday, but I’m worried. Access to New Orleans is very limited. Roads will jam.

He said she’s planning on going to a shelter. I told him she should go north, out of the New Orleans area. The state will have shelters north.

I also told him my forecast might be wrong. It’s two days away. Look how poorly this storm was forecast Friday!

Making calls like this are neither fun nor easy. I no more want to tell him his mother is in harm’s way than he wants to hear it. But how can I not?

Burying The Lead

There is a phrase used in journalism when you take the most important part of a story and overshadow it with something less important. That’s what’s going on with the Weather Service’s forecast for New Orleans.

Monday: Occasional showers and possibly a thunderstorm, mainly after 1pm. High around 85. Windy, with a east wind between 65 and 70 mph becoming calm. Winds could gust as high as 100 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%.

Occasional showers and possibly a thunderstorm. Hello? You’re forecasting a hurricane for heaven’s sake. And, you’re forecasting it in, arguably, the most susceptible place in the country.

In the forecasters defense, what you read is a product of a semi automated process which puts words to forecast parameters… still. This way a forecaster can write lots of different pinpoint forecasts based on wide area information.

Let me use that word again… still!

Hurricane Katrina has strengthened, but not as much as would be anticipated. There are odd signs.


All that aside, conditions in the Gulf are so strongly favorable for development that short term fluctuations or even developmental weakness should be disregarded. At least that’s how it looks this morning.

It’s always possible, after the fact, things like the flight level wind will be looked at as a sign we saw and missed.

There’s not much surface data coming in now from the area near Katrina. The highest wind I can find is ‘only’ a 45 knot (about 52 mph) gust at a buoy (the 30 foot tall one in the photo on the left) located about 300 miles south of Panama City, FL. The buoy is rolling in 25 foot waves, in the 86&#176 water.

Right now I’m scared for New Orleans.