Early Impressions from Katrina

Yes, New Orleans didn’t get the absolute worst possible effects, but remember that even one-half, one-third or a quarter of that, combined with the Mississippi storm surge horrors, still could amount to an epic disaster never before seen in our nation’s history. Some of the reports that are trickling forth are, indeed, as dreaded and awful as feared two days ago. Fortunately, amidst the avalanche of bad news sometimes comes trickles of hope and miracle, and the promise of at least partial recovery.

Reporters weren’t/aren’t in or over some of the most badly stricken areas yet, such as the storm surge zone along the Mississippi coast and Ward 9 in New Orleans, and won’t be until at least daybreak today. They mostly retreated in step with the Mississippi surge and didn’t dare go into Ward 9. Journalists simply haven’t yet sampled most of the worst of the worst, and when they do, there will be a major about-face on their portrayals of Katrina from Monday as “not as bad as feared.” Still, limited helicopter video available online shows the extent which some neighborhoods are inundated.

  • Around 30 people perished in the St. Charles apartment complex of Biloxi, a story eerily similar to the Richelieu Apartments carnage from Camille (links to before and after pictures). Why, oh why, were they still there? It was bad enough that the Richelieu tenants didn’t leave under 1969-vintage hurricane warnings. This is 2005, in the nation with the most advanced communications capabilities and best hurricane prediction skills that history has ever seen. There is no excuse for that shameful tragedy.
  • I refuse to speculate on a specific number because it’s useless to do so. But do not be surprised at all if the Monday night death toll, now quoted in the 50s largely because of the Biloxi apartment event, will itself seem small very soon. What about those we haven’t yet heard about? Yes, maybe downtown, where the journalists are, was spared the worst (a good thing, for sure, considering how many were in the Superdome and other buildings there). But it still has major flooding and may flood still more. Now the bad news. The New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, has been quoted in several sources as referring to bodies floating. News reports of people desperately trying to hack out of attics bear out fears that some of them didn’t succeed. Entire New Orleans neighborhoods — many very impoverished — are inundated. Water still is pouring through breaches in a couple of the levees. It is as if spot scenes from Erik Larson’s true-life horror tale, Isaac’s Storm, played out here and there from New Orleans eastward along the Mississippi coast.
  • Many areas will have no fresh food, fuel, potable water, sewage service or sanitation for weeks. With may roads blocked or flooded — including the I-10 causeways out to Slidell (thanks to the storm surge current to and from Pontchartrain) — relief by boat or chopper may be the first to arrive in many areas. Right now, numerous individuals and families are spending their night marooned on rooftops in total darkness, with only an occasional flashlight beam flickering on and off, here and there.
  • Toxic floodwaters, tainted with raw sewage and anything and everything else that can leak or dissolve, inundate parts of New Orleans right now to depths of 6-20 feet. Even when the pumps are brought to capacity, the drains unclogged (how?), and the water levels brought down, the noxious and hazardous residue left behind will coat every inside and outside surface that had been submerged. This in turn will wash onto and into the ground in rains. Where is all this mess going to go? Where will all that untreatable, toxic water be pumped *to*? The EPA and state and local environmental agencies have an unprecedented problem on their hands.
  • Ham radio and emergency management reports indicate a swath of forest mowed down as far N as I-20 in Mississippi where the eyewall tracked. The I-59 corridor and adjoining areas resemble a war zone, with power poles snapped and fallen, thousands upon thousands of trees down, and many areas likely inaccessible even to emergency motor traffic because of all the obstructions. Power will be out for weeks in much of central and southern Mississippi away from the storm surge zone.
  • Some of downtown Mobile went underwater up to the tops of light poles, and an oil rig in the bay tore loose only to pin itself beneath the Highway 98 bridge.
  • Wholesale gasoline futures — already inflated by pure artifice in the form of investors’ speculative buying about refinery capacity and eventual supply problems — will inflate on top of that, this time for nonfictional reasons. Given the likely damage to rigs and to port and piping facilities in southeast Louisiana, expect $3-4 gallon gasoline to arrive in the next few days and stay for a spell, in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, where pump prices often are the cheapest in the free world. In California, $5/gallon prices may be seen soon. There are only a few hours left to fuel up at what may be the lowest retail prices to be seen for a long, long time. [I tanked up last night at a 7-11 for $2.47, which would seem atrocious to someone two years ago and which may seem quaintly cheap by the time Ward 9 is pumped dry.] I hope I’m wrong.
  • The Red Cross already has launched its largest relief effort ever. It will be needed and must be supported. Please put checks in the mail. Corporate donors will be asked to give as never before, and because this is a generous and giving nation, I think they will respond. Such response will be a little harder, too, because of the next item.
  • The drain on the national economy from both real and perceived troubles associated with Katrina will drag down stock markets despite yesterday’s naive little rally. That happened under investors’ impressions that things weren’t as bad as they could have been — perceptions given to them by overly hasty and overly optimistic mass media conveyances. The sell-off actually has begun even before the business day dawns, in the form of funds electronically shifted out of stocks in large holdings like the federal Thrift Savings Plan. Any member of TSP or other electronically manipulable fund, who knew over the weekend that this hurricane was going where it was going, either did or should have shifted out of stocks altogether until things calm down. Then, eventually, rebuilding will promote GDP growth and the rise of some stock types, such as lumber, electronics suppliers, commercial and residential construction and home improvement.
  • Repeating my claim from yesterday’s post: The track forecasts for Katrina have been absolutely outstanding. The hurricane specialists and support staff at your National Hurricane Center deserve every bit of laud they possibly can receive. I have no doubt that thousands of lives were spared by their forecasts’ accuracy, lead time and hard-hitting emphases.
  • Before it physically failed, the Slidell weather observing station recorded a gust of 138 mph (which wasn’t transmitted to the outside world because of dependence on land line telephone wires that had died earlier). The National Weather Service meteorologists in Slidell, whose office now is incommunicado, had brought their families into their building, which is (was?) on relatively high ground, for protection. I have not heard reliable news on their fate. The silence is disturbing, and the rumors (which I won’t dignify by repeating here) are even more so. Let’s hear the truth, and soon.
  • Tornadoes already have caused damage and apparent injury. One injury came from a “possible” tornado in Peach County, Georgia, that was logged as wind damage pending confirmation (as were several others). As of this writing, many possible tornadoes in Alabama still haven’t been logged yet. More tornado reports, as well as actual ones, are likely today and perhaps even the next day over the eastern seaboard states as the remains of Katrina churn northward to northeastward. My experience as a tropical and severe storms meteorologist, specializing in tropical cyclone tornadoes, tells me that this storm isn’t done with its destructive deeds yet.
  • Inland flash flooding and heavy rains from the Tennessee Valley to the northern Appalachians probably will cause more casualties and damage in ensuing days.
  • The most trivial and obvious impression from Katrina will be seen here first: Katrina will be retired from the hurricane name registry. Guaranteed.


    2 Responses to “Early Impressions from Katrina”

    1. Mike Hardiman on August 30th, 2005 8:43 am

      Roger… curious to know where you heard the 138mph gust report from Slidell if the ob never got out. Was that from the ASOS at the Slidell airport or from instrumentation at the WFO (RSOIS perhaps?)

      Hopefully we’ll hear something soon about the WFO.

    2. tornado on August 31st, 2005 5:44 am

      Turns out the WFO building still exists and some employees are back in the building. Others have been dispatched to backup offices or soon will. All employees are alive, well and accounted for (thank God!) even though some lost houses. I know that’s welcome news, because I was very concerned for their safety and well being after rumors erupted that they had to flee the building and run outdoors during the eyewall’s passage. [Now that they’re safe I will mention that rumor afterall, just for the sake of seeing if someone can confirm or refute it.]

      Unfortunately some of the folks at the WFO lost their homes. I know one of them (who used to work with me in Kansas City) and haven’t heard from/about him yet. At this point I’m just glad he and his coworkers are alive.

      Seldom, if ever, has a more extreme test of devotion to duty been imposed upon weather forecasters, and they aced it. Gold Medal time for them, I hope.

      The extreme gust report was relayed out by them after the site lost outside (landline) COMMS capabilities. Don’t know if it was the office or ASOS yet, though.

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