Tag Archives: NOAA

8 Years Ago Today

Courtesy of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Hurricane Katrina: Courtesy of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that some have described as biblical in scale and unprecedented as a human tragedy.

“The Storm,” as the locals call it, was the most destructive natural disaster in American history, laying waste to 90,000 square miles of land, an area the size of the United Kingdom.

Before The Storm

As the sheer size of Hurricane Katrina became clear, the National Weather Service’s New Orleans/Baton Rouge office issued an ominously worded emergency alert predicting that many areas throughout the Gulf Coast would be “uninhabitable for weeks” after “devastating damage” caused by Katrina.

Contraflow lane reversal, voluntary, and mandatory evacuations were issued for coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Approximately 1.2 million residents of the Gulf Coast heeded the evacuation orders, after hearing the following cryptic message, and fled their homes.

During The Storm

After making a brief initial landfall over Southeastern Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall near Louisiana/Mississippi state line, passing over the cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Mississippi.

The Storm featured winds in excess of 120 mph and churned up a powerful 27-foot storm surge, which penetrated 6 miles inland, and in some areas up to 12 miles, along bays and rivers; killing close to 300 people and causing billions of dollars in damage to bridges, barges, boats, piers, houses and cars.  Thousands were left homeless, destitute, and entombed in mud.

Extreme weather photographers Mike Tice and Jim Reed captured harrowing video footage as the storm surge slammed in Gulfport, Mississippi and ripped through their hotel.

After The Storm

While the coastal Mississippi communities of Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, D’Iberville, Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Waveland Mississippi where completely washed off the map because of the massive storm surge, New Orleans was overwhelmed by flooding.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as “probably the worst catastrophe, or set of catastrophes,” in the country’s history, referring to the hurricane itself plus the flooding of New Orleans.

Katrina’s storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging eighty percent of the city.  The levee breaches and the subsequent flooding were responsible for killing over 700 people.

Survivors and evacuees reported seeing dead bodies lying in city streets and floating in flooded sections of the city well into October. The advanced state of decomposition of many corpses hindered efforts by coroners to identify many of the dead.

In the days following Katrina, residents in New Orleans who “rode out the storm,” resorted to looting stores in search of food, water, and medical supplies.  While others took advantage of the situation to loot non-essential items like televisions and tennis shoes.

All told, more than 1,833 people died.  The results were tragic loss of life and human suffering on a massive scale, and an undermining of confidence in our governments’ ability to plan, prepare for, and respond to national catastrophes.

 

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What Happened When Superstorm Sandy Hit NYC

On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy came ashore just northeast of Atlantic City, N.J., with a wind speed of approximately 80 mph. The storm had the worst possible trifecta of characteristics: an extremely large diameter, strong winds and high tide at landfall, which generated massive storm surge that inundated the coast from New Jersey to Connecticut.

Record surge levels were recorded in several areas of New York and New Jersey, with over 12 feet of surge in some locations. Subway tunnels flooded, airport runways flooded, power outages occurred all along the coast, natural gas lines were broken, and when it was all over, at least 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed from the storm. On top of the estimated 72 people in the U.S. who were killed as a direct result of the storm, many more lives were lost as a result of hypothermia, house fires, vehicle accidents and other indirect causes.

This National Geographic documentary chronicles the events leading up to and immediately after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Atlantic Seaboard.

When Nature’s Fury and the Politics of Disaster Collide

Released in December 2012, seven years after the most expensive disaster in American history, this 95-minute documentary film gives you the round-the-clock news coverage and a comprehensive look behind the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, human error, false media reports, political corruption, government bureaucracy, and a substandard physical infrastructure.

Using comprehensive analysis of events, hours of government audio tapes, and personal interviews, National Geographic takes viewers into the eye of Katrina to uncover the decisions and circumstances that determined the fate of the Gulf residents.

2012 Was An Exceptional Year For Disasters

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” – Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 was the second-most expensive year for natural disasters, claiming over 300 lives and costing more than $110 billion in damages.

NOAA disaster map

Long-term, independent records from weather stations, satellites, ocean buoys, tide gauges, and many other data sources all confirm the fact that our nation, like the rest of the world, is warming, precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, and some types of extreme weather events are increasing.

What’s so scary about this, it’s going to get a heck of a lot worse, before it gets better.

The Gulf Coast Dead Zone

You’ve heard how hurricanes, oil spills, and industrial development are affecting the Gulf of Mexico, but have you heard about the “hypoxic” or low oxygen dead zones?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that a massive dead zone the size of New Jersey (8,561 square miles) will plague the northern Gulf of Mexico this summer, citing a combination of heavy rainfall, flooding, drought, and human activity in the Midwest as the primary culprits.

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey finds that nonpoint sources of nitrogen and phosphorus based fertilizers, animal wastes, sewage, and other nutrient-rich pollutants (i.e., lawn fertilizers) from six major tributaries along the Mississippi River watershed are flowing toward the Gulf at an alarming rate, resulting in the growth of algae blooms that deplete the waters of oxygen as they die and decompose, thereby creating a biological desert.

Runoff fueling the Gulf of Mexico dead zone
Courtesy Donald Scavia / University of Michigan

The USGS estimates 153,000 metric tons of nutrients flowed down the watershed to the northern Gulf of Mexico, an increase of 94,900 metric tons over last year’s 58,100 metric tons, when the region was suffering through drought. This is 16 percent above the 34 year average nutrient load.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico will not only affect nationally important commercial and recreational fisheries of pogie, redfish, shrimp, crabs, oysters, and fresh water eels, but will significantly threaten the region’s economy; still reeling in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Catastrophe.

Courtesy P. J. Hahn/Coastal Zone Management Department

Ironically, NOAA models suggest that the size of the dead zone could be reduced by a large storm or hurricane, which would help churn up the water, thus reducing the hypoxic dead zone to roughly the size of Connecticut (5,344 square miles).

Which in and of itself is pretty big.

What is a Storm Surge?

The greatest potential for loss of life related to a hurricane is from the storm surge!

Storm surge is simply water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides to create the hurricane storm tide, which can increase the mean water level to heights impacting roads, homes and other critical infrastructure. In addition, wind driven waves are superimposed on the storm tide. This rise in water level can cause severe flooding in coastal areas, particularly when the storm tide coincides with the normal high tides.

Hurricane Specialist, Bryan Norcoss, from the Weather Channel, explains the science behind a storm surge in the days leading up to Hurricane Isaac in August 2012.

Because much of the United States’ densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level, the danger from storm tides is tremendous.

One After Another After Another

The United States experiences more than 1,000 tornadoes a year.

While most storms are weak and occur in sparsely populated areas, recent storms have inflicted heavy casualties in more populated regions of the country. Moore, OK, Tuscaloosa, AL, and Joplin, MO are the most recent communities to suffer.

Tornado_Courtesy of Gene Robertson
Image: Gene Robertson, PDS Storm Chasers

Tornadoes form when large air masses of different temperatures collide; when cold, dry air runs into warm moist air, which rises, condenses into heavy rain, and then falls in powerful downdrafts.   These conditions occur most often in the Great Plains, where the high altitude jet stream from the west converges with warm, moist air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico, and warm, dry air from the southwest.

One week after a devastating tornado hit the southern Plains of Oklahoma; a similar weather pattern is being repeated.

Earlier today the NWS Storm Prediction Center issued a moderate to severe threat warning for thunderstorms, tornadoes, large hail, and damaging winds, Wednesday afternoon and evening for parts of the central and southern Plains, including parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

If you live in the areas of high risk, please be alert to changing weather conditions.  Look for the following danger signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.

If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to TAKE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY.