On This Date in History: New Oreans, Louisiana was under water on this date in 2005. It had been affected by Hurricane Katrina, but there are some things to remember from Katrina. Katrina was only a category three hurricane when it made landfall on Monday morning August 29, 2005. Its winds had diminished just prior to landfall. I have not read the official post-mortem on the storm but I suspect it says that it was going through an eyewall replacement cycle at landfall. That is a natural process for a hurricane when new eye forms as the old one collapses. The maximum winds decrease typically and the energy gets dispersed somewhat. So the result was that 100 mph winds went beyond Mobile but the top winds were down to 120-130 mph. But, remember, the storm previously had winds of 175 mph and just because you reduce the winds does not mean the sea will react immediately so the storm surge remained what would be associated with a category 5 storm.
The surge in Mississippi was well over 30 feet in places. That is because it swept up the water from the mouth of the Mississippi, which is the Mississippi Trench. The water there is about 8,000 feet deep, give or take. The water along the shelf of the Mississippi coast is about 90 feet. There is no place for the water to go but on the land. So the surge for New Orleans was not the main surge, which went into Mississippi. Mississippi was hit by the main force of the hurricane with New Orleans being on the western edge. The surge to the west of the eye was still substantial and actually went up Lake Bourne with the winds ahead of the storm coming from the East and shoving the water up the intercoastal waterway and then to the Industrial Canal and finally to the wall that collapsed into the Lower 9th Ward. I am told that the flood wall was designed to be weaker on that side of the canal so that if there was a huge force that threatened the integrity of the wall, the main part of the city would be protected. The Lower 9th Ward is in a natural marshy area and not a higher area like the French Quarter.
As a review, the New Orleans Times Picayune has a site that shows the progression of flooding of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina which includes a timeline. When you get to the flooding of Jefferson Parish, its important to note that the pumping station had been abandoned prior to the storm by order of the Police Jury President. The workers wanted to stay but politicians ordered them out. The defense of the police jury is that they said it was part of a “doomsday plan” devised years before to send workers 100 miles north in the event of a major hurricane. They say that they were prepared for a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane. But, many residents say they would not have been flooded had the workers been allowed to stay at their posts. Further, at 11pm CDT on the 27th, the National Hurricane Center Forecast was not for a direct hit on New Orleans, but instead a Mississippi landfall. The true story of Katrina, in my mind, has not been accurately portrayed in the press. In fact, I recall seeing a national news reporter saying from the French Quarter that the city had “dodged a bullet” when, in fact, the timeline shows that the levees on the east side of town had been over-topped hours before and the eastern suburbs were under water. However, the true story may be years in being revealed.
On Sept 5, 2005 the Washington Post reported that the Governor of Louisiana refused to ask or allow for Federal Troops and takeover of relief efforts, partly due to political concern over how it would look for a Democrat Governor needing the help of President Bush. We have a federation and the Federal Government cannot just willy nilly send in troops into a state unless it falls under the guidelines of the Insurrection Act. By the time the governor had allowed the Feds in on that level, the city was already cut off. Other reports point to the Washington Post story stating that Governor Blanco had not declared a state of emergency prior to the storm (which was false, she did) as proof that none of that is true.
However, historian Douglas Brinkley wrote in his book Deluge that, while Blanco did declare a state of emergency, she only filled out a legal form that requested Federal assistance after the storm. Brinkley says, “If Blanco’s message to Bush had been an emphatic letter or frantic telephone call, and not merely a legal form—if it had actually communicated what wasn’t happening in Louisiana (i.e., evacuation)—various U.S. government agencies might have mobilized more quickly. Just as New Orleans wasn’t properly communicating with Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge wasn’t properly communicating to Washington, D.C. There was a chain of failures.” Brinkley does find fault with FEMA director Mike Brown for his lack of urgency. The fact that Brown was a little laid back is a bit odd since he had generally led hurricane relief efforts for Hurricane Ivan, Wilma, Charlie and Jean in Florida just the year before and the post storm criticism never seemed to come from Mississippi where the storm actually hit…it was just Louisiana. But, Brinkley also points out how a member of the Louisiana legislature tried to get Mayor Ray Nagin to understand the grave situtation but that they mayor was watching Little League Baseball less than 48 hours before the storm.
There is plenty of blame to go around. It didn’t work the way it was supposed to or should have worked. Elections matter. Nevertheless, while it could have and should have been better, it was going to be a disaster no matter what. Man proposes, God disposes.
Weather Bottom Line: Louisville weather is just silly. Highs for the end of August around 75. Same for the first day of September. Lows in the 50’s. We may get to 80 on Wednesday with slow climb toward end of week but it still should have pretty low humidity.