Millions are hunkered down along the Gulf Coast tonight, watching Hurricane Isaac’s progression towards land. With the memory of Katrina still fresh in the minds of many residents, some are wondering if Isaac will wreak similar havoc on the region.
Isaac’s progression towards land has been eerily similar to the path Katrina took. USA News provides an excellent graph illustrating this point. In addition to confounding forecasters, who expected both storms to head up Florida and along the East Coast, they have a remarkably similar progression through the Gulf of Mexico, strengthening to hurricane level over the warm waters. That’s not forgetting that Isaac’s making landfall nearly seven years to the day that Katrina hit.
The numerous similarities are raising questions about whether the damage will be as great as it was in 2005. A key point to note is that Isaac is weaker than Katrina was when she hit the Gulf states. Isaac made landfall earlier tonight as a category 1 storm; Katrina reached category 5 at her peak and made landfall as a category 3. That being said, many underestimated the damage Katrina would cause and a similar pattern could be emerging with Isaac. Let’s not forget a category 1 hurricane is still a very bad storm.
In addition, hurricanes are categorized by wind speed and the major damage from Katrina was the rain and subsequent flooding, not the wind. As a category 1, Isaac is a slower moving storm, which means its dumping rain for longer periods and has the potential to cause severe flooding.
The other key issue to consider is the levee system. Reinforced following their failure in Katrina, the levees are expected to hold through whatever Isaac throws at them. However, the system hasn’t had a significant test since Katrina, so it’s difficult to say how it will perform this time around. The National Weather Service has already noted that some levees in southeast Louisiana could be topped, leading to widespread flooding. Even if the levees hold, the service is also predicting life-threatening floods outside of the hurricane protection system and has warned all residents to head the issued evacuation orders:
“Life threatening flooding possible in areas outside hurricane protection levees…. Areas outside of hurricane protection levees will be severely inundated. People not heeding evacuation orders in single family, one or two story homes could face certain death. Many residences of average construction directly on the coast will be destroyed. Widespread and devastating personal property damage is likely elsewhere. Vehicles left behind will likely be swept away. Numerous roads will be swamped. Some may be washed away by the water…Water levels may exceed 9 feet or more behind over topped levees.” Read the full warning here.
While it’s impossible to predict Isaac’s outcome, I strongly encourage all of you to take this storm seriously. It could very well be a minipocalyse for the region if the worst happens. Head the evacuation orders, use your survival kit, and stay safe out there.