Katrina's Surge, Part 1

A Weather Underground 16 part series about Hurricane Katrina, by Margie Kieper.

For the remainder of the month, I'm going to take you along on a journey. We're going to travel the coastline destroyed by Hurricane Katrina's record storm surge. Because this is almost 200 miles of coastline, we'll travel about 10 miles or so, every day. This is something that has never been shown on the news or talked about, either in the overall, or in detail. What you'll be seeing here is what people on the Gulf Coast have been calling the “Invisible Coastline” for almost a year now.

For that entire year I've wanted to find a way to tell this story, but I always assumed it would be a book. When there were questions on the photos of the bridge in yesterday's blog, asking where it was, and what had happened to it, I suddenly realized what I could finally do right now. I checked the calendar and found that I just had enough days, before the first anniversary of Katrina's landfall. So, it seems fated.

And I have enthusiastic hopes for communicating the details of what happened to the readers of this blog, so that you can understand what it was like, as if you had been there. I was reminded of a passage from one of only a half-dozen novels that rate a special category of favorites; there isn't one that I haven't read at least ten times over:

My name is Anya Savikin, and I am going to take you into the apartment of my parents, the apartment where I was born, and where I lived until I was married, in Vilno, Poland. I want to be sure that you see this apartment, that you can picture it so clearly you feel you are walking through it, because it is very far away in time, and it is so easy to think that you know what something looks like, what something was like, and really have no idea at all. This is even true for the people who lived in the apartment and its rooms, so it is much more difficult for people who have never been in the rooms at all. I want you to go through this apartment so you have a memory of it: my memory. My memory of it is almost twenty-five years old, and undoubtedly I have done some retouching, have repainted some of the walls and plastered some of the cracks, but memory is a form of reality after all. So I do not want to give you a photograph at which you can look and say, "Oh yes, this is what it looked like," and really have no idea at all. If you are going to learn a person's life, then, like learning a language, you must start with the little things, the little pictures, the tiny, square images, like rooms, that will grow into a film, but not like any film, one you have been in as an extra. You will have the feel of the polished wood table on your fingertips; you will have the smells of the kitchen in your nostrils. This is my ambition. Perhaps it is too much to ask.

--Anya: A Novel, by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

I don't have a wealth of materials to work from: mainly aerial images taken in the days after the landfall, detailed surge information that I have catalogued over the past year, a scant bit of general meteorological knowledge, which I hope to get by with a little help from my friends (and in the past year I have made many remarkable new friends), and some experience telling a story. But that simply means we'll be traveling light, with just the right amount of baggage for a daily weblog.

It'll be important each day to know where we are, and where it sits in the many miles of coastline that we'll be visiting. Screen prints from Goggle Maps will be provided, and you can follow along and explore by using the tool directly, while reading the blog entry. It's very easy. Simply double-click anywhere on the map of the US, and it will re-center and zoom. And you can view a map image, or a satellite image, or both at the same time.

Grand Isle, LA

We're going to start this journey at the first landfall, in southeastern Louisiana, and work our way eastward, with the surge. We begin at Grand Isle:

Grand Isle location on GOM coast

Image courtesy of Google Maps

In addition to the surge, the isolated coastline of southeast Louisiana was the landfall area that received the highest winds from Katrina. Weather deteriorated throughout the day on Sunday, and hurricane force winds arrived in the late evening and increased throughout the night. The wind gauge at the Southwest Pass CMAN station offshore, failed at 1am (probably due to power outage from the rising water), when winds were gusting over 100 miles per hour. The wind gauge at Grand Isle failed at 5am, and the last recorded wind gust was 114 mph with sustained winds of 87 mph. The lowest pressure occurred an hour later. While water would have been rising steadily for hours, around this time the bulk of the surge arrived, quickly, and submerged all the land in this low lying area.

Grand Isle LA

Image courtesy of Google Maps

The next day, this is what remained on the western end of this nine-mile-long island (notice the two HELP signs put together from lumber of destroyed buildings):

Grand Isle HELP

Image courtesy of NOAA

But this doesn't really convey the incredible damage that can be seen in a closer look:

Grand Isle closer look

Image courtesy of NOAA

And even closer:

Grand Isle zoom

Image courtesy of NOAA

Grand Isle zoom 2

Image courtesy of NOAA

Here's a photo shot by AndyN of the bridge leading to Grand Isle, after the storm. Interestingly, this is exactly what the Ocean Springs -- Biloxi bridge looked like in 1969 after Camille. I recall that they connected the sections with sheets of plywood or metal so that you could drive over.

Grand Isle zoom 2

Image courtesy of AndyN

Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge:

Weather Underground Storm Surge Articles

Storm Surge Safety Actions

  • Minimize the distance you must travel to reach a safe location; the further you drive the higher the likelihood of encountering traffic congestion and other problems on the roadways.

  • Select the nearest possible evacuation destination, preferably within your local area, and map out your route. Do not get on the road without a planned route, or a place to go.

  • Choose the home of the closest friend or relative outside a designated evacuation zone and discuss your plan with them before hurricane season.

  • You may also choose a hotel/motel outside of the vulnerable area.

  • If neither of these options is available, consider the closest possible public shelter, preferably within your local area.

  • Use the evacuation routes designated by authorities and, if possible, become familiar with your route by driving it before an evacuation order is issued.

  • Contact your local emergency management office to register or get information regarding anyone in your household whom may require special assistance in order to evacuate.

  • Prepare a separate pet plan, most public shelters do not accept pets.

  • Prepare your home prior to leaving by boarding up doors and windows, securing or moving indoors all yard objects, and turning off all utilities.

  • Before leaving, fill your car with gas and withdraw extra money from the ATM.

  • Take all prescription medicines and special medical items, such as glasses and diapers.

  • If your family evacuation plan includes an RV, boat or trailer, leave early. Do not wait until the evacuation order or exodus is well underway to start your trip.

  • If you live in an evacuation zone and are ordered to evacuate by state or local officials, do so as quickly as possible. Do not wait or delay your departure, to do so will only increase your chances of being stuck in traffic, or even worse, not being able to get out at all.

  • Expect traffic congestion and delays during evacuations. Expect and plan for significantly longer travel times than normal to reach your family's intended destination.

  • Stay tuned to a local radio or television station and listen carefully for any advisories or specific instructions from local officials. Monitor your NOAA Weather Radio.

Source: NOAA

Hurricane Preparedness

National Hurricane Center

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention