The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season has been one for the memory banks and the record books. However, one storm, Hurricane Katrina as well as its aftermath, may be the only thing we remember from this season. Katrina, the eleventh named storm of the season, became the season's fourth hurricane and third major hurricane. But, it would go farther than just that. When it is all said and done, Katrina could very well end up as the costliest and deadliest natural disaster in United States History. Not only did we see the expected catastrophe from the storm's impact, but we also suffered a second natural disaster from government mistakes on the local, state, and federal level that led to even more casualties and damage.
At its peak, Katrina was the fourth strongest hurricane on record. Although its sustained winds were measured at 175 mph, its minimum central pressure dropped to 902 mb, or 26.64 inches of Hg. The only storms with lower pressure were: Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 with 888 mb, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 with 892 mb, and Hurricane Allen in 1980 with 899 mb. When it made two landfalls along the Gulf Coast, first near Buras, Louisiana, and next near the Louisiana and Mississippi border on Monday, August 29th, 2005, the winds had diminished to 145 mph.
According to the Sun Herald out of Southern Mississippi and the Associated Press, Hurricane Katrina affected some 90,000 square miles from South Florida to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on the Gulf Coast. The storm has been estimated to have damaged or destroyed some 293,000 homes according to FEMA. Nearly ten million people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama experienced hurricane force winds from the powerful storm according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of these residents lived at or below the poverty level. The states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are among the poorest in the entire country.
Despite the fact that Katrina had weakened to a strong Category Four Hurricane, the wave energy the storm had created when it was at the peak level of intensity, Category Five on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, helped bring about a storm surge that ranged between 22 and 28 feet along the Mississippi coast. That storm surge was higher than what was recorded when Hurricane Camille made landfall in Pass Christian, Mississippi on August 18, 1969. The storm surge in Camille was the highest ever recorded in North America at 24 feet and 4 inches. However, Katrina blew that mark away as well as people's awe of Camille, which was one of only three Category Five Hurricanes to make landfall ever in the United States since records began in 1851. Offshore buoys recorded waves as high as 48 feet.
Hurricane Katrina, which caused high winds as well, produced gusts reported at the Lakefront Airport in New Orleans of about 87 mph on the morning of the storm before instruments failed. Grand Isle, Louisiana reported a wind gust as high as 114 mph as Katrina came ashore. Winds as far east as Mobile, Alabama, gusted over hurricane force as they neared 90 mph. Even places further east along the Florida Panhandle including Pensacola had gusts of 69 mph while winds were sustained at 52 mph. Mobile also experienced surge. The coastal community on Alabama's Gulf Coast was under several feet of water. Places such as Gulfport and Biloxi dealt with winds well over 100 mph as much of Mississippi's Gulf Coast including its resort casino business was destroyed.
As a matter of fact, Mississippi's Governor, Haley Barbour, who also served as the former national chairman of the Republican Party, believed that this storm was worse than Hurricane Camille. So far, Katrina has been blamed for a total of 710 deaths including 474 in Louisiana, 218 in Mississippi, 14 in Florida, 2 in Alabama, and 2 in Georgia (from tornadoes spawned by the storm). Initial damage estimates has Katrina leaving between $20 and $35 billion dollars in damages, and they could go higher to even $200 billion dollars. That figure would leave this storm ahead of Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida in August, 1992 as the last Category Five Hurricane to make landfall in the United States.
The storm only lasted some eight days and had some struggles early on, but it managed to hang on, and strengthen not just before landfall on Florida's Southeast Coast on the night of Thursday, August 25th, but also in the very warm waters of the Southeastern Gulf of Mexico, where the Loop Current is located. Water temperatures in this region at the time ranged from the upper 80s to low 90s. Katrina ended up being a very vast storm. At landfall it ranged about 400 miles with hurricane force winds extending some 125 miles from its eye while tropical storm force winds extended 230 miles. Its eye was estimated to be 20 nautical miles in diameter at the storm's peak.
Katrina brought hurricane force winds far inland into Mississippi while even producing tornadoes as far to the Northeast as Georgia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. There were a total of 25 twisters reported from the storm including 15 in Georgia, 5 in Pennsylvania, 4 in Alabama, and one in Virginia. The powerful hurricane left some 3 milllion people without power including 1.7 million along the Gulf Coast and 1.3 million in Florida according to the National Climatic Data Center. Although it lost some punch in the 18 to 24 hours leading up to landfall, Hurricane Katrina still ended up as the fourth strongest storm to make landfall in the United States with the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille, and Hurricane Andrew all being higher. Katrina was the third strongest in terms of pressure with 920 mb, which placed it ahead of Andrew on that list.
As Katrina moved farther inland into the Ohio Valley, it dissipated into a tropical storm, but still packed a bit of a wallop with heavy rains. Rainfall amounts ranged between 2 to 4 inches in places such as Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio. Like Hurricane Ivan in September, 2004, this storm made an impact on the oil industry. Due to the fact that a quarter of the United States oil comes from the Gulf Coast, particularly Louisiana, Katrina caused shockwaves on Wall Street as well as other world markets as the price of oil shot up to over $70 dollars per barrel.
Other energy resources were affected as well, particularly natural gas. During the initial impact from Katrina, a crucial natural gas pipeline in Louisiana had to be shut down, which in turn caused prices to jump some 15 percent in trading on August 29th. Home heating prices are expected to increase for this coming winter as a lingering effect to everyone in the United States from Katrina. Gas prices have also gone up with oil companies raising costs to over $3.00 per gallon at the pump. Some gas stations have been accused of taking advantage of the situation resulting from Katrina by resorting to price gouging. According to the Financial Times and MSNBC, prices for all goods and services are going up from coffee to plastic cups.
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Hurricane Katrina started small as the remnants of what was Tropical Depression Ten. There have been 16 depressions this 2005 season in the Atlantic Basin, and 15 of them went on to become named storms. Only TD #10 remains as the only depression to date that didn't go on to become a tropical storm or hurricane. However, out of its dissipated ashes came Tropical Depression Twelve, which developed in the late afternoon on August 23rd. This newest depression would go through some trials and tribulations, but there was no doubt that the fledging tropical cyclone would become something more significant in the coming days.
At that point in time, what was to become Katrina was in a prime area for tropical formation. Sea surface temperatures in the region of the Bahamas are very warm during the peak months of hurricane season. Storms such Hurricane Andrew and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 developed very rapidly in these areas. On top of that, sea surface temperatures throughout much of the Atlantic had been running above normal. Over the next two days, the storm gradually strengthened as it went from a depression to a strong Category One Hurricane with sustained winds of 80 mph as it made landfall between Hallandale and North Miami Beach, Florida. Wind gusts were higher as they reached 92 mph in Port Everglades.
Here is where it started to diverge from the National Hurricane Center forecast. Katrina veered to the southwest, which is not usually normal for any hurricane to move in that direction. The NHC official forecast at the time indicated that Katrina was going to cross the Florida Peninsula, emerge into the Gulf of Mexico, and then head northward into the Florida Panhandle for a second landfall. However, the storm stayed to the south much longer, especially after it crossed the southern end of the Sunshine State. As a result, four things happened. Katrina was over Florida for a shorter period, stayed over the moist Everglades, passed over the very warm waters of the Loop Current, and most importantly, placed a bullseye on New Orleans and the Central Gulf Coast.
From the early morning of Friday, August 26th to late Friday evening, Katrina gradually strengthened from a strong tropical storm that it had weakened to over land, to a strong Category Two Hurricane on the verge of becoming a major hurricane. Maximum sustained winds in Katrina as of the 11 PM EDT Advisory from the NHC on the 26th were at 105 mph. Minimum central pressure was at 965 mb, or 28.50 inches of Hg. Most importantly though, Katrina was still waiting for that northerly turn as it continued to head west-southwestward at 8 mph. During the day on Saturday, Katrina became the third major storm of the 2005 season as its winds reached 115 mph as of the 5 AM EDT Advisory.
And, it wasn't done there. Katrina was in the midst of a rapid intensification that saw its pressure drop some 88 mb in a period of just a bit more than 60 hours. From the early morning Saturday to mid-afternoon Sunday, Katrina's sustained winds grew from 115 mph to 175 mph as its eye saw a minimum central pressure of 902 mb, or 26.64 inches of Hg, the fourth lowest all time on record in the Atlantic. Katrina moved ahead of Camille on that list and behind only Hurricane Gilbert, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and Hurricane Allen. Only the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille, Hurricane Allen, and Hurricane Gilbert had higher winds as well.
Mercifully, Katrina had peaked by that point at 4:00 PM CDT on August 28th, 2005. From that point on, the hurricane would gradually weaken until in made landfall. A mandatory evacuation was declared by New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, who had issued a voluntary evacuation some 24 hours earlier. President Bush made a special statement about the storm as well as declaring both Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas. Concerns had grown over the weekend about the storm making a direct hit on New Orleans. The big easy is a very vulnerable city to hurricanes. Situated below sea level, New Orleans was last hit by a major hurricane in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy struck there.
Since that time, the levee and pump system that protected the city from flooding was reinforced by the Army Corps of Engineers, which believed it could withstand a Category Three Hurricane. However, New Orleans, which is surrounded by water on three sides with Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico, was staring down a powerful and catastrophic Category Five Hurricane. In addition, as reported in National Geographic, the barrier islands and coast of Louisiana, a protective mechanism against hurricanes was sinking at a rate of 25 square miles of land per year, or an acre every 30 minutes or so.
Throw in the fact that New Orleans was a center for toxic waste with many chemical plants and oil refineries, and you had a lot of reasons to be very concerned. Not only could you have a catastrophic natural disaster, but also a major environmental and ecological disaster. As the day drew to a close on Sunday night, video footage from CNN's Newsnight showed waves already stirring up trouble in Lake Pontchartrain while host Aaron Brown gave Katrina the moniker, "The Storm of Our Lifetime." The next day, Monday, August 29th, Katrina continued its gradual weakening, which in the end, probably saved a lot more lives and prevented even more catastrophic damage.
Furthermore, Katrina appeared to have spared New Orleans a devastating blow by turning to the north sooner, and heading on a path that would take it to the east of the Crescent City. Hurricane Katrina came ashore at around 7:00 AM EDT in extreme Southern Plaquemines Parish near the town of Buras. Maximum sustained winds at that point were approximately 145 mph at the time. After moving over water again, Katrina made another landfall along the coast near the Louisiana/Mississippi border some four hours later as its winds only decreased to 125 mph. Rainfall amounts were between 5 to 10 inches with some places getting as much as 15 inches. It was a good thing that not only did the storm change direction, but also picked up forward speed to 16 mph.
Places such as Slidell and Covington in Louisiana, and Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Gautier, and Biloxi were hit hard by the strong winds and tremendous surge. Some buildings that actually withstood the brunt of Hurricane Camille in 1969, were destroyed by Katrina. Winds from the storm even tore off the roof of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, where some 10,000 people were staying in facility, which was designated as a shelter of last resort by local officials. The worst appeared to have passed New Orleans by although the storm did cause some flooding as well as cause structural damage to some skycrapers in the business district. The real disaster was yet to come.
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All appeared to be alright in the Big Easy. It seemed that the jewel of the Mississippi River survived another hurricane relatively unscathed. But, that was not to be. Perhaps the city's fate was sealed several years ago when the Bush administration was presented with a report that spelled out the worst case scenarios for disaster in the United States. One was a terrorist attack in New York City, which happened on September 11th, 2001, another was a major earthquake in San Francisco, and then there was a powerful hurricane making landfall in New Orleans. Despite that scenario being presented, and the fact that the Atlantic has been in the midst of a very active cycle of storm activity, the Bush Administration decided to focus more efforts on terrorism than to hurricanes and other natural disasters.
As a result, funding toward projects such as improving the levee system in New Orleans was cut significantly. Some suggested that much of this funding was cut to help pay for the war in Iraq. This was only the beginning. We had just scratched the surface of government failures in the face of this disaster, which compounded the tragedy. As two of the levees around the city of New Orleans were breached by rising waters from Lake Pontchartrain on the day after the storm, the local, state, and federal governments became overwhelmed. The first sign of disaster was when local officials in New Orleans issued evacuation orders for the city. The big problem with that was that about 200,000 people remained in the city because they had no means to get out. Instead of arranging trains and buses to get into New Orleans to take these underprivileged people out of harm's way, they were moved into the Superdome and Convention Center, which became deathtraps.
To make matters worse, the repairs on the levee breaches at both the 17th Street Canal and the Industrial Canal were going miserably. Things had gotten so bad that Mayor Ray Nagin complained that there were, "way too many fricking cooks in the kitchen." Chaos started to break out in the Big Easy as looters took advantage of the situation while the local authorities were not equipped to handle the situation since many of them were focused on rescue operations and saving thousands of people from their rooftops, but many more may have died needlessly. At one point, 80 percent of the city was underwater. As the situation in New Orleans continued on its downward spiral, the federal government was apparently putting together a major relief effort to help the city as well as the rest of the Gulf Coast.
However, both Homeland Security and FEMA suffered from bureaucratic problems and out of touch with the situation unfolding on the ground in the disaster area. While FEMA Chief Michael Brown believed the situation was under control, evacuees, doctors trying to get seriously ill patients out of the New Orleans, and news reporters were painting a much more desperate picture. Brown even went on to criticize those, who didn't leave New Orleans and felt that they got what they bargained for. The problem with that again was the fact that many of those who didn't leave were unable to. They just didn't have the means to get out when they were told. Meanwhile, relief and rescue efforts were being hampered by violence as snipers fired a doctors trying to evacuate their patients as well as rescuers trying to save people from flood waters.
Meanwhile, amidst the anarachy and disorder, there were no signs of the federal government getting involved. Nobody along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where hundreds were expected to have been killed and thousands were left homeless, didn't see anyone from FEMA or the National Guard. On top of that, the federal government performed miserably in executing the National Response Plan that was developed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Both Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, and FEMA head, Brown, were well aware of the flooding dangers presented by Katrina to New Orleans and the Central Gulf Coast. However, each wasted critical time in using their authority to get assistance to the affected region.
First, Michael Brown didn't seek approval from his superior, Chertoff, for the deployment of at least 1,000 Homeland Security workers until five hours after Katrina had made landfall. Chertoff then compounded the problem by delaying the federal response by some 36 hours after the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast. During this time, President Bush was still on his month long vacation, and was giving a speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of World War II. Congress was also not in session. To make matters worse, both Brown and Chertoff had no prior experience with disasters when they took their posts. The result, thousands of people were stranded in New Orleans without food, water, shelter, and dealing with increasingly unsanitary conditions. Some people were dying under the weight of the oppressive conditions. Others were getting impatient and angry.
Frustration boiled over not only in New Orleans, but throughout the country as President Bush was heavily criticized for the sluggish response to the disaster in Katrina's wake. Editorials from conservative newspapers such as the Union Leader in New Hampshire and the liberal leaning New York Times blasted the president for the inadequate response. Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans was even more blunt and harsh in his rhetoric. So were the editors of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, which sent an "Open Letter to the President." George W. Bush would visit the region several times over the next week to ten days to let those affected know that the government was going to do its best to rectify the situation.
Michael Brown, which was found to have misleading information in his resume as well as serving as the head of the Arabian Horse Association prior to his arrival at FEMA, ended up being removed by Chertoff from recovery efforts in the Gulf region on Friday, September 9th, 2005, and then subsequently resigned from his post on Monday, September 12th, 2005. The Times-Picayune as well as the local and state officials in Louisiana were very happy with that news, but still weren't satisfied as they issued another open letter. The co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission, Tom Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, criticized the poor response to Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina has definitely made an undeniable impact on the United States. Despite what had occurred after Hurricane Andrew, when George W. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush failed to respond quickly in the wake of that storm, nobody in the present Bush administration seemed to learn from number 41's mistake, which happened to cost him re-election in 1992. Although, the younger Bush responded rapidly to the four hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004, it is important to note that it was an election year, and his brother Jeb happens to be the governor. And, many of America's enemies are watching this unfold with a great deal of satisfaction because they know our country is still seriously vulnerable to another devastating terrorist attack.
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