Hurricane Lili is only the fourth hurricane and second major hurricane of the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season. However, it had strengthened to a dangerous Category Four Hurricane with 140 mph winds, and was baring down on a major metropolitan area that was one of the most vulnerable cities to a hurricane.
In addition, the state of Louisiana had already endured a lot this year, and was fearing the worst. But Lili would spare the Big Easy and its Louisiana neighbors as it made landfall as a much weaker storm as shearing winds from a nearby trough brought the storm's winds down to only 100 mph, which made it only a strong Category Two Hurricane.
After Hurricane Lili left Western Cuba and entered the Southern Gulf of Mexico, it had winds of 100 mph. However, the storm's path would diverge from its predecessor Isidore, and as a result, Lili would take on more of a menacing look. Instead of the storm tracking to the West, Lili headed in a more northwesterly direction.
Into the vastness of the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where water temperatures are between 85 and 87 degrees in late September and early October. Lili was also moving much faster than Isidore did as it moved at 12 to 16 mph.
On the afternoon of October 2nd, the situation became grave as Lili's winds grew to Category Three, and then Category Four strength at 140 mph. The odds weren't good for New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana to dodge this bullet.
It has been a very hard summer in the Bayou State of Louisiana. Earlier this summer, Louisiana was hit with the worst epidemic of the West Nile Virus to date as over 100 people were infected in about a month, and 8 people died. They still are dealing with that problem as the mosquito borne virus has continued its advance Westward, and that has risen the number of cases nationwide to about 2,800 with about 150 deaths. Those numbers include some 293 cases in Louisiana, and 14 of those have resulted in deaths.
Then, in the latter portion of September, the focus went away from the West Nile Virus problem to Hurricane Isidore as it rolled through the Caribbean and the Yucatan as a major hurricane. Now, it had to deal with Lili. On top of that, New Orleans is one of the three leading cities that is vulnerable to a hurricane, and that is because the city lies below sea level, and is situated like a bowl along three bodies of water: The Gulf of Mexico, The Mississippi River, and Lake Ponchartrain.
With its 140 mph winds, and in an environment very favorable for further intensification, Hurricane Lili continued to bare down on the Big Easy. In Texas, some 330,000 people were evacuated from areas such as Galveston in anticipation of the storm although by the time Lili reached Category Four status, it was no longer a threat to any portion of Texas. Folks in Louisiana scrambled to get more sand bags and supplies to protect itself from the storm.
Cities such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge had ran out of such materials during its preparation for Tropical Storm Isidore. Many in the coastal parishes were ordered to evacuate although some left voluntarily. Schools throughout much of Louisiana were closed in anticipation of the storm's arrival while the Governor declared a state of emergency with an early curfew at night.
Something happened to Lili during all of this. It weakened. What happened was that the trough that was expected to turn it to the north was able to get to Lili a bit sooner than expected, and the shear from it destroyed some of the strong thunderstorms within Lili's core, and as a result, Lili came ashore with only 100 mph winds.
As Lili moved farther inland over Louisiana, tornadoes became a problem as around ten twisters formed near the center of circulation, which was quite rare since tornadoes usually form in the Northeastern quadrant of a landfalling hurricane. Soon afterward though, Lili would dissipate and spread rains to the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys.
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