Hurricane Katrina–Five Years Later

This weekend marks the fifth year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall along the Central Gulf Coast of the United States. The storm made landfall near Buras, Louisiana as a Category Three Hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour. Even though the storm weakened from a monster Category Five Hurricane with winds of 175 miles per hour, and a minimum central pressure of 26.64 inches of Hg, or 902 millibars, it still generated 48 foot seas, and a storm surge of 27 feet above normal along the Mississippi coast, a record surge for the United States. Over 1,800 people were left dead, and $81 billion in damage was left in the storm’s wake.

It left much of New Orleans including the Lower Ninth Ward underwater after the levee system surrounding the Crescent City had failed. The failures had occurred just when many thought that New Orleans had been spared much of the damage from the storm. Katrina had made two landfalls. After it came ashore near Buras, Louisiana, the storm struck the coast again near the Louisiana/Mississippi border. So, New Orleans was on the weaker western side. In addition, Katrina had weakened significantly before making landfall. As bad as things ultimately came out there, it could have been much worse. However, it was no consolation to those that were stuck in the Superdome, the Convention Center, or even worse, on the tops of roofs, which suffered miserably from the lack of a prompt and coordinated response between local, state, and national agencies.

New Orleans has made some progress in the five years since, but it still has a long way to go. Some people are more optimistic now as the music, food, and culture that has made this city well known throughout the world, is returning. A recent poll indicated that nearly 70 percent of residents in the city believe New Orleans is making progress. But, there are still people trying to rebuild, and get their homes back. To add insult to injury, there was the recent BP/Transocean Oil Rig explosion that cause a massive hemorrhaging of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and some of that came ashore along the Bayou Country of Plaquemines Parish, which was also submerged by the storm as well as other regions along the Gulf Coast.

Much of the focus of the aftermath is made on New Orleans, but there are coastal communities along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast that are still trying to rebuild. Coastal towns and cities such as Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula, Pass Christian, Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Ocean Springs, and Gautier are still in the process of rebuilding. Much of the population of Biloxi has been reduced, especially in the eastern portion of the city. These areas, which were also hit by another Category Five storm, Hurricane Camille, in August 1969, were hit much worse than New Orleans since they all lied on the stronger eastern side of the hurricane. Many of these communities were hit worse by Katrina than by Camille. Katrina was a much larger storm, and had stirred up the seas in the Gulf of Mexico for several days before finally making landfall.

Hurricane Katrina was one of two major hurricanes to strike Louisiana in 2005. Hurricane Rita came ashore in the area of Southwestern Louisiana several weeks later. Rita was another powerful storm in the Gulf that was influenced by the Loop Current in that region. It surpassed not only Katrina, but also Hurricane Allen as the fourth strongest hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin. There was another huge storm that year as Wilma became the strongest storm on record in October that year.

The 2005 season was the most active on record with 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes, and 7 major hurricanes. Four of those major storms reached Category Five intensity. The previous mark for named storms was 21 back in 1933, and 12 for hurricanes in 1969. The mark for major hurricanes is eight set in 1950.