Ironic Twist Of Fate For New Orleans?

Westward Shift In Track Has Isaac Making Landfall Along Northern Gulf Around Anniversary Of Katrina

Four years ago around this time, the city of New Orleans was under the gun thanks to Hurricane Gustav, which had strengthened to near Category Five intensity prior to landfall in Western Cuba. It was a harsh reminder of the pain inflicted on this city from Hurricane Katrina just three years before. The Big Easy was eventually able to dodge that bullet as Gustav weakened to a Category Two storm prior to landfall over Cocodrie, Louisiana.

NOLA experienced another similar threat a few years prior to Katrina when Hurricane Lili made a move toward the Crescent City in the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season. However, the storm thankfully weakened from a Category Four storm to a Category Two system before making landfall along the western edge of Vermillion Bay. With Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Murepas, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico surrounding it, New Orleans, which also sits below sea level is always susceptible to hurricanes.

The threat is back on again as Tropical Storm Isaac’s forecast track has gradually taken a more westward shift over the past few days. The storm has recently emerged in the Southeastern Gulf of Mexico to the southwest of Key West. Now, there is nothing but the warm water of the Gulf between the storm and New Orleans as well as coastal Mississippi towns such as Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Biloxi. Besides the irony of the forecast track and timing, another similarity between Katrina and Isaac has been the size of the storms. Issac is a very vast system much like Katrina was, and that could lead to high seas, waves, and storm surge along the coast at these parts come mid-week.

The saving grace right now is the fact that the dry air flowing in from the southwest is preventing Isaac from getting its act together. By the time Katrina had left Key West and the rest of the Florida Keys, the storm was well formed and already deepening. Isaac is still very disorganized with a lopsided shape and structure thanks to the lack of moisture on its southern half to feed its heat engine. However, things could change if the upper level low responsible for the dry air entrainment on the south side of Isaac pulls away from the storm and allows it to develop more moist air on its southern half. With the high octane waters of the Gulf as well as light upper level winds, the ingredients are there for significant strengthening if Isaac can get better organized.

Katrina was the deadliest storm to hit the U.S. mainland in decades with some 1,800 people dead. Once a Category Five storm, and one of the strongest storms on record in the Atlantic, Katrina came ashore as a strong Category Three storm near Buras, Louisiana before making a second landfall along the Louisiana and Mississippi border. The devastation caused by a record storm surge, the highest ever recorded in North America, made Katrina the costliest hurricane and natural disaster in U.S. history, shattering the previous mark set by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.