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We here at the KWTF Action News Storm Team could not bring ourselves to ridicule the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. We knew early on that it was going to be bad.

Anyways, following is a long post (reposted from my friends-only personal LJ) about the lead-up to Katrina's landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi, and how a little foresight, attentiveness, and guts could have prevented some of the suffering.

We thought we had the standard hurricane and that we'd immediately respond and have things in order in a couple of days and then the levee broke and that hampered us and then some idiots decided they'd get guns and start shooting and that almost put our rescue efforts at a halt.

- Mike Brown, FEMA Director, in an interview on Saturday 9//3/05 (See timestamp 10:03a Saturday)

Standard hurricane? What a fucking stupid thing to say. Unbelievable. Standard hurricane?!?! Katrina, even as a little ole Category 1 storm, did a couple of billion dollars of damage in south Florida. That's 'standard'. Happens almost every day.

Well, apparently he and his braintrust were not paying attention to what the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was saying. As of 4:00p (all times in this post CDT) on Friday afternoon, TWO AND A HALF DAYS BEFORE LANDFALL early Monday morning, the NHC was predicting a Category 4 hurricane making landfall in southern Mississippi:

By the next advisory six hours later, at 10:00p Friday, the forecast had shifted slightly west to cross the tip of southeastern Louisiana, and the intensity forecast remained Category 4, with acknowledgment that the forecast models were predicting an even stronger storm:

And the next advisory, six hours later at 4:00a on Saturday, a full 48 hours before landfall, further confirmed the confidence in a landfall near New Orleans. This statement said, in part, "DUE TO THE DECREASING SPREAD IN THE MODELS... THE CONFIDENCE IN THE FORECAST TRACK IS INCREASING" and "KATRINA IS LOCATED WITHIN AN ATMOSPHERIC ENVIRONMENT THAT SEEMINGLY CANNOT GET MUCH MORE CONDUCIVE FOR STRENGTHENING". Just a 'standard hurricane':

This is when I think mandatory evacuations should have been ordered and initiated, but that did not happen for another 24 hours. It may seem crazy to suggest evacuating New Orleans when a hurricane is barely 100 miles west of Key West, but you know, this is what science and forecasting and the NHC exist for. It was no secret how vulnerable New Orleans would be to such a storm. Sure, forecasts not perfect, and mistakes are still made in forecasts, but in my opinion by early Saturday morning the evidence was organizing to the point that someone needed to get things rolling. Clearly, those in charge decided it was cheaper, and therefore preferable, to gamble lives rather than money. And since the lives to be gambled were predominantly those of poor black people, whose evacuation would have been costlier and more difficult due to communications and transportation issues, it made the decision to roll the dice (by waiting) easier for the power structure.

Dr. Jeff Masters, who runs the Weather Underground site, started calling for evacuation of New Orleans in his blog at about 6:00a Saturday.

[ profile] evilegg and I were discussing this situation first thing Saturday morning, and later in the afternoon I did an LJ post about it, after yet another advisory at 10:00a Saturday morning continued to reinforce the path into SE Louisiana with ever-increasing forecast confidence. Furthermore, in this advisory the NHC continued to note that every ingredient was in place for rapid intensification. (Guess what would later happen overnight Saturday night? Katrina became the 4th-strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin.) Here's the Saturday 10:00a map:

Dr. Masters also expressed increasing concern on Saturday morning, saying:
I'd hate to be an Emergency Management official in New Orleans right now. Katrina is pretty much following the NHC forecast, and appears likely to pass VERY close to New Orleans. I'm surprised they haven't ordered an evacuation of the city yet. While the odds of a catastropic hit that would completely flood the city of New Orleans are probably 10%, that is way too high in my opinion to justify leaving the people in the city. If I lived in the city, I would evactuate NOW! There is a very good reason that the Coroner's office in New Orleans keeps 10,000 body bags on hand. The risks are too great from this storm, and a weekend away from the city would be nice anyway, right? GO! New Orleans needs a full 72 hours to evacuate, and landfall is already less than 72 hours away. Get out now and beat the rush. You're not going to have to go to work or school on Monday anyway. If an evacuation is ordered, not everyone who wants to get out may be able to do so--particularly the 60,000 poor people with no cars.

Six hours later, at 4:00p Saturday afternoon, the leadership of New Orleans and Louisiana remained unconvinced of the danger, apparently. At this point there was little question that the storm would be close enough, and strong enough, to lay a serious blow to New Orleans. Mayor Nagin's ass must have been crowded the Saturday before Katrina hit, because he had somehow managed to get his head and both of his thumbs up there. He should have been going ballistic by this time, not almost a week later. For 24 hours the best hurricane forecasters in the world had been drawing a bullseye on his city, as shown in the Saturday 4:00p map:

Imagine how many people could have been evacuated from New Orleans on that Saturday, with lovely weather and weekend traffic and every school bus in the city available, if the plans and sensibility had been in place. Sure, there would still be storm devastation and floods and some people trapped in the city who had refused to leave, but imagine if they had started running buses first thing Saturday morning to the Astrodome and the Cajundome and civic centers in Alexandria, Shreveport, Monroe and other cities within 5 hours of New Orleans. Imagine how many people could have been evacuated who subsequently suffered or died.

But, oh yeah, there was no guarantee in the forecast, and it would have cost money and created logistical problems. Oh noes!

Take a look at the imagery on this NHC page and run the loop. Very interesting stuff. Then think about all of the published studies on New Orleans' vulnerability to hurricanes and storm surge, and if the right thing to do first thing Saturday morning was think, "Oh, fuck it, it's just a 'standard hurricane' and everything will probably be OK for those hundreds of thousands of vulnerable and poor people. Let's not play it safe and get them out, since that would just be too big of a pain in the ass and too much of a drain on resources."

I'm curious to see what the internal debate was, and who was the strong voice that guided the ineptness. Mayor Nagin? Governor Blanco? FEMA? Everyone is finger-pointing now, but someone was calling the shots, and eventually we'll come to understand the breakdowns that have taken place both before and after the storm 'standard' hurricane.
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