Three years ago, the United States felt a collective punch in the gut as hurricane Katrina slammed ashore and brought with it human suffering and physical damage previously unimagined. Before Katrina, the worst disaster to hit the country was hurricane Andrew. Many years had passed since Andrew blew away Homestead, Florida and much of the country had forgotten just how devastating a major hurricane can be when it hits a populated area.
Less than a month after Katrina scoured the Mississippi coast and flooded New Orleans; hurricane Rita formed and quickly became a category 5 storm. Initially it appeared Rita would surpass Katrina as far as strength and location. By all apparent indications, Rita looked like it was heading directly for Galveston and then Houston, Texas.
With images of Katrina fresh in people’s minds, millions of people tried to leave Houston all at once and succeeded in producing the world’s biggest traffic jam. Before the last of the evacuee’s could make it out of town, Rita moved to the east and ended up slamming into the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. Even though it weakened, the damage the storm surge alone caused to small fishing communities on the coast was surreal.
Near the end of the hurricane season, Wilma formed in the Gulf of Mexico and headed east to Florida. Wilma slammed into far southern Florida with a vengeance and only added to the woes from the previous year when one storm after another criss-crossed the state causing staggering losses to property. Thankfully, Wilma did not hit where Charley had exploded the previous year. Wilma veered a little to the south.
In three months in 2005, three major hurricanes plowed into the Gulf coast of the United States. The weakest of the three, Katrina, ended up becoming a tragedy this country never had dealt with before. What would have happened if:
1. Katrina had not weakened from a category 5 to a category 3 storm by the time it made landfall?
2. Rita would have stayed on course and remained a category 5 storm hitting Galveston and then Houston, Texas?
3. Rita would have kept going east and hit the same area Katrina had torn up a few weeks earlier?
4. Wilma would have veered off course and hit the same area Katrina and Rita had hit?
Perhaps one of the worst things to come out of the Rita scare was the reluctance now on the part of the masses to heed warnings to evacuate. Most people would rather take their chances riding out a hurricane than get stuck in a traffic jam like the one those leaving Houston encountered. It is nigh unto impossible to convince people to evacuate anyway, but after the Rita fiasco, it has been even harder.
Fast forward to the present. We currently have Gustov unexpectedly hitting Jamaica. Where it goes, how strong it gets and the precise location it ends up hitting are all unknowns at present. Yesterday the NHC track had it going straight into New Orleans. Today it is further west. By the time it gets close enough to know for sure where it is going to hit, there is not enough time to prepare and evacuate. This is no one’s fault, it is just the result of inexact science.
Getting ready to blow up into hurricane Hanna a storm is poised to head straight for southern Florida this time next week. Again, it is impossible to know if this will be a huge storm or a minimal one. It is also absolutely impossible to know where it is heading. Due to meteorological conditions, it is pretty much a certainty this storm will form, grow and head west from the Bahamas toward Florida.
Far out in the Atlantic there are the beginnings of what might be Ike. This is entirely too far away to be concerned with except to say that this hurricane season will seemingly go on forever with storms and rumors of storms. There is a very real chance we could still see a major East Coast hurricane in October. This is not unheard of, since Hugo was a devastating October hurricane.
Weather forecasting is full of “what ifs”. The models take all the “what ifs” into account and try to provide the most logical outcome. But, with so many variables, there is no way to know even 24 hours in advance the precise location a hurricane’s eye will cross land. This is why hurricane watches must be taken as more than a nuisance and warnings must be heeded unless a person has a death wish.
Years ago a combination of events led to the “perfect storm” written about and then made into a hit movie. Perfect storms are extremely rare, but occasionally take place. They are the sum total of all the “what ifs” coming together in the worst case scenario. Thankfully the afore mentioned “what ifs” three years ago did not take place. Thus, the country was spared the agony of watching either three huge metropolitan areas hit by category 5 hurricanes within a couple of months or one location getting hit two or three times.
God forbid the current string of storms would produce the same scenario as three years ago; although there is that faint possibility. All persons from Galveston/Houston to Miami should at least be aware that there is a chance one or more major hurricanes could strike within the next two months, and especially within the next two weeks.
Common sense demands general preparations be in place every year along the Gulf Coast. This year, I believe the preparation needs to be ratcheted up a notch due to the relentless storm/rumor of storm situation presenting itself. More than anything else, people should at least have a plan. Those who suffer the most in any storm are those who had no plan to deal with what might arise. Be prepared, have a plan and keep one eye on the southeastern sky.