Sixteen years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the US Gulf Coast, another major storm seems poised to strike the region.
Hurricane Ida is churning off the coast of Cuba with winds of 75 mph. Meteorologists expect the storm to accelerate and intensify over the next 48 hours. The national weather service says Ida could pack sustained winds of 120mph and gusts to 150mph or greater by landfall. If those models hold, the storm would come ashore Sunday as a major, category three hurricane. It would be the third major hurricane to strike Louisiana in just a year.
Hurricane watches are in effect for all of the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline. In New Orleans, Mayor Latoya Cantrell has called for voluntary evacuations for everyone living inside of the city’s levee system. Mandatory evacuations are in effect for everyone living east of the levees. Similar orders are in place along the Mississippi gulf coast as well.
The storm’s current path has it making landfall on the Louisiana coast just west of Houma, about an hour’s drive southwest of New Orleans.
Ida’s strength and path eerily similar to Katrina
When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the southeastern corner of the state in 2005, it brought with it a catastrophic storm surge. A wall of water as high as 30 feet slammed into the shoreline, wiping away coastal towns and cities. Mississippi’s gulf coast faced devastation as the surge ripped entire homes off of their foundations. Levees in New Orleans failed, sending water pouring into the city and leaving much of it under water. The storm killed thousands and caused more than $125 billion in damage.
Ida’s path and wind speeds are eerily similar to Katrina’s, but its small size may spare the region from similar devastation. At the time of landfall, Katrina’s hurricane force winds extended up to 120 miles form its center. Currently, as a category one, Ida’s only extend 20 miles from its center. While this is likely to change, it appears unlikely that Ida will explode to become as massive as storm as Katrina.
Still, the National Weather Service is warning Ida could bring a storm surge as high as 11 feet. Most of the surge and wind damage from a hurricane is experienced in the areas just east of landfall. If Ida follows the forecast track, this puts New Orleans and coastal Mississippi in the area of greatest risk.
Since Katrina, massive efforts to construct and reinforce levees and sea walls throughout the region have taken place. Enormous surge gates have been built to protect the city of New Orleans from experiencing another Katrina-level event. By all indications, Ida looks to be the greatest test these protections will have faced since 2016.
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