Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Seven Years Ago

On a morning not that much unlike this one, and at about this time, I woke up at a friend's apartment after we had spent the night before celebrating my birthday over a few drinks at the Dave and Buster's bar.

My inner weather nerd had been keeping up with a strong though somewhat average hurricane with an exotic sounding name that had moved into gulf in the days before. I usually do not remember storm names unless they leave an impression for whatever reason. Alicia in '83 because it made an afternoon at the YMCA day care a little more fun. Andrew in '92 because of the devastation as it crossed Florida. Kyle in '02 because it was the energizer rabbit of storms just meandering about the atlantic for about a month. And some others.

This latest storm didn't really seem all that remarkable, however. It had already smacked Florida around when it came through, if only a little when compared to others in the last year or so. But it admittedly did seem like it was going to be worse by the time it came ashore again. Hard to tell for sure as there had been so many storms in the couple of years prior, and the resulting pre-landfall hype had largely become white noise amongst the 24 hour news cycle.

Anyways, so on that morning still not that much unlike this one, I sat down at the table and went out to the internet looking for the latest storm update. Really wasn't expecting to see what had been this strong though somewhat average hurricane with the exotic sounding name had doubled in size with winds that had also jumped from only a 'meager' 115 to an 'oh crap oh crap oh crap' 175 miles an hour.

Deeply scary on paper in all the stats. Even scarier in the satellite photos.

I remember one of the signs of Andrew's strength when it pulverized Florida was how it had wound itself into nearly a tight perfect circle of storm clouds and wind. And how it's eye in the center was almost completely clear. It left a lasting visual impression of what a hurricane not to be messed with looks like.

This latest storm, looked just the same -- except it was three times larger. It had clearly become the worst case scenario and was only 36 hours offshore.

The National Hurricane Center website posted a banner on their website saying "THIS STORM WILL KILL YOU" (or something to that effect) in big bold capitalized red letters as it tried press the criciality of what was about to happen to anybody who needed to know. And they followed it up with an equally as graphic bulletin:

000
WWUS74 KLIX 281550
NPWLIX

URGENT — WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28, 2005

...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED...

.HURRICANE KATRINA... A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH... RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS... PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL... LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE... INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY... A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.

AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD... AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS... PETS... AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS... AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE KILLED.

AN INLAND HURRICANE WIND WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS NEAR HURRICANE FORCE... OR FREQUENT GUSTS AT OR ABOVE HURRICANE FORCE... ARE CERTAIN WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS.

ONCE TROPICAL STORM AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET... DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE!

I have never read or heard such an apocalyptic alert issued in a real world situation and hope I never do again.

While Katrina made a disturbingly memorable name for herself, she thankfully lost some strength in the day or so before making it's final landfall. It could have been much much MUCH worse had the storm of this day come ashore at that moment. And when a strong hurricane Rita came ashore about a month later, everybody who cared paid attention and reacted accordingly.

Seven years later, I find myself again catering to my inner weather nerd and checking on another storm with a somewhat exotic sounding name heading towards New Orleans. I'm relieved to see this latest one seems to be mimicking it's sister only by route and schedule -- if (probably) not by strength. Although there is still time on the clock for the unforeseen to happen.

But what a weird weird irony that this is all eerily unfolding again, seven years to the day when the last one came through.