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Deja Vu In New Orleans?

Is something worse than Katrina headed toward New Orleans?

A highly regarded hurricane model now projects that Isaac will make landfall on a worst-case trajectory for New Orleans as a borderline Category 3/Category 4 storm about 60 hours from now.

The leading hurricane forecast models look increasingly ominous. Over the last 12 hours there has been a steady drift toward a more than alarming forecast: many models now forecast an explosive strengthening of Isaac over the Gulf of Mexico and project a landfall on the central Gulf Coast with New Orleans right in the line of fire. Like the model above, this forecast model image here, also posted by crack weather blogger Brendan Loy, projects 1oo+mph winds blowing from water from Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans, a scenario that might test the city’s revamped defenses past their limit. Additionally, some models show the storm moving very slowly at that point, meaning not only that the wind and surge would persist, but that heavy rains would challenge the city’s drainage system.

Chaos and catastrophe, in other words, with a risk of a Katrina-grade meltdown. (Katrina struck the city as a less intense Category 2 storm.)

It is much too early, of course, to project Isaac’s course and strength with any confidence. But if these forecasts prove correct, it is already very late in the day for the people of New Orleans, the authorities of Louisiana and the Obama administration to prepare for a worst case scenario.

A major Gulf Coast hurricane event in the next few days, and especially one affecting New Orleans, offers the Obama administration a major opportunity and a major risk. Are we ready for a fast and effective evacuation from New Orleans this time, or will there be a repeat of the unholy fecklessness of the last response? Is FEMA ready to do a better job this time than last? How effective are the new flood defenses? What will the White House do and how is this response any better than President Bush’s?

In the event that New Orleans takes a direct hit from a major storm, the Obama administration could see a major boost — or it could be holed below the waterline. Another failure in the Gulf could set up a narrative of failure that would dog the administration right through the November election. A triumphant success, however, would significantly support the administration’s claims that government can work and that this White House is a better manager than the last one.

The probability that a powerful Isaac will make landfall near New Orleans remains low and hurricanes remain mysterious. But the administration needs to start now to do everything in its power to ensure if the unthinkable happens the people of the city and the region will be better prepared, better protected and better served than they were when Katrina hit.

UPDATE: Since this post was originally published, the National Weather Service has extended the hurricane watch to the New Orleans metropolitan area. We are still a long way from certainty on the forecast, but people in and around New Orleans should be thinking now about their storm plans. By the time you are sure the hurricane is coming, it is too late to prepare.

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  • Don
  • Jim.

    Sounds like it would be a good idea for as many people as possible to leave NOW, so if the worst happens the system won’t be overtaxed by those remaining.

  • Don’t worry. Whatever bad things happen in New Orleans, the media will blame on George W. Bush. If a pussy cat is rescued from a tree, it will be because BO ordered it.

    See how easy that is?

  • Corlyss

    @ Don

    Yeah. It was too much to hope for that America’s first black president would have to deal with Katrina Redux. *Sigh* Oh well.

  • joe Ynot

    Nice thoughts, Prof, but the media will cover for Obama comprehensively. I still vividly remember sitting in my car listening to an NPR reporter virtually screaming on air at a government official for not doing anything about the “atrocities”–rape, assault, untended corpses, high mopery, et al–that the reporter swore were going on at the Superdome at that very moment, while the official denied everything, and sounded increasingly baffled. How could anyone be so incompetent? I and every other listener surely thought. And we were right, but months later, after serious investigation, it turned out we had the wrong guy: It was the reporter who had no idea what he was talking about and the official who was right; a synecdoche of the reportage about Katrina (not that there weren’t problems all through the government, including the Federal). The press will do the opposite for Obama: Whatever happens it’s not his fault, it’s George Bush’s, and that’ll be the end of it.

  • John Lever

    Completely wrong. 1. Katrina didn’t hit New Orleans; it made landfall on the MS Gulf Coast. 2. Katrina was a 5, not a 2. It was later downgraded to a 3, but it really was a 5.

  • thibaud

    What does John Hagee make of this?

    Does His decision to spare Tampa mean that the Almighty is greatly pleased by Tampa’s convention ecdysiasts such as Palin imitator Lisa Ann?

    Or is He still going to smack the GOPpers upside the head as He did four years ago when they hied themselves north to the land o’ gitchee gumee?

  • Actually Thibaud, I prayed for the storm to turn left.

    I left it to God to decide how much to turn it…

  • thibaud

    Gerald – what do you have against Alabama and Mississippi? Too red? Or not red enough for you?

  • pst314

    6. John Lever: According to Wikipedia, Katrina was Cat 3 when it made landfall in Louisiana.

  • Part of the problem with materialists like you, Thibaud, is that you think prayer is something that is powered by me, and thus the results are my responsibility.

    I just made the petition. It was up to the Diety to grant it. Those states went through Katrina quite fine, despite getting directly hit by it and not having FEMA pre-staged. Let’s see if Blue Louisiana learned anything.

  • thibaud

    Looks like your governor of “Blue Louisiana” isn’t down with the GOP program. Maybe the “Diety” needs to have a friendly chat with him.

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