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August 29, 2005

Storm Thoughts

Katrina is just now making landfall on the Gulf Coast as you indubitably know.  New Orleans may have been spared catastrophe by a last minute jog the storm took to the East before it came on shore.  The northeast corner of this storm is most dangerous since the speed of the storm’s northern motion is added to the counterclockwise swirl of wind.  Winds are at least twenty miles an hour stronger in the northeast than the northwest corner of this particular storm.

There is something you can do: contribute to the Red Cross here.  This hurricane season has already been a tough one.  Red Cross shelters are essential to the stream of people we saw evacuating New Orleans and other low-lying areas.  The Red Cross is NOT a government agency; it is dependent on the generosity of the American people.  Fortunately, the American people ARE generous. 

At the Red Cross site, you can choose which activity you want to contribute to.  The National Disaster Relief Fund is obvious.  However, we usually contribute to our local chapter (which you can do on the national site) because the local chapters have to cope with donor fatigue after everybody has been generous in helping with a national disaster.  And there are always local emergencies – at least fires and often much more – that the local chapters have to respond to.

The storm surge is the greatest danger to New Orleans.  If the surge tops the twenty-five foot flood barriers around the city, it will be a long time before the below-sealevel bowl in which the city sits can be pumped out.  Even if the surge gets close to twenty-five feet, there is a danger that waves on top of it will roll over or damage the barriers.  The storm surge is caused by the vacuum cleaner effect of the low pressure at the center of the storm.  It sucks up a dome of water which travels along with the storm.  Again the northeast quadrant is most dangerous because it is where the water is moving the fastest and where the wind is pushing both the dome and the waves on it in the direction of land.  So that jog to the East may be crucial for New Orleans.

In all the pictures of the crowded highways out of New Orleans, I didn’t see any busses.  I wonder why all the city busses weren’t loaded with people who didn’t have transportation or didn’t care enough about saving their cars to risk the traffic.  Seems that would have been a better alternative than housing people in the SuperDome.  But I’m way too far away to criticize local officials who seem to have done a great job of  getting people to take the storm seriously and start moving out early.

Even assuming New Orleans is spared a huge catastrophe, this storm probably will have long term effects.  It is likely that there has been damage to oil platforms and pipelines in the Gulf.  Perhaps we can buy time to repair them by releasing oil from the strategic oil reserve if we have to.  More serious will be damage to refineries.  Strained refinery resources were already a major contributor to high prices for gas and heating oil.  Anyone who’s flown into New Orleans on a clear night has seen the fires from the stacks of the refineries concentrated in this area.  Those of us on the East Coast who have so successfully resisted having any refineries built where we can see them or any oil wells drilled off our shores will have little to complain about if we have trouble refilling our SUVs.

Is the spate of recent strong storms a sign of global warming?  Don’t know.  Strong storms occur in cycles just far enough apart for us to get complacent and build out the beachfront.  The relatively mild hurricane seasons the East Coast had for the three decades before last year were somewhat of an aberration.  There is no doubt that warmer waters add to storm strength.  CNN said the Gulf waters are ninety degrees but I don’t know if that is above normal.  The Gulf of Mexico is the pot in which the Gulf Steam is heated.

Back to the television.  Please do contribute here if you haven’t already.  Many people need shelter; they may need that shelter for a long time before they can return to their homes – assuming their homes have been spared.

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