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What We Can Learn from Hurricane Katrina

Lessons we can learn from this storm

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Tracking Katrina

Overnight August 25, a barely-a-Hurricane Katrina pelts South Florida's Miami-Dade and Broward Counties dumping over a foot of rain, toppling trees and power lines and damaging homes and businesses. Although referenced by meteorologists as a "minimal" hurricane, the Category I storm would cause significant damage across South Florida. Over 500,000 residents find themselves in the dark and some will wait a week for power to be restored. Damage is far more than expected and the $100 million so far price tag for just Miami-Dade County is certain proof that there is no such thing as a minimal hurricane.

Along the way, the storm also sweeps the Florida Keys. Even as Katrina emerges off Florida's southwest coast and treks westward, she grows larger causing the islands to be lost under a vast cloud of heavy rain for yet another day or two.

In the meantime, residents of Florida's storm-weary Panhandle begin the grim task of preparing for yet another hurricane. The computer models that modern-day forecasters rely on are sending Katrina their way. In fact, residents up and down Florida's West Coast are on edge. Katrina is projected to skirt the coast just close enough to cause significant problems — heavy rain, local flooding, storm surge and beach erosion.

Katrina proves stubborn though and continues westward far longer than expected. Now new computer models have her making landfall farther west than originally forecast, and although Florida's Panhandle isn't out of the woods yet, the mood is more relaxed. Meanwhile, it is the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico that feeds Katrina and like a storm on steriods, she builds in size and strength. Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, is now preparing for a direct hit.

Late August 28, Hurricane Katrina, by now a dangerous Category V storm, jogs slightly eastward and the next morning slams into Mississippi's Gulf Coast (near Biloxi) as a Category IV hurricane. New Orleans is spared the worst of Katrina's initial punch, but suffers catastrophic loss the next day as leeves are breeched and broken causing the entire city to flood. The storm leaves behind unbelievable devastation throughout the Gulf Coast. Even Pensacola feels the storms wrath, but lucky escapes without major damage.

Things We Can Learn from Katrina

  1. We need time to prepare.
    Hurricane Katrina seemed to appear out of nowhere. Instead of being born off the coast of Africa and taking days or weeks to reach North America, she formed in the Caribbean. Just two days before Katrina made landfall in South Florida, she was just an unnamed tropical depression located about 175 miles southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas.

    Just three days after emerging off Florida's southwest coast, Katrina is bearing down on the North Central Gulf Coast. In just three days she has changed from a Category I hurricane to a Category V — a very massive and dangerous storm.

    It takes time to prepare for a hurricane and certainly more time to take precautions to protect property and conduct more thorough evacuations might have meant less damage and less loss of life. It is important to keep a close eye on weather reports during the regular hurricane season, so we can begin preparations quickly if necessary.

  2. There is no such thing as a "minimal" hurricane.
    When a tropical storm or hurricane is forecast to affect Florida's weather, I not only go to the National Hurricane Center for information, I watch several different news programs to get varying views on its projected path and expected effects. I heard more than one meteorologist call Katrina a "minimal" hurricane. There is no such thing. According to the Saffir-Simpson Scale, to become a hurricane, a storm must have sustained winds of at least 74 m.p.h. or greater. Just ask anyone in South Florida and they'll tell you that is enough to do considerable damage.

    I hope they quit using the term "minimal" because it may have lured too many in South Florida to forego preparations that might have endangered lives.

  3. Hurricanes are unpredictable.
    If Floridians didn't learn this lesson last year with Charley, many more have learned it this year with Katrina. Although tools and methods for predicting storms have improved over the last few years, forecasters cannot predict with absolute certainty what these giant storms will do next.

  4. Be prepared.
    Every year Floridians are encouraged to gather supplies in advance of hurricane season. Yet, it seems we live in a state of procrastinators. When a storm threatens, there are scores of people standing in long lines for a dwindling supply of flashlights, batteries and plywood. Accumulating these items well before the start of hurricane season June 1st will give you a head start on specific storm preparations.

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