One month after Ida, 4 key takeaways
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Ida is among the strongest hurricanes on record to make landfall in Louisiana, with its maximum sustained winds of 150 mph at landfall matching those of Laura (2020) and the ‘Last Island’ hurricane of 1856. One month after its landfall, here are four key takeaways from the historic storm.
1. The United States needs to modernize and harden its power grid
One month after landfall approximately 6,000 customers are still without power in some of the hardest parishes in Louisiana, with the majority in Lafourche, St. Charles, and Jefferson. Ida is now the 8th hurricane to knock out power to at least a half-million customers in the state since 2005, with 4 of the 8 occurring just in the last 2 years. And it only trails Gustav in terms of total outages since the Public Service Commission began tracking numbers in the early 2000s.
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers to modernizing and hardening our power grid, but I do know that power outages are typically the most far-reaching impact from landfalling hurricanes. Businesses close and lose revenue. Schools are closed, sometimes for weeks. And most importantly, life in general becomes more dangerous during outages. From excessive heat to the danger of using generators, recent storms such as Laura and Ida have actually seen a greater number of fatalities in the aftermath than during the storms themselves.
2. Modern hurricane forecasts are really good From the time of the very first advisory on August 26 to its landfall on August 29, the forecast from the National Hurricane Center had Louisiana in the crosshairs for a landfall from Hurricane Ida. And beyond the very first advisory, the forecast was locked on SE Louisiana as the likely landfall location. Sure, there were some small deviations, and we all remember how the storm made a slight right turn at landfall that spared Baton Rouge the worst, but those small deviations were well within the typical margin of error and track errors with Ida were below the long-term average. This is part of a continued trend toward better track forecasts that has been ongoing for a number of years. It wasn’t just the track forecast that was excellent with Ida though. In fact, it was noted by Meteorologist Tomer Burg that this was likely the first time that the National Hurricane Center forecasted rapid intensification beyond the first 24 hours in the initial advisory for a tropical system. The National Hurricane Center explicitly forecasted a major hurricane impact for Louisiana more than 48 hours before landfall. That is life-saving information when you’re in the impact zone.
3. New Orleans area levees weren’t truly tested
One of the recurring headlines from national news outlets as Ida approached centered around the idea that Ida would provide the first real test of the ‘Hurricane & Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS)’ in the New Orleans area since Katrina’s landfall in 2005. Some articles even indicated it could be a worst-case scenario for the city. Ida provided a modest test of the system but was far from a worst-case scenario.
While a track west of New Orleans is one that will generally leave the city more prone to storm surge, Ida was not a worst-case scenario or anywhere close to it. Peak surge values reported so far from gauges near the city are similar to or in some cases even below those reported with Category 1 Hurricane Isaac in 2012. These values are also well below those recorded during Katrina.
4. Louisiana needs to catch a break From 1851-2019, Louisiana averaged a major hurricane (Cat. 3-5) impact about once every 10 years. Ida became the third major hurricane to landfall in the state over the course of a year and two days. Laura made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 27, 2020, followed by Category 3 Hurricane Zeta on Oct. 28, 2020, and then Ida on Aug. 29, 2021.
Since the start of the 2020 season, Louisiana has been impacted by a total of 7 named storms, including 4 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. A frequent question I receive – can this be attributed to climate change? Scientists are still split on this particular issue, but a recent publication from NHC forecasters Dr. Chris Landsea and Erick Blake downplayed the potential linkage. Another summary from the National Climate Assessment notes mixed signals, but points out that rising sea levels will increase the storm surge threat, and that tropical cyclones are likely to produce heavier rains going forward.
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