Unfortunately, when storms surge, New Orleans is in a vulnerable spot due to two main reasons. Firstly, this city sits on a low elevation in relation to sea level. Secondly, it lacks two natural defenses against a storm surge, barrier islands, and wetlands. For example, wetlands reduce every continuous mile of storm surge by three to eight inches. While it’s only a few inches, it can mean the difference between a dry or completely engulfed city. Hurricane season in New Orleans occurs during early June and late November and tends to peak in late August to early September.
Earliest Hurricane On Record to Ever Hit New Orleans
The earliest hurricane on record for New Orleans occurred on October 23rd, 1527. A Spanish settler, Panfilo de Narvaez, was sailing on a mission in the Gulf of Mexico. His orders were to settle Florida, but he was unsuccessful, and the natives forced him to leave. So Panfilo and his crew of 250 men and five boats sailed westward along the coast. However, as they were passing the mouth of the Mississippi River, a storm broke out and tossed the barges like pieces of wood. This event occurred 155 years before travelers rediscovered the location of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Where Do Hurricanes Normally Hit in New Orleans
Tropical cyclones that develop in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico threaten the city of New Orleans. And unfortunately, the entire Parish is susceptible to tropical storms and hurricanes.
How Often Do Hurricanes Hit New Orleans?
Sadly, Hurricane Katrina exposed how devastating a tropical storm can affect the entire city. Unfortunately, New Orleans has an 11% chance of getting hit by a hurricane each year. Furthermore, weather patterns show that a hurricane hits within 50 miles of the city once every 7 to 11 years. However, New Orleans has made significant improvements since Katrina destroyed the city and left it underwater. But, there is not much they can do for a city below sea level and the marshy coastal land that is sinking in southeastern Louisiana. Therefore, New Orleans is still extremely vulnerable to storm surges during a severe hurricane. So, to put it into perspective, the Mississippi River is approximately 30 feet above the city level. Additionally, the land around New Orleans is rapidly sinking, putting the city in a dangerous situation, especially during Hurricane season.
What Part of New Orleans Is the Safest from Hurricanes?
Unfortunately, the whole Parish is susceptible to hurricane devastation. However, there are neighborhoods on top of the city’s levees that don’t receive such severe flooding; these include:
- The French Quarter
- Certain areas of Uptown
The most at-risk areas lie east of New Orleans. During Hurricane Katrina, these areas were completely submerged by water. Areas like St. Bernard’s Parish are most at risk during a tropical storm.
Preparing For Hurricane Season in New Orleans
While the city has ramped up its severe hurricane protocol after Hurricane Katrina, it is still a good idea for residents to prepare before, during, and after the hurricane.
What to Do Before the Storm
Follow these easy steps to prepare for a heavy storm:
- Ensure your property and street are clean and free of clutter
- Get your home and flood insurance policies up to date
- Create a hurricane emergency kit and stock it up on essentials
- Secure your home
- Plan and map out an evacuation route
- Join a community or state emergency storm group that sends out alerts
What to Do During the Storm
- If there is a voluntary evacuation, weigh the pros and cons and decide whether to evacuate or find a suitable shelter.
- Be prepared to leave immediately if a mandatory evacuation is implemented.
- Stay updated on weather alerts.
- For any evacuation assistance, you can text EVACNOLA at 77295.
- If you are unsure where to go, use the Red Cross to find an open shelter.
What to Do After the Storm
- Document any property damage with photos or videos to make insurance claims easier.
- While cleaning your home or doing temporary repairs, wear personal protective clothing.
- Follow the local official’s instructions about if it is safe to return to a certain area.
How to Measure the Severity of a Hurricane
|74 to 95 mph
|Minor: While building damage is possible, it primarily affects older mobile homes, shrubbery, trees, and poorly constructed signs. Additionally, outdoor items become projectiles, and there are numerous power outages.
|96 to 110 mph
|Very strong winds cause widespread storms. It causes damage to doors, roofing, and windows. Furthermore, vegetation, trees, piers, and mobile homes can sustain considerable damage. It is possible for widespread power outages for several days, and glass windows from high-rises can dislodge and become projectiles.
|111 to 129 mph
|Extremely dangerous winds can cause structural damage to utility buildings and small residences with minor wall failures. Sadly, category three hurricanes can completely destroy mobile homes. In addition, many trees snap or uproot, and it is possible to have several days or weeks of power outages.
|130 to 156 mph
|Severe and dangerous winds cause absolute devastation. It can cause complete roof structure failure and some wall failures. Additionally, it can cause extensive damage to windows, doors, and trees. And unfortunately, power outages for weeks.
|More than 156 mph
|A catastrophic storm that causes complete roof failure on many industrial buildings and homes. Furthermore, it can result in complete building failures, and some small buildings can even blow over or away. Unfortunately, this could mean power outages for weeks or months.
Severe Hurricanes that Devasted New Orleans
While New Orleans has been hit with some severe storms during hurricane season, two hurricanes had a significant impact:
In August 2005, an extremely large and powerful hurricane called Hurricane Katrina caused mass destruction and loss of life. Additionally, the cost of damage was the highest in USA history, passing Hurricane Andrew that hit in 1992. Furthermore, this devastating hurricane was one of the five deadliest hurricanes that ever touched ground in the USA. For example, it was responsible for approximately 1,800 deaths and caused around $108 billion in damage. Due to the significant damage and loss of life, Hurricane Katrina received immense media attention, which helped with rescue and charity efforts.
Louisiana was hit by a devastating storm called Hurricane Betsy on September 9th, 1956. This devasting storm was the first Atlantic storm in United States history to produce over $1 Billion worth of damages. Sadly, it caused between 70 to 80 fatalities. As a result, the US Army Corps of Engineers created the Hurricane Protection Program. On August 23rd, 1965, Betsy started as a tropical wave southwest of Cape Verde. However, it soon transformed into a Category 3 hurricane in early September.
Betsy stalled for several days before hitting the Bahamas as a category 3 hurricane and caused its most severe damage between September 6th and 8th. Then it moved along the coast towards the Sunshine State, which caused flooding in the low-lying areas of the state. However, during peak hurricane season on September 9th, Betsy hit New Orleans as a category 4 hurricane, with winds reaching 140 mph. The storm surge resulting from Hurricane Betsy traveled all the way to Lake Pontchartrain. Additionally, around 164,000 homes flooded, most of which were situated in the Lower Ninth Ward, and it took ten days for the water to drop.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tad Denson/Shutterstock.com
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