The SciGuy is worried about how Houston will handle the next Rita (or worse, a Rita that actually hits Houston). Money quote:
If anything, Rita provided a longer-than-usual time for emergency planners to call for and implement an evacuation. Next time there may well not be as much time, and those looking to escape the winds during the height of the storm will have few options.
Lots of good thoughts in comments, too.
The anniversary of Hurricane Rita’s landfall near Lake Charles, Louisiana recently passed without much notice in the media, and without any mention on this blog. I certainly remember well the weekend of Rita’s landfall, as it occurred during the most hectic week of my life, and I noticed the anniversary’s approach, but I was remiss in failing to blog about it. Brian Neudorff blogged about it, though. Also, Gus Van Horn sends along a three-part post on his own personal Rita evacuation story: Part I, Part II and Part III.
You can read my posts about Hurricane Rita from last year in my Rita category.
Will there be a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico this weekend? The Canadian computer model thinks so. Here’s its forecast for Saturday morning:
That green-and-blue area northeast of the Yucatan represents a tropical low-pressure system. But Adam Moyer at The Storm Track isn’t buying it: “I don’t see this scenario playing out because there is nothing out there right now for a storm to develop from.” Mark Sudduth at HurricaneTrack (which, annoyingly, doesn’t seem to have permalinks enabled) agrees: “It is interesting to watch a few of the global computer models since some of them are indicating development in the Caribbean. Right now, there are no signs of that taking place and the NHC is not concerned about any specific areas for the time being.”
Getting back to The Storm Track, Moyer notes in the same post that, contrary to my previous alarmism, the sea-surface temperatures in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico are actually now lower than what they were last year. (About that previous post… Charles Fenwick took me to task somewhat, noting that “SSTs can be volatile on a daily basis” and therefore “it is more useful to look at at a longer term average and compare it to a long term norm” — a strategy which produces a less alarming result. Fenwick’s visual evidence of my error was not entirely accurate, but his overall point was sound.)
Now then, on to some more political hurricane-related topics… specifically, for starters, global warming. We’ve already had a brief brush fire on that topic today, so why not start an all-out flame war? :)
There is, of course, a ongoing rollicking debate about global warming… and a second ongoing rollicking debate about the debate itself, questioning whether the debate over global warming’s existence is really a debate at all, or just something “cooked up in Texas” (to borrow a phrase), a faux-debate sponsored by the oil companies and the Republicans to advance Chimpy W. HitlerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Evil Hegemonic Halliburtonization of Mother Earth.
Follow-up to Brian’s post… according to General Honore (speaking with Anderson Cooper on CNN), the cows in coastal Louisiana who survived Rita are “scared and confused,” and they’re drinking the brackish water, which changes their temperament — making them agitated — and causes them to “excrete more of their bodily fluids,” thus losing weight. The cows are in danger, people!!! SAVE THE COWS!!!
I know this is a serious business — people’s livelihoods and all — but damn, it’s also funny. Mooooooo. :)
P.S. I apologize for the awful pun in the title of this post. May the Gods of humor have mercy on my soul. :)
UPDATE: A suggested graphic for CNN, to be aired with the requisite melodramatic music (and perhaps some background mooing):
According to a CNN article, one big casualty of Hurricane Rita has been livestock: “U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russell Honore said he feared between 4,000 and 5,000 cattle had died in the storm.” Oh my — will this result in a beef shortage? How much of an increase will we see in price for a quarter pounder at McDonalds, or a Big Bacon Classic at Wendy’s?
(Is Cheap Beef a Bad Habit that we need to get over? Probably.)
Update: Choice quote from CNN:
“The big thing now is the focus on keeping the cattle alive,” said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the military task force in charge in Louisiana.
Think of the little calves. Think of what “0157:H7″ means when a cow is swimming in flood waters.
The Wall Street Journal today has an interesting chart showing the percent of normal oil and natural gas production before and after Katrina and Rita.
Cameron, Louisiana is basically destroyed, and as many as 1,000 people may be stranded, according to CNN.
UPDATE: On a lighter note, police in Lake Charles caught a group of looters stealing DVDs from a porno store. Heh.
Meanwhile, Houston is getting back to normal, and along the Texas coast, “Gov. Rick Perry said Saturday he saw plenty of damage during a helicopter tour over the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, but added: ‘There’s none of that just-down-to-the-foundation devastation that we saw out of Mississippi’ after Katrina.” But there is still $8 billion of damage in Texas, according to Perry.
Southwestern Louisiana, specifically the Lake Charles area, seems to be the hardest-hit region, as indicated by the fact that Lt. Gen. Russel Honore is in Lake Charles. More from the Lake Charles American Press blog, and at LakeCharles.com.
In New Orleans, the water is receding as pumping resumes, and Mayor Ray Nagin is planning to resume the re-population of his city. Awesome idea, Ray. Awesome.
There was one death in Mississippi from a Rita-spawned tornado. So far, that’s the only reported death directly caused by Rita.
The good news on now-Tropical Depression Rita: she’s not going to stall out, as previously predicted, but instead will move away to the northeast, according to the 11:00 PM EDT NHC discussion:
THE DEPRESSION IS CERTAINLY CAPABLE OF PRODUCING LARGE RAINFALL TOTALS FOR AT LEAST THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS… EVEN THOUGH IT IS FORECAST TO MOVE A LITTLE FASTER TOWARD THE NORTHEAST THAN THE PREVIOUS ADVISORY…AND PERHAPS MERGE WITH A FRONT IN ABOUT THREE DAYS AS SUGGESTED BY MOST OF THE GLOBAL MODELS.
If that new forecast pans out, there will be less inland flooding than expected, and no sequel. Here’s the official track:
The 11:00 PM was the National Hurricane Center’s final advisory on Rita. Further advisories will come from the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.
The bad news: In coastal towns in southern Louisiana, the water is still rising for some reason — in some cases 6-12 inches per hour — and people are getting stuck in their flooded homes, including some people who evacuated and then returned too soon! According to Anderson Cooper on CNN, Governor Blanco says as many as 300 people may still be trapped. A major search-and-rescue operation is underway.
CNN also obtained some incredible video taken by a guy whose home was invaded by flood waters this morning. You could see all sorts of household appliances floating around.
The Storm Track ponders the possibility that Rita might do a clockwise loop and return to the Gulf of Mexico. According to Dr. Jeff Masters, “She would no longer be a tropical cyclone at that point, and redevelopment is not expected.” I’m not sure how he can be so confident of that, though. Remember Ivan?
“Significant flooding” in Port Arthur, and wind damage in Beaumont making it look like the city was “bombed out,” according to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX). The phrase “bombed out” is a quote from Beaumont’s mayor, as relayed by the senator.
In other news, Miles O’Brien on CNN rescued a puppy from a collapsed building. Aww.
UPDATE: “No reported deaths at this time” in any of the affected states. –R. David Paulison, acting director, FEMA. Although, as Mad Max points out, Rita took 24 lives before she even got close to land, in that evacuation bus explosion.
Along Louisiana’s coast, hundreds are being rescued from homes in shoreline fishing villages that are flooded with up to six feet of water. The AP also notes that while “most of Rita’s victims are by no means wealthy…they are less likely to live in poverty, more likely to own a car, and less likely to be a member of a minority group than were Katrina’s victims.”
Meanwhile, in the wake of new New Orleans flooding from Rita, the WWL-TV blog quotes the N.O. police chief as saying: “I don’t know if this area (the Lower Ninth Ward) will come back. I don’t know if they can protect this area from the weather.”
UPDATE 2: Also from the WWL-TV blog:
There are a few dozen homes under water [in Lake Charles], but expectations were for far worse damage. … Officials thankful damage wasn’t worse. Most of downtown Lake Charles was spared. …
Some of the worst damage reports from hurricane Rita area coming out of Vinton, on the Texas border, where several fires were burning this morning and the roof was torn off a recreation center.
A riverboat casino and a barge in Lake Charles were knocked loose and floating free. The barge slammed into the Interstate 10 bridge spanning the Calcasieu River, which was closed while authorities inspected the damage.
Trash cans and fallen trees were strewn about downtown Lake Charles and casino parking lots near the lake were under about a foot of water. But fears of serious flooding in the city not far from the Texas line were unfounded.
They weren’t unfounded, they just thankfully didn’t come to pass.
More on the coastal areas:
There’s widespread flooding in coastal parishes along the Gulf of Mexico as Hurricane Rita tore away rooftops and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across southwestern Louisiana.
Authorities had trouble reaching some stranded residents because of blocked roads and savage winds, but there were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries.
The region of refineries, ranches and sugarcane fields was largely evacuated ahead of the storm, but some residents stayed behind and were rescued by boat and helicopter.
There were no initial reports of damage to oil refineries along the coast, but industry officials and analysts cautioned it was still too early to assess the full impact.
And, more on New Orleans:
Hurricane Rita produced less rain than expected today in storm-tested New Orleans, but outlying areas south of the city were flooded by a storm surge.
Only about three inches of rain was expected throughout the day from the storm’s outer bands, much less than had been forecast. Weather service meteorologist Phil Grigsby says overall, it looks like New Orleans has lucked out in that it didn’t get the heaviest rainfall.
But south of the city in low-lying Jefferson Parish, a storm surge of 6 to 7 feet swamped some neighborhoods. Residents of Lafitte, a town of 1,600 about 21 miles south of New Orleans, were being evacuated by bus.
Good news: Beaumont, Texas, though hit hard by Hurricane Rita, was not devastated, thanks to the storm’s last-minute right turn. And despite trees and power lines falling, windows breaking and fires burning, Houston and Galveston also escaped the worst (as it became clear yesterday that they would). Rita’s track was really the best-case scenario (to the extent there is such a thing), as the most severe impact was in sparsely populated Cameron Parish, Louisiana, which will limit both the human toll and the structural damage. That said, “parts” of Port Arthur, TX were flooded by the storm surge, even in the left-front quadrant of the eyewall. “It could be pretty bad,” said a city official.
Also, “the oil industry, especially the concentration of refineries in the Houston-Texas City area…escaped major damage.” But there will still be a gas-price spike. “Hurricane Rita turned out to have less punch than Katrina, but its impact will still be felt at the pump.”
Also, let’s not forget that Hurricane Rita is not over. The storm is expected to stall out over northeastern Texas and dump copious amounts of rain on Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana over the next several days. Don’t forget that inland flooding is actually the biggest killer in tropical cyclones, and Rita could be a poster child for that fact. Let’s hope not.
With regard to the coastal impact, let’s be clear about something. I don’t want to hear any carping about how Rita was “overhyped,” or how the evacuations were unnecessary, or how the National Hurricane Center screwed up. That’s all a bunch of bulls**t.
For anyone who heeded the NHC’s constantly repeated directive to look at the “cone” rather than the “black line,” the forecast was accurate — the Texas/Louisiana border region was consistently within the “cone” in recent days. There’s a good reason the NHC emphasizes the “cone” rather than the “line” — hurricanes are unpredictable beasts, and our forecasting technology is simply not good enough yet to be reasonably certain of anything more precise than the “cone.” Also, with regard to the storm’s intensity, the NHC predicted that Rita would weaken during the final day before landfall; they said it would make landfall as either a Cat. 3 or a Cat. 4, and it did. No screw-up there, either.
As for the evacuations of Houston and Galveston, they were absolutely the right decision, because it’s impossible to know for sure at 2-3 days out which portion of the “cone” a storm will head towards, and if it had headed towards Houston/Galveston, it would have been devastating… and if the authorities had waited until they were more certain it was heading towards Houston/Galveston, it would have been too late to evacuate everyone (cc: Ray Nagin). Also, although the weakening was expected, it was not certain. What if it had come ashore as a Cat. 5? If you were Rick Perry or the mayor of one of these cities, would you have taken that chance?
And the “hype” was right on. The reason this storm did less damage than feared is because we got lucky. The precise track it happened to follow took the right-front quadrant over sparsely populated areas, and the extent of weakening caused the more populated, developed areas to see far less damage than they could have if things had gone slightly differently. These are variations that simply cannot be predicted with any accuracy hours — let alone days — in advance, and as we saw with Katrina, it is absolutely essential that authorities prepare for the worst, not assume the best (or split the difference between the two).
Anyone who publicly opines that Rita was “overhyped” is actively and irresponsibly contributing to a dangerous sense of complacency that might convince residents to stay put the next time evacuation orders are issued. The correct thing to say is, “we got lucky,” always emphasizing that the evacuations were absolutely correct, the dire warnings with thoroughly justified, and we might not be so lucky next time.
P.S. Admittedly, I haven’t yet heard these arguments made yet. But I’m sure I will. They have certainly been made after other storms that turned out less bad than they could have been, such as Ivan last year, and I believe the misconception that those lucky outcomes were really examples of hurricane “hype” — i.e., that the storms were never really as threatening as the NHC and local officials said they were — is one of the reasons some people didn’t take Katrina as seriously as they should have. So this post is a pre-emptive strike on my part, attempting to remind people: Let’s not make that mistake again.
I meant to stay awake until landfall, but I fell asleep just after 1:00 AM. Sorry! Here’s the radar view from 2:37 AM CDT/EST, pretty much the precise moment of landfall:
UPDATE: As of 1:10 AM, here’s the latest look at Rita’s wobbles: