What would you have done if Hurricane Ida had struck here, on a path similar to that of Hurricane Frederic? It would have been devastating and historic. Use the cliché, “we dodged a bullet,” but then use Ida as a lesson. One day, there will be a storm of similar magnitude here. Learn from it. Ida formed and struck Louisiana within three days.
One of the lessons from Ida is that you can’t directly compare impact from different hurricanes using one measurement. That would be like ranking athletes on one criterion. Initially, with predicted landfall 16 years from the day Hurricane Katrina struck, in the same part of Louisiana, many people made predictive comparisons based on wind category. Katrina had a landfall wind of 125 mph, Ida’s landfall wind was around 150 mph, but the extent of damage was less than Katrina’s. Katrina was a much larger storm, by the radius of hurricane-force winds. Katrina’s radius of hurricane-force winds was around 125 miles. Ida’s radius was 50 miles.
Katrina had been a Category 5 days before landfall. Ida was no higher than a category 2 until the morning of landfall. Those statistics explain how a larger and stronger Katrina, days before landfall, generated historic storm surge. The surging water had momentum even though the landfall wind was trending down. Ida’s surge was far more limited than Katrina’s, because of the much smaller storm size, and the late strengthening.
Last year, Hurricane Sally struck Baldwin County, 16 years to the day that Hurricane Ivan did, in the same spot. That’s another 16-year coincidence for landfall for two storms in almost the same location. There’s no science behind how that happened, that I could explain, but if you return to Earth in 500 years, the accumulation of time will certainly bring many more storms sharing anniversaries, and maybe by then someone can explain if there’s something unique about the 16 years. I doubt it.
Marvel at the many things you may now take for granted that we saw with Ida: Never before have we had as much detailed data. You have it on your smartphone where you can click on the NBC 15 weather app, click on your county, and find a detailed description and projection for all storm impacts. It’s way more information that I can ever convey to a mass audience. Satellite and radar have never had as high resolution as they have now.
Ida was unique in one positive way. All forecasts were highly consistent and highly accurate. You shouldn’t expect this for all storms but it’s a credit to decades of efforts by the entire meteorology profession and our partners who include researchers, professors, modelers, coders, storm chasers, hurricane hunters, and broadcasters. You get credit too, because your tax dollars support one of the best national weather infrastructures on Earth. Thanks.
– Alan Sealls is Chief Meteorologist at NBC15, and an adjunct meteorology professor at University of South Alabama.
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