Tag Archives: Hurricane Katrina

NINE YEARS AGO – HURRICANE WILMA!

Nine years ago, on this 21 October 2014, a tropical cyclone for the record books, a strong category 4 hurricane WILMA came over the island of Cozumel in its final approach toward the region of Cancun and the northeastern portion of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 22 October 2005 showing category 4 Hurricane Wilma over the Cancun region in Mexico, before it tracked across the Gulf to hit Florida on 24 October 2005
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 22 October 2005 showing category 4 Hurricane Wilma over the Cancun region in Mexico, before it tracked across the Gulf to hit Florida on 24 October 2005

I assessed and documented damage caused by the passage of Wilma over the region, first in a study commissioned by the Quintana Roo State Government completed in early 2006 and then in my book “Paraiso Protegido: Hacia una cultura de mitigacion” (ISBN 978-607-401-556-0) published in February 2012. Additional discussion of the consequences of this hazard event and what we can do to mitigate future hurricane impacts will be the focus of my upcoming book “Hurricane Mitigation for the built environment”, which is scheduled to the see the public light in 2015.

Nine years! This is how long it has been since we have had a land falling hurricane anywhere in Florida. It is a long time and I already detect the influence of ‘hurricane amnesia’ on many fronts, from casual conversations to the actions of public officials regarding given projects that are given green light to proceed without considering potential consequences from future impacts, from recurring hurricanes, or the benefits of incorporating hurricane mitigation measures in the design criteria for such  proposed new projects.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 21 October 2014 showing a storm system over the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, which is moving in the general direction of Florida, and is expected to disturb our weather over the next few days
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 21 October 2014 showing a storm system over the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, which is moving in the general direction of Florida, and is expected to disturb our weather over the next few days

Today 21 October 2014 the Gulf of Mexico present rather warm waters and a large system of disturbed weather over the Yucatan peninsula exhibiting some cyclonic tendencies, which appears to be moving in the direction of Florida following a path not unlike the one followed by hurricane Wilma in 2005 as it stroke Florida from the west before traversing our peninsula on 24 October 2005. The official cost of damage figure from the impact of Wilma in Florida is $21.0 billion [in 2005 U.S. Dollars], but there are unofficial estimates reaching as high as $29.0 billion. And Wilma was a tropical cyclone that had been almost dismissively categorized as it approached Florida as “just a category 1 storm” by a weather forecaster on a local TV station.

Whether the amount of physical damage caused by Wilma was $29.0 or only $21.0 billion, it would appear to me as an exorbitant amount caused by a minor hurricane. Especially when considering Florida had endured four land-falling storms in 2004, and we had seen the disaster wrought by hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi after brushing over South Florida in August 2005. Not to mention the fact that  the media had provided excellent coverage of the monster storm that Wilma became in record time as it barreled from the central Caribbean toward the Yucatan peninsula in late October 2005. We had all seen or read about the damage Wilma caused in Cancun, Cozumel, the Maya Riviera and on the resort island of ‘Isla Mujeres’,  just before it proceeded to  turn in the direction of Florida. It is indeed puzzling to see how quickly we all forgot the hits received in 2004 and the graphic displays of damage and human suffering from Katrina, and from Wilma before it headed our way. Even more puzzling is to hear how many of us were surprised by the amount of damage hurricane Wilma left in South Florida.

Satellite image (NOAA) taken with the RGB filter in the afternoon of  20 October 2005 showing the cell of disturbed weather over the Bay of Campeche, extreme southwestern Gulf of Mexico, as it beginds to track generally east to east-northeast over the Yucatan peninsula and toward Florida
Satellite image (NOAA) taken with the RGB filter in the afternoon of 20 October 2005 showing the cell of disturbed weather over the Bay of Campeche, extreme southwestern Gulf of Mexico, as it begins to track generally east to east-northeast over the Yucatan peninsula and toward Florida

We ignore the signals of Nature at our own risk. Today’s storm system moving over the Yucatan in our general direction may be considered weak or disorganized, but it is large and it will generate storms, and rain, and wind, and surge, and potentially tornadoes as well, and lightning, and flying debris as it comes over our communities. So the potential for damage and for disruption of our daily lives is there. A signal from Nature, a reminder nine years later that we are vulnerable. If there are doubts about this, consider Bermuda and just a couple of days ago they got hit by tropical cyclones FAY and GONZALO in the span of just five days, such a small target in the middle of the Atlantic!

This satellite image (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory) captures the eye of hurricane GONZALO still partially over the northeastern portion of the Main island, in a tremendous feat of marksmanship by Mother Nature!
This satellite image (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory) captures the eye of hurricane GONZALO still partially over the northeastern portion of the Main island, in a tremendous feat of marksmanship by Mother Nature!

Nine years. A long time. But we must remain vigilant at all times. We must be prepared and constantly engage in the practice of mitigation to protect our lives, and property, and our communities and way of life for the next time that will surely come one day.

Nine years, a long time, in which our coastal communities have become even more vulnerable because the increase in population and growth of our urban built environment have placed more people and more property at risk. We are also more vulnerable because the inexorable march of sea level rise has relentlessly increased the potential for damage from the impact of storm surge and breaking waves when that next time comes knocking.

Nine years are a blink of the eye in Mother Nature’s terms. Will it be nine days, nine weeks, next year, or another nine years before our turn comes again to interact with a hurricane? Will we be again surprised by the amount of damage and the power of Nature? Will we be prepared and ready? And, until then will we practice mitigation to ensure that we indeed are prepared and ready? No one can predict when the next one will hit us, but it is up to each and all of us to determine what kind of outcome we will have when that next one  takes place!

IT’S BEEN NINE YEARS

It’s been almost nine years since Florida got hit by a hurricane. In fact during the 2004 and 2005 Atlantic hurricane seasons Florida got hit seven times by tropical cyclones including infamous KATRINA before it continued on its way to cause a major disaster in New Orleans and other places in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Florida also got hit by WILMA, after it had pounded the Yucatan Peninsula causing extensive damage in Cancun and the Maya Riviera, which wasn’t a major storm when it traversed South Florida from west to east generating $21.0 billion in damage.

Yes we have been lucky here in Florida for the past nine years, but have we really? In 2012 we got a taste of what a large storm can do, even when it passes at considerable distance from our shores, when SANDY caused  more than $100 million in damage in Florida. So not having a direct hit by a land-falling hurricane does not mean Florida can not be damaged by a tropical cyclone. Also, during this  relatively long period of calm the population of Florida has grown by more than 2.0 million, with most of that growth taking place in the coastal region, which is the most vulnerable to the   impact of hurricanes.

In reality, during this period of exemption from tropical cyclone impacts, the vulnerability of Florida has grown significantly in terms of population and urban development, which means there are many more and there is much more at risk today than when WILMA hit Florida in 2005. Also, the level of the sea has risen some more over the past ten years, which means that next storm surge generated by an approaching future hurricane will be higher, will travel faster and it will also have higher waves riding above it as it comes on shore. In  summary the next impact will be far more damaging that one caused by a hurricane of the same category ten years ago.

Super typhoon VONGFONG as seen from space (courtesy of NASA)  this Friday 10 October 2014
Super typhoon VONGFONG as seen from space (courtesy of NASA) this Friday 10 October 2014

To remind us of the power of tropical cyclones, super typhoon VONGFONG is approaching Okinawa, Japan today as a rather large system where hurricane strength winds are being felt almost 500 kilometers from the eye of the storm.

Projected track for super typhoon VONGFONG as it approaches Japan [Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory]
Projected track for super typhoon VONGFONG as it approaches Japan [Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory]

Another reminder closer to our neck-of-the-woods is a tropical depression bordering on tropical storm strength that is in the central Atlantic moving toward the northwest north of Puerto Rico today. While farther to the east a strong tropical wave west of the Cape Verde Islands rides along ‘hurricane alley’.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image [NOAA} of 10 October 2014 showing what could be the seventh-named tropical cyclone of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season moving between Puerto Rico and Bermuda followed by a large tropcal wave west of the Cape Verde islands
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image [NOAA} of 10 October 2014 showing what could be the seventh-named tropical cyclone of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season moving between Puerto Rico and Bermuda followed by a large tropical wave west of the Cape Verde islands

The truth is, the historical record, going back more than 162 years, shows Florida has been the most hurricane-vulnerable state in the country during this long period of time. Consequently all interests in Florida must be prepared, remain alert, and keep practicing MITIGATION!


UPDATE AS OF 11  OCTOBER 2014 AT 10:00 A.M.

Visible light satellite image (NASA) of 11 October 2014 showing Tropical Storm FAY, the sixth-named storm of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season
Visible light satellite image (NASA) of 11 October 2014 showing Tropical Storm FAY, the sixth-named storm of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season
Projected track for Tropical Storm FAY as of 11 October 2014 (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory based on NOAA data)
Projected track for Tropical Storm FAY as of 11 October 2014 (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory based on NOAA data)

Cyclonic activity in the North Atlantic basin is stirring, perhaps reacting to comments posted here on MITIGAT (ha, ha) or simply because Mother Nature will do what it does; the tropical depression in the central Atlantic has strengthened to become Tropical Storm FAY, the sixth-named tropical cyclone of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season. now aiming toward Bermuda.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 11 October 2014 showing Tropical Storm FAY and two tropical waves riding along 'hurricane alley'
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 11 October 2014 showing Tropical Storm FAY and two tropical waves riding along ‘hurricane alley’

This morning we also see two tropical waves riding the northern edge of ‘hurricane alley’, including a rather large and strong disturbance west of the Cape Verde islands. So there is plenty of fuel in the system in this later stage of the season warranting a reminder: Stay alert, be prepared, MITIGATE! Keep in mind, it only takes one hit to make it a bad day!

Satellite image (NASA) of 11 October 2014 of super-typhoon as it hits Okinawa VONGFONG
Satellite image (NASA) of 11 October 2014 of super-typhoon as it hits Okinawa VONGFONG
Latest projected track for super-typhoon VONGFONG as of 11 October 2014 (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory)
Latest projected track for super-typhoon VONGFONG as of 11 October 2014 (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory)

Elsewhere super-typhoon VONGFONG has weakened somewhat during the night, but remains a rather large and dangerous storm barreling over Okinawa as it turns toward the north and then the northeast over Japan’s major islands. VONGFONG is so large that it  is already affecting weather patterns over the  U.S.A. and Canada as it interacts with the jet stream of its north.

Projected track for Cyclone HUDHUD as of 11 October 2014 (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory) as it aims for the coast of India
Projected track for Cyclone HUDHUD as of 11 October 2014 (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory) as it aims for the coast of India

Over the Indian ocean in the Bay of Bengal tropical cyclone HUDHUD is strengthening somewhat as it moves toward the northeastern coast of India.