“Usually, I feel prepared,” New Orleans, Louisiana resident Susan Morley-Zender told VOA when asked about the upcoming start of hurricane season, “but this year I’m a lot more worried.”
Hurricane season is a six-month window — June 1 to late November — in which the U.S. states along the Gulf of Mexico and much of the Atlantic coastline are at greatest risk of being devastated by a tropical storm or hurricane.
Meteorologists are paying attention to data and weather models, agreeing that 2022 could produce particularly treacherous weather for Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and — historically one of the US’s most stormy states — Louisiana. .
“We are predicting a 65% chance that the 2022 hurricane season will be above normal,” Matthew Rosenkrans, chief hurricane outlook forecaster for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told VOA. If Rosenkrans is correct, this will be the seventh year in a row that is normal.
Unable to predict the exact number of storms making landfall, NOAA this week issued an outlook that this year saw 14 to 21 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes in the ocean waters around the region. There will be storms.
This is frightening news for residents of south Louisiana, who are particularly exposed, due to the bay’s proximity.
“And the news is even worse because we’ve had some tough years in a row,” Morley-Zander noted.
Her home is still damaged by Hurricane Ida, which struck Louisiana last August as a Category 4 hurricane with 240 km/h winds.
The second most intense hurricane in Louisiana history, Ida left hundreds of thousands of residents with damaged or destroyed homes and without power.
“We have a loss of $145,000, and we have an impossible time getting the insurance company to cover it,” Morley-Zender said. “Our roof is still damaged, and our house needs to be destroyed, but here comes another hurricane season.”
a target for the storm
Morley-Zander said she is not alone.
“I was flying home recently, and you could still see hundreds of blue wires covering the roofs,” she said. “We haven’t recovered yet.”
Louisiana’s tendency to take direct hits by hurricanes has been well documented since the first French settlers arrived and began to keep records. But experts say the problem has gotten worse in recent years.
“The past few years have been extremely busy for the Gulf Coast, and Louisiana in particular,” said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Colorado State University. “There have been six hurricane-named landfalls in Louisiana over the past two years, four of which were hurricanes and three of which were major. By comparison, the state didn’t have a single major hurricane between 2006 and 2019.
What is to blame for the recent surge of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Gulf Coast region? According to experts, it is a confluence of many factors.
Seventy-five percent of these storms develop in the Atlantic Ocean between West Africa and the Caribbean. In recent hurricane seasons, the giant Bermuda-Azores High Pressure Facility has been positioned in such a way that it initiates more storm systems from the Atlantic Ocean into the Gulf of Mexico.
According to Zubin Zeng, director of the Climate Dynamics and Hydrometeorology Collaborative at the University of Arizona, “Once there,” “warmer-than-normal waters in the Gulf of Mexico make those storms stronger than they would otherwise be.”
They are due to warmer waters, climate change, Zeng said, but also to a multi-decade cyclical pattern that sees warming and cooling of the oceans. We are currently in the “warm” part of that cycle, increasing the likelihood of a stronger storm.
Adding to the confluence of factors is the La Nia climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that affects both Pacific and Atlantic hurricanes.
“While El Nio sends strong winds to the eastern side of the United States, which can act to break up tropical storms and hurricanes,” Zeng explained, “La Nia produces less wind, allowing storms to continue to strengthen. Is.
“And, above all, something called the Loop Current located in a specific part of the Gulf of Mexico in recent years that supercharged hurricanes have been moving toward Gulf Coast states,” he continued. “It’s warmer waters, and that’s how Hurricane Katrina and – until recently – Hurricane Ida were able to be so strong. So far this season, the Loop Current is positioned to do the same thing.”
To get ready
Zeng said 2005, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and 2021, when Ida hit the coast, were two of the most active hurricane seasons on record. Through his work at the University of Arizona, he believes this year will be more like the previous year than 2005.
While no one wants to repeat 2005 when Katrina caused more than 1,000 deaths and more than $100 billion in damage, this year’s forecast is still bad news for Gulf Coast residents still recovering from past hurricanes. are.
“It’s exhausting,” Chris Sisk told VOA. Sisk is a bankruptcy and debt settlement attorney in Louisiana. Many of his clients are struggling to make mortgage payments while overseeing repairs to their hurricane-damaged homes. “You’re either dealing with the aftermath of a major storm or preparing for another, imagining the worst and how it will affect you and your family. For people with limited incomes, it’s just harder.”
For example, in the South Louisiana communities of Terrebonne and Laforche parishes, more than 5,000 families are still waiting for — or temporary FEMA — housing while their hurricane-damaged homes sit unrepaired.
Anna Nguyen, NOLA Ready Communications Director for the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, explained, “This complicates preparations for the upcoming hurricane season, when we still have many people who are vulnerable because of the previous one. “
Still, city, state and federal officials say they are working hard to make sure New Orleans is ready if hurricanes strike this year.
Hurricane Ida, Nguyen said, showed the city government how important it was to prioritize the most vulnerable, including low-income residents, the elderly, non-homeed, without vehicles and residents who need uninterrupted medical assistance or Equipment that relies on energy-powered therapy.
But despite such efforts, challenges remain.
Experts say, for example, that requests for residents to prepare for hurricane season sometimes fall on deaf ears, despite the region’s recent and tragic history with deadly storms.
“There are many people who take hurricane season seriously, especially after so many damaging storms in recent years,” AccuWeather chief hurricane forecaster Dan Kotlowski told VOA, “but there are some who are complacent. – especially if their home has survived a storm.”
Hurricane Ida, Kotlowski said, is a good example, because New Orleans — the region’s largest city — bore the brunt of the storm. If the storm had flown only 25 kilometers to the east, the damage could have been more severe.
“You have a lot of old-time residents who can list all these storms that they’ve survived over the years,” he said, “but they’re missing a really important point.” We are no longer talking about the storms of 30 years ago. Today’s storms are traveling over warm waters. They happen more often, they are stronger and you have to prepare for them now.”
This is the annual process many Gulf Coast residents are now engaged in, coinciding with the start of hurricane season. They are making sure the generators are working, that they have evacuation plans and that they have an emergency supply of food and water ready.
It is a scary time for many and an uncomfortable time for all. In recent years, some have chosen to walk away rather than risk the uncertainty of another stormy weather.
However, most decide to stay.
“This is my house,” explained Timothy Smith, a New Orleans electrician. “It’s one of the pains of living in the coolest city in the world.”