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  • Hurricane Katrina: The Costliest Hurricane in United States History

    Hurricane Katrina - Flooding in Venice, LA - costliest hurricane Hurricane Katrina - Flooding in Venice, LA

    Last year was the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest hurricane in United States history. Since then, the major hurricane drought has continued, with 11 years and no major hurricanes, defined as Category 3, 4 and 5. In fact, in the last seven years only four hurricanes have hit the U.S., a streak not seen since the nation began keeping hurricane statistics in 1851.

    Still, the last 11 years have brought many lessons about hurricanes.

    First, the strength of a hurricane isn’t the best predictor of its destructiveness. Flooding and storm surge cause more death and damage than wind.

    Hurricane Katrina, was only a Category 3, on a scale of 1 to 5, when it made landfall in 2005. Sandy, the second-most expensive, was only a Category 1 when it came ashore in New Jersey.

    Hurricane Patricia, which hit Mexico in 2015, was the second-strongest hurricane in recorded history. Yet its storm surge was small, and it landed in a rural area, so damage was limited.

    Second, communication and transportation are key before, during and after a hurricane. After Hurricane Katrina, businesses had trouble communicating with employees and customers, according to a booklet by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina: Preparing Your Institution for a Catastrophic Event.

    Both land lines and cell towers were damaged. Mail was disrupted for a long time thereafter, so bill payments couldn’t get through and services got canceled as a result. Roads were washed out and infrastructure damaged so people couldn’t get to jobs or even evacuation centers. Once they were in evacuation centers, flooding and diverted transportation kept them from leaving.

    Superdome - via Tony's Huddle - costliest hurricane Inside the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina - via Tony's Huddle

    Take the Superdome, which became a symbol of the horror a hurricane can inflict. When the Superdome general manager agreed to open the building as an emergency shelter, it was originally intended to hold fewer than 1,000 patients with special medical needs for about two days, according to a story in For the Win, a subsidiary of USA Today.

    It eventually held 30,000 people for almost a week. Debris, water, and destroyed transportation corridors kept food, medical supplies, and fuel from getting to New Orleans. Phone service, including 911, was almost nonexistent.

    “When roads are flooded, washed out, blocked by trees and power lines, etc., it takes a while to get them back in order. That means you need to be prepared to get by for at least a few days and, much better, at least a couple of weeks on your own,” wrote Glenn Reynolds, an editorial contributor to USA Today, in a story about lessons from Katrina.

    On the other hand, the owner of Liedenhelmer Banking Company in New Orleans closed the company’s plant and encouraged his employees to prepare their homes and evacuate, according to a an article from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The company also kept phone numbers and evacuation contact information for key employees. After the hurricane, all his employees were safe, though many suffered losses. He later arranged for a carpool service to take employees in shelters to and from work.

    “What some of our folks faced and what they are still facing in their personal lives is heart-breaking. It is important to listen to the needs of employees,” he told FEMA.

    Third, financial systems break down during a hurricane. After Katrina, power outages and overwhelmed backup servers left banks without computer access, including access to customers’ financial information, according to Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina. In addition, some bank branches and ATMs were under water for weeks and others were severely damaged.

    Keep cash in small bills in a short-term emergency kit, suggested Ann House, coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at the University of Utah

    Emergency managers fear the lack of recent hurricanes is making people complacent. Katrina and other recent hurricanes taught that preparing for hurricanes beforehand can reduce problems after.

    "The farther we get from the last hurricane, the closer we get to the next one," National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen told USA Today.


    Hurricane_Blog_Banner - costliest hurricane

  • The Latest Heat Wave is Now

    I don’t want to complain about how hot it is out there, but two hobbits just ran by and threw a ring into the local park.

    As of the morning of Friday July 22, 2016, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago (among others) were placed under heat wave alerts. This is the first time in over a decade that these three major cities have all been under the same heat advisory. There are a total of 26 states under heat alerts.

    July 23 Heat Wave Index - NOAA

    The hot temperatures are going to all but permeate the nation this weekend with plenty of 100 degree readouts over the course of this weekend. With such extreme temperatures, be careful. Heat-related illnesses are prevalent during heat waves.

    CNN reminds everyone that hot temperatures are extremely dangerous even during the night while we sleep – sometimes even more deadly than daytime heat. They say that in order to recover from the day’s heat, temperatures must drop to at least 80 degrees. Otherwise your body will be hard pressed to recover, and this leads to extended heat exhaustion or death.

    If you can, keep the AC on. Just cranking up your fans in extreme heat conditions merely circulates the warm air, and is not an effective method to cool the place down. Staying cool is even more difficult in urban settings, due to the asphalt, concrete, and buildings trapping the heat which makes it “warmer during the day, but the real impact can be at night,” according to CNN.

    Since so much heat is absorbed into the asphalt and concrete, it is released much slower, increasing the temperatures a good 20 degrees hotter than in areas outside of the city. This makes it difficult for the cool night air to bring its much needed relief.

    Chicago Heat Wave - via Chicago Tribune Chicago Heat Wave of 1995 - via Chicago Tribune

    To illustrate the dangers of excessive heat, all we need to do is look back at the Chicago heat wave of 1995. It was July, and temperatures surpassed the 100 degrees mark. Due to the tar roofs, asphalt, concrete, brick buildings, and other urban heat traps, combined with humidity, made it feel like 125 degrees. The three-day heat wave left 739 people dead.

    Young children and the elderly are most likely to develop heat-related illnesses (i.e. heat stroke and heat exhaustion), and if not watched, could become critical. Even healthy individuals can become bogged down with heat, increasing their risk.

    To help counter the heat, drink lots of water. Keeping your body hydrated will lessen the chances of heat exhaustion. Also stay where the air conditioning is. Libraries, malls, movie theaters, and other public areas will be blasting the cool air, so plan to spend some time in those areas when you can. Stay off the streets. As mentioned above, the city’s asphalt, concrete, brick, and more will only add to the heat.

    Rest. It’s not worth overheating yourself just to get a few more things accomplished. If you’re feeling a bit too warm, take a break (you deserve one, anyway). Live Science also recommends leaving your sweat on your skin. This is your body’s natural way of keeping cool, so keep it there.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - heat wave

  • Top 5 Hurricanes to Make U.S. Landfall

    Hurricanes have been a prevalent part of the history of this country. Every year, hurricanes blow through and cause damage. Depending on the hurricane, the damage could be astronomical, or actually fairly mild (all things considered). While we’re in the middle of hurricane season, we thought it would only be natural to discuss some of the worst hurricanes to reach the U.S. mainland. Without further ado, here are the top 5 hurricanes to reach our shores.


    1. Hurricane Camille (1969)
    Hurricane Camille Beached Boats - Top 5 hurricanes Beached ships in Mississippi from Hurricane Camille

    Starting things off at number five is Camille, the hurricane that blasted Mississippi’s gulf coast in August, 1969. According to The Weather Channel, Hurricane Camille created a record-breaking storm surge of 24 feet in Mississippi. This record was only broken by Hurricane Katrina.

    Flash flooding in Virginia killed 113 people, and the storm itself killed over 140 people as it made landfall. Hurricane Camille’s wind speeds have never been known, due to the instrument that measures wind speed being destroyed by the storm. However, there are estimations that wind speeds reached 175 miles per hour. Hurricane Camille caused $1.42 billion in damages.


    1. Hurricane Andrew (1992)
    Damages from Hurricane Andrew - top 5 hurricanes Damages from Hurricane Andrew

    As far as size goes, Hurricane Andrew wasn’t very large. But, as the wise and wizened Jedi Master Yoda taught, “Size matters not.” With wind speeds reaching a sustained velocity of 175 miles per hour, Hurricane Andrew showed us that a hurricane should not be judged on size alone.

    This category 5 hurricane destroyed around 127,000 homes, marking its landfall with a price tag of $26.5 billion in damages. No previous hurricane – or other natural disaster, for that matter – had cost so much.


    1. The 1926 Miami Hurricane

    The Storm That Must Not Be Named crashed its way over Miami on September 18, 1926. Unfortunately, people weren’t as savvy in the ways of hurricanes back then, and as the eye of the hurricane passed over parts of Miami and Coconut Grove, people thought the storm was over. Just over a half an hour later, the eye passed and the hurricane picked back up while people were still outside.

    Around 150 people died due to flood waters, and over 370 died from the storm. The damages are thought to come out around $105 million. Convert $105 million from 1926 to what it’s worth now, and it’s up past $100 billion in today’s funds.

    1926_Miami_Hurricane Panoramic view of Miami after the hurricane - Top 5 hurricanes Panorama of Miami after the hurricane



    1. Galveston Hurricane (1900)
    Floating_wreckage near Texas City_Galveston_hurricane,_1900 - Top 5 hurricanes Wreckage near Texas City

    Flash back even farther to the dawn of the 20th century. Wind gusted at 120 miles per hour – weaker than many of the other deadly hurricanes mentioned – and yet the death toll was around 10,000 – possibly more. To date, this is the deadliest hurricane that has ever hit the United States.

    Interestingly, the storm continued northward – still blowing furiously in tropical strength through Kansas – and then weakened as it traveled up past the Great Lakes until finally it left the mainland over the North Atlantic Ocean. It doesn’t happen often, but apparently even Kansas can feel the effects of a hurricane.


    1. Hurricane Katrina (2005)
    Katrina - Flooding in New Orleans - Top 5 hurricanes Flooding in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina

    Coming in on top as the worst hurricane to ever reach the U.S. mainland is Hurricane Katrina. Still fairly recent, Katrina was a category 3 upon landfall, but its massive size made for widespread devastation as it passed through.

    Hurricane Katrina’s strong, onshore winds created a massive storm surge along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At 28 feet, this was the highest storm surge ever recorded in the United States. It traveled 6 miles inland, killing more than 200 people in Mississippi.

    Another storm surge raised water levels in the canals around New Orleans, making it overflow the levees and flood walls to flood the vast majority of New Orleans. Only 20% of the city was left unflooded. The cleanup process was extensive, taking six weeks to drain the flooded city. Over 1,500 people were killed in Louisiana.

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Top 5 Hurricanes

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