Veteran Meteorologist Margaret Orr of WDSU-TV in New Orleans was all of us Wednesday night as Hurricane Laura loomed over the eastern Louisiana coastline, all of us who survived Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago this coming Saturday.
We watched the lit circle of hell about to be visited on the good people of east Texas and west Louisiana and knew what was coming.
The dire warning the National Hurricane Center sounded eerily familiar because it was. And we knew there was not a thing anyone could do but flee, flee, flee.
WDSU posted a short video clip of Orr’s Katrina flashback on Twitter.
A voice asks, “Margaret, do you have something?” and the intrepid Orr, trusted and watched across the Gulf Coast, strolls onto the set in front of a weather screen.
She is looking down at her cell phone as she walks. She wears a black dress that contrasts with the deep shade of red hair that frames her face and piercing blue eyes.
And then she looks up and tells her audience:
“Just have this key message from the National Hurricane Center and wanted to share it with you and it truly reminds me, shades of Katrina, right?”
And then she reads:
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“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves — “(and here she pauses, lets out a breath and fans her face) “will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park (Texas) to Intracoastal City (Louisiana). The surge could penetrate 40 miles.”
She looks at her phone briefly, holds up her hand, palm out, and, to avoid crying on air, says, “That’s all I’ve got to say,” and walks off the set.
“Unsurvivable storm surge.” Those words echoed for us all.
Dire hurricane weather bulletin issued
“Devastating damage expected . .
“Hurricane Katrina — a powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength . . . rivaling the intensity of Hurricane Camille of 1969.
“Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks . . . perhaps longer. At least one half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail . . . leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed.”
And it didn’t get better from there.
Measuring the strength of hurricanes
Some of those who survived Hurricane Camille stayed put. The Saffir-Simpson Scale measures wind, not surge. Many failed to factor in the surge of 30 feet in some places along the Mississippi Coast or flooding in the aftermath.
A total of 1,833 died in multiple states, although the count has vacillated.
Forecasters have learned since then. Hopefully, the warning about “unsurviveable surge” saved lives. Big wind fields push massive amounts of water ashore. And both Katrina and Laura had massive wind fields.
The damage will be tallied along the shore once the wind dies. But residents of the Mississippi Coast know it will be massive.
Hurricane Laura is the second most intense hurricane on record to make landfall in Louisiana, behind the 1856 hurricane with a landfall pressure of 934 and, like Laura, 150 mph winds. Laura’s pressure was 938, meteorologist Philip Klotzbach reported.
Katrina was listed at No. 5, with a pressure of 920 and Category 2 winds of 125 mph when it first made landfall in Louisiana.
Katrina’s second landfall as a Category 3 hurricane would devastate coastal Mississippi from shore to shore, then flood New Orleans when the levees failed.
“It’s been a sleepless night as Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, at 1:00 am this morning as a Category 4 hurricane,” Gulf Coast meteorologist Rocco Calacci, also a Katrina veteran, wrote in his Thursday morning newsletter.
And, near the end, he said:
“I expect to see pictures of complete devastation around the landfall area and Lake Charles will be re-building for years. As people get the chance to go outside and assess the damages, we will learn more about the power of Hurricane Laura.”