New Orleans could be ground zero. Then again, Miami was the first target. Following that was Fort Meyers, Sarasota, and Tampa Bay, Florida. Instead, the storm decided to sneak through the Florida Straits near Key West. So then came Mobile, Pensacola, Panama City, Pensacola again, Mobile again, and Biloxi. But now, for the first time since Isaac was born, the National Hurricane Center’s line has been consistently pointed in the same direction for 24 hours, prompting swift actions from residents of New Orleans who were just about to mark the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Needless to say, Isaac has been a storm with little direction since day one. It hasn’t been the first tropical system to wander this season, though. Debby’s about-face in the Gulf of Mexico is very much fresh in our minds as we stare at yet another plot of what forecaster’s call the “spaghetti models“, those lines of potential paths the center of a storm might take.
“Don’t worry about the hurricane track. If they say to ‘go’, GO! A hurricane is not a point on the map.”
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is no stranger to hurricanes. He was the Chief of the Florida Emergency Response Team during the record-breaking seasons of 2004 and ’05 when a total of seven hurricanes hit in just two years. He says we should spend less time looking at the maps and more time listening to instructions.
It’s those instructions that weren’t followed by many residents of New Orleans (by choice or by circumstance) that led to one of the costliest and deadliest nature disasters in our country’s recent history. While Isaac may not be as strong as Katrina was, the storm definitely rivals her in geographic size.
Impacts from a tropical storm or hurricane can extend hundreds of miles from the center. An in Isaac’s case, how about more than 500 miles across! As of 2pm Monday, the center of Isaac was more than 300 miles from Gainesville, yet the city has seen persistent rain and gusty winds from Isaac for much of the day. In fact, a couple of stray reports of wind damage in Alachua County have even trickled in. Residents in Isaac’s large sphere of influence must remember the “cone of uncertainty” issued by the National Hurricane Center is a graphical representation of potential variance that the center might take, not necessarily the areas that are only likely to see damaging wind, surge, or flooding.
Many lessons were learned from Katrina, both on a local and federal level. Administrator Fugate summarized FEMA’s changes to their hurricane plans by explaining that a reaction is no longer a way to plan.
“We don’t wait until the hurricane hits anymore. We get people in ahead of the storm. We get supplies in ahead of the storm. We’re getting ready now, in fact.”