Sharper forecasts may help avert disasters

Sharper forecasts may help avert repeat of Katrina disaster

South Miami-Dade County as seen during a fire department aerial reconnaissance mission in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, in this photo taken August 26, 2005. The science of predicting hurricanes has come a long way since Katrina caught New Orleans officials off guard 10 years ago. A range of technological advances, from a new generation of satellites to supercomputers and unmanned drones, promises more-accurate forecasts that would increase public officials’ confidence in weather experts’ advice. In turn, that could lead to a more urgent response that would save lives. If authorities were quicker to heed warnings about the devastating potential of Katrina before it made landfall in Louisiana on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, some of the nearly 1,800 lives that were lost may have been saved, forecasters speculate. More than two days before the costliest storm in U.S. history struck, government forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami put out an advisory showing New Orleans could take a direct hit. But it was not until 36 hours later that the city issued mandatory evacuation orders, as experts had urged, leaving many at risk from flooding after levees broke. Max Mayfield, the center’s director in 2005, recalls placing an urgent call to New Orleans’ then-mayor, Ray Nagin, with a plea to take urgent action on Saturday evening. “I wanted to go to bed that night knowing we had done as much as we could to spare lives,” Mayfield said. Nagin, currently serving a 10-year prison sentence on bribery and money laundering charges related to Hurricane Katrina contracts, was not available for comment. Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana’s governor at the time, said Nagin was slow to issue the mandatory evacuation order but recalled how he had joined her on Saturday in urging voluntary departures. “To be fair, we had gotten the […]

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