Hurricane Katrina revisited: a book review of The Storm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:56 PM GMT on March 26, 2007

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Last week's stinging report lambasting the Army Corps of Engineers for its failure to build adequate levees to protect New Orleans was written by "Team Louisiana," headed by Dr. Ivor van Heerden of Louisiana State University. He published a book last year titled, The Storm: What went wrong and why during Hurricane Katrina--the inside story from one Louisiana scientist ($17 at amazon.com.) Dr. van Heerden is cofounder and deputy directory of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center and director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes. He holds a Ph.D. in marine sciences from LSU, and serves as associate professor of civil and
environmental engineering there. Van Heerden had a very unique perspective of Katrina. He worked tirelessly in the decade leading up to the storm to improve our scientific understanding of how Louisiana's wetlands protect New Orleans from hurricanes. He also worked extensively with FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and political figures at the local, state, and U.S. Congressional levels to try to improve New Orleans' disaster readiness. In the aftermath of the storm, he provided support for the search and rescue efforts and plugging of the levee breaches, then headed one of the teams assigned to figure out what caused the levees to fail. PBS's NOVA did a nice story on him last year, featuring interviews with him from before and after Katrina.

Van Heerden is not afraid to speak his mind, and has made many enemies as a result. His criticisms in the book are far ranging, from university administrators to politicians to government administrators, particularly in FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. Some readers may not like the amount of criticism in the book, but I had no problem with it. Those responsible for the flooding of New Orleans, failed evacuation efforts, and tragically bungled recovery effort need to be held accountable, since it is crucial that we learn from our mistakes. Van Heerden also has considerable praise for the heros of the Katrina disaster--particularly scientists, the media, and recovery workers and volunteers who responded so magnificently.

Van Heerden is a big proponent of building a flood protection system that will protect Louisiana from a Category 5 hurricane. He proposes doing this by restoring wetlands, building armored levees, and installing huge flood gates on Lake Pontchartrain, similar to what the Dutch use to protect their country from the North Sea. I especially liked his continued emphasis on the importance of doing good science. He is not a fan of what politicians and business leaders do with good science: The science is the easy part. The hard part is overcoming the narrow-mindedness and selfishness of politics and business as usual. For decades the two have undermined plan after plan to restore wetlands, build new ones, and thereby protect people and property. They have played hell with improving the existing levee system. We must do better now, or we can kiss it all good-bye for good. I was not exaggerating in the introduction when I said that politics and business as usual in Louisiana will eventually put everything below Interstate 10 underwater. Science and engineering can save the day, but not if they're censored or manipulated. If that's to be the case, just shelve them and start packing. It's over.

The author is not a smooth and gifted writer--his writing is very blunt and somewhat clumsy, despite the help of his co-author, Mike Bryan, a professional writer brought in to make the book more readable. There are two nice graphics showing the Katrina flooding and the author's proposed flood control system, but most of the graphics are poor black-and-white hand-drawn diagrams. Still, I think the book is an important one to read, since van Heerden is an expert on both the science and the politics of the Katrina disaster. I found his descriptions of all the various political battles in the years leading up to Katrina particularly fascinating. His detailed treatment of how the levee system evolved, how it failed during Katrina, and how it should be rebuilt to prevent a future disaster are also interesting. I did skip over some of the more technical engineering details of the levees he presented, which were very detailed. Overall rating for The Storm: two and a half stars.

Van Heerden is pessimistic that the politicians and Army Corps of Engineers can be trusted to make the right decisions to bring about what Louisiana needs--protection from a Category 5 hurricane. Yet, he will continue to battle on for this goal, concluding the book with this cry to action:

As a nation, lets take up the "Rebuild!" battle cry. Now is the time to put politics, egos, turf wars, and profit agendas aside. We owe it to the thirteen hundred Americans who died in the Katrina tragedy. We owe it to their survivors and to all future generations. It's now or never. Let's show the world what we're all about, here in America in the twenty-first century.

I'll have a new blog Wednesday or Thursday.
Jeff Masters

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53. weatherboykris
6:23 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
52. hurricane23
2:23 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Yea LOL...
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
51. weatherboykris
6:22 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Is that Alpha on the right?
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
50. weatherboykris
6:22 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Still two months Taz.
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49. hurricane23
2:21 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Intensifying before landfall.


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48. weatherboykris
6:21 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Yes,I do MP.And without that front,it wouldn't have had as good of outflow and may not have stregnthened.We can never be certain what would've happened.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
47. Tazmanian
11:20 AM PDT on March 26, 2007
Posted By: weatherboykris at 11:18 AM PDT on March 26, 2007.

Wow.I can't wait for hurricane season.

LOL me to is her her yet is it her yet?????
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115241
46. weatherboykris
6:20 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Ouch

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45. MisterPerfect
6:17 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Wilma also had a hug front that moved it quickly to Florida. Imagine if it had time to slow down and reintensify as it pushed over sw fla..remember how cold it was just a few hours after Wilma?
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44. hurricane23
2:19 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Starting here turn towards south florida.


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43. weatherboykris
6:18 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Look at how it was spreading clouds cross South Florida already on Friday afternoon.Huge storm.
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42. weatherboykris
6:17 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Wow.I can't wait for hurricane season.
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41. hurricane23
2:17 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Different view.


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40. weatherboykris
6:16 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
One branches off from another.
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39. weatherboykris
6:15 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Notice the concentric eyewalls.
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38. hurricane23
2:14 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Completely devowered those people...

Close-up infrared view from my wilma album.


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37. weatherboykris
6:12 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Well,then it would've stayed further south and those Cat 3 or 4 winds in the south eywall would've stayed in the Straits.
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36. hurricane23
2:10 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Correct.
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35. weatherboykris
6:09 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
You're talking about staying offshore of the Yucatan,right?
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34. hurricane23
2:03 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Look what hurricane wilma did to miami and all we saw here was CAT1 winds maybe a few gusts to CAT2 in very few areas.If wilma had tracked a few miles south the florida keys would have been in a horrible situation.Another very important point if wilma would have stayed offshore we could have easily seen CAT3-4 winds in the heart of miami.Extremely favorable conditions were in place during here very unforgetable pressure drop.
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33. weatherboykris
6:06 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Look at the overshooting tops in the rainband to it's west.The forward one.
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32. weatherboykris
6:06 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
What...a...storm

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31. weatherboykris
6:03 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
It was perpendicular to the coast.Isn't that ideal for storm surge?
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30. hurricane23
2:02 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
I believe because it did hit at the right angle.
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29. weatherboykris
5:59 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
How come Andrew's surge wasn't as large as other Cat 5's?
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28. hurricane23
1:56 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
I can tell you from experience as ive been threw Cat5 winds before 150-160 to be exact.Its a terrifiing thing to have to experience something like that and i sincerely hope and pray that nothing like that plays out this season.
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27. ProgressivePulse
5:55 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
It would have been similar to the damage seen in Andrew! Those homes are not constructed to latest codes.
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26. weatherboykris
5:54 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
I'm sure it can.What if it had been a Cat 5?Not only would the surge have been a problem,but the wind would have demolished homes as well.
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25. hurricane23
1:53 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Kris 2 months but the overall steering pattern will not begin to reveal itself for another couple of months.
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24. hurricane23
1:49 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Katrina was indeed devastating and remember katrina was only a cat3 at landfall.Believe me it can get much worse.
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23. weatherboykris
5:51 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
The Atlantic season in just about 2 months.
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22. weatherboykris
5:51 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
The EPAC season begins in just a month and a half.
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21. hurricane23
1:45 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
I think its still early kris and remember things can change there's still 2-3 months before we can begin to really know what steering pattern will be in place.Right now its anybodys guess.Adrian
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20. weatherboykris
5:47 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
On the other hand,the property damage is the government's fault.They knew about the problems with the levees,they knew about the inherent risks hurricanes pose to the city,and yet out of stupidity or corruption they did nothing to fix it.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
19. weatherboykris
5:46 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
JeffM,I can't say I disagree with you entirely.The ingorance of the the general populace,as far as taking evacuation orders seriously,is astounding.To me,if an evacuation order is issued,you leave!You can talk about how they didn't have cars all you want,but fact is that they had 36-24 hours of warning to leave.Walk out,if there are no other options!
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18. hurricane23
1:43 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Thanks for posting that link pulse.Rob has a great website and updates his blog often.
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17. weatherboykris
5:44 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Yep,it looks like Florida's in for it this summer.
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16. JeffM
12:43 PM CDT on March 26, 2007
If more people would have evacuated NOLA like they were told to, there wouldn't have been so many deaths. Stop blaming the Government.
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15. ProgressivePulse
5:39 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Here is the link Kris was referring to! About a repeat of 04!

I am starting to heavily agree with his forcast as time goes on!
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14. weatherboykris
5:27 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
It says the SSTs in the Pacific are getting colder,and that a La Nina is still possible.
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13. Tazmanian
10:26 AM PDT on March 26, 2007
: weatherboykris what dos it say what dos it say???
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12. weatherboykris
5:24 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Someone else said:"A hurricane hitting new Orleans with the current levee system will kill thousands."No one listened,no one cared,because it would cost too much tax money to fix the system they knew was broke.And look what happened.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
11. franck
5:16 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
weatherboykris...not to be critical but the Fed is not the God of the land. Ours is a republic, and the major responsibilities are left to the individual states with common good being promoted through the federal government.
It was the responsibility of the people of Louisiana to properly recognize their problem and address it, with project funds which would have been matched by federal revenue $4 to $1.
Somebody said, 'a government which can provide everything can take everything away'.
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10. weatherboykris
5:14 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
The CPC ENSO update is already out.
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9. hurricane23
1:11 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Not until the 28th...ENSO update.
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8. Tazmanian
10:13 AM PDT on March 26, 2007
i dont no i think it may be late
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7. weatherboykris
5:07 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
The ENSO update is out?
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
6. Tazmanian
10:04 AM PDT on March 26, 2007
its monday and you no what that means
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5. weatherboykris
4:59 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Some readers may not like the amount of criticism in the book, but I had no problem with it. Those responsible for the flooding of New Orleans, failed evacuation efforts, and tragically bungled recovery effort need to be held accountable, since it is crucial that we learn from our mistakes. Van Heerden also has considerable praise for the heros of the Katrina disaster--particularly scientists, the media, and recovery workers and volunteers who responded so magnificently.


They should be held accountable.All the warnings,and they did nothing to stregthen the levees?Everyone knew it would happen someday,yet they still did nothing about the problems.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
4. weatherboykris
5:03 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Crown Weather seems to think a repeat of '04 is coming.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
3. hurricane23
13:01 EDT le 26 mars 2007
Thanks Dr.Masters hopefully this season we wont see any damage along a U.S. coastline.Use this time wisely to prepare and have a hurricane plan in place come june1.Adrian
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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