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The Good News On Katrina

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Someone commented (and I generally agree) that with all the stupid things happening in the world, forums like ours sometimes read like horror-stories; it can get depressing. "Highlight the good", he said, and I agree. How can a hurricane be anything but bad... its bad to start with... and bungling made it worse...

But, stop a moment... that is only because we take modern abilities for granted. We listen to the forecasts: Wilma was Cat-5, but now it is down to Cat-4... it's predicted track on the map is... This is so routine, that I take it for granted. So, I'd like to stop (in this post) to marvel at the thought that went into all this: the science that went into making some type of prediction possible, the weather balloons and satellites, the communication technology, the houses that are not washed away, but offer rooftops where their inhabitants can stay awhile, the planes that can fly supplies to a place many days away by horse-carriage... and so much more.

This Thanksgiving, survivors of Katrina have much to give thanks for: to all those who made the modern world possible.

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This Thanksgiving, survivors of Katrina have much to give thanks for: to all those who made the modern world possible.

Indeed. All one has to do is consider what happened in Galveston in 1900. Back then, there was no way of tracking hurricanes at sea so by the time people realized that a hurricane was coming, it was often too late. Nobody knows how many people died - estimates range from between 8,000 and 10,000 people. That is especially huge when one considers that the population of Galveston in 1900 was somewhere around 38,000. It remains the worse natural disaster in American history.

What is scary is what might happen if a major hurricane were to hit the New York City metro area - which is considered the third most at-risk major metropolitan area after New Orleans and Miami. A category 3 storm that was nicknamed The Long Island Express hit in 1938 causing extensive damage on parts of Long Island which were then largely undeveloped. If the same storm were to hit today, the damage would be catastrophic. There is an interesting website devoted to that storm at: http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/

The New York metro area, I suspect, has an even larger percentage of the population that does not own an automobile than does New Orleans. According to that website, storms move up the Atlantic coast much faster than they do across the Gulf allowing much less lead time for an evacuation. The Long Island Express traveled at 60 miles per hour. From the website:

New York's major bridges such as the Verrazano Narrows and the George Washington are so high that they would experience hurricane force winds well before those winds were felt at sea-level locations. Therefore, these escape routes would have to be closed well before ground-level bridges (Time, 1998). The two ferry services across the Long Island Sound would also be shut down 6-12 hours before the storm surge invaded the waters around Long Island, further decreasing the potential for evacuation.

A storm surge prediction program used by forecasters called SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes) has predicted that in a category 4 hurricane, John F. Kennedy International Airport would be under 20 feet of water and sea water would pour through the Holland and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels and into the city's subways throughout lower Manhattan. The report did not estimate casualties, but did state that storms "that would present low to moderate hazards in other regions of the country could result in heavy loss of life" in the New York City area (Time, 1998).

Pretty scary stuff. Ignore any damage that such a storm might cause - just imagine if Manhattan were largely cut off from the rest of the world without running water or electricity for many days on end.

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