The 2019 U.S hurricane season is just getting underway, and all eyes are on a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico which is expected to intensify over the next 24-48 hours, likely becoming a tropical storm or potentially into a Category 1 hurricane before making landfall. What is unique about this system, is that New Orleans is going to be under the pump, with the levee system being tested to its maximum capacity for the first time since Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.
Currently, there is a tropical depression located over the Northern Gulf of Mexico. This system has been slowly intensifying over the past several days with models maintaining confidence on the system reaching at least tropical storm strength (the equivalent of a Category 1 or 2 Australian tropical cyclone) and a few models as well as the National Hurricane Center indicating that it may reach Category 1 hurricane strength prior to landfall over the weekend. While the system is expected to pack a punch with winds of 140-170km/h along, its the rainfall (flooding) and storm surge which are expected to be of the greatest threat.
Since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina occurred, New Orleans hasn’t really had a test of its levee system which famously failed during that event and lead to over 50 levee breaches across the region and unprecedented flooding that claimed well over 1000 lives. While we are certainly not forecasting anything like that, there are some signs that a hydrological disaster “could” occur again. The Mississippi River has been above major flooding now for 6 months thanks to off-season heavy rain, snow melt and in-season heavy rain, as well as upstream assistance. Over the past 48 hours, tornadic storms have impacted the New Orleans metro area and lead to torrential rainfall rates that produced significant flash flooding… now Barry is expected to make landfall West to South West of New Orleans which will push the storm surge straight into the New Orleans area, as well as another 100-200mm of rainfall likely and falls of up to 500mm West of New Orleans being possible. This entire combination has lead to the National Weather Service predicting the Mississippi River in New Orleans to peak at 20 ft on Saturday – this would be the highest level in 92 years (higher than Katrina) and just 1ft below the record 21.3ft!
A state of emergency has already been declared for Southern Louisiana, and while we definitely hope this ‘worst case scenario’ doesn’t pan out, we hope that if it does… everyone has taken the necessary precautions to ensure they have maximised their safety. Fingers crossed the river peaks are lower than predicted and that the levee system does its job!