Hurricane Katrina: Causes and Effects

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In late August of 2005, a hurricane surfaced over the Bahamas, approximately 350 miles East of Miami. This hurricane was not only the largest, but the strongest to ever make landfall in the United States. When all was said and done, a little over a week later, there were roughly 1,836 lives taken. After impacting about 90,000 square miles, this hurricane was named Katrina.

The most violent storms on Earth can also go by other names, including cyclones or typhoons, but the scientific term is tropical cyclone. To understand the process of how hurricanes form, it is helpful to thinks of the like giant engines, because like hurricanes, engines use warm, moist air as fuel. When the warm air from over the ocean rises upward, it leaves lower air pressure below. Then, the air from areas nearby with higher pressure drives in to the low pressure area. This new air, too, becomes warm and moist, causing it to rise as well. The surrounding air continues to swirl back in to take place of the warm air that keeps rising. The water in the air forms clouds as the moist air begins to rise and cool. The clouds spin and grow and cause hurricanes.

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Hurricane Katrina reached up to a category 5 storm, which according to the Saffir-Simpson scale, means it reached over 157 MPH in wind speeds. Category 5 is the highest classification on the scale. These classifications offer an insight of the potential damage or flooding a hurricane can cause upon landfall. To be determined a hurricane, the tropical cyclone must withstand sixty seconds maximum of at least 74 miles per hour. This would be classified as a category one.

The timeline of Hurricane Katrina begins on August 23rd, 2005, when the hurricane was beginning to form over the Bahamas. Meteorologists were able to warn people in the Gulf Coast states that there was an intense storm approaching. The National Weather Service predicted that the storm would create an inhabitable area for weeks, or even longer. On August 24th, the mayor of New Orleans issued the city’s very first mandatory evacuation order. Additionally, he declared that the Superdome, a stadium on high ground downtown, would be a shelter of last resort, meant for people who were unable to leave the city, or did not have access to a car.

On August 25th, the tragedy began. The Florida coast was hit, beginning as a Category 1. By the 26th, the Louisiana Governor had also declared a State of Emergency, and National Guard troops were deployed to the Gulf Coast. Later that morning, Katrina was a Category 2. On the evening of the 27th, the Governor of Mississippi followed suit in declaring a State of Emergency as well.

The morning of August 28th was when Katrina intensified to a Category 5. The storm was literally ripping people out of their homes, which called for the first ever mandatory evacuation for the residents of New Orleans, followed by a 6 p.m. curfew that evening. Somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000 residents of New Orleans were seeking shelter in the superdome. The next morning, Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast as a Category 3. People were being trapped in their attics and on rooftops, this storm was ruthless. By 11 a.m., Katrina hit the peak storm surge with winds at 125 mph. That afternoon, Bush declared an emergency disaster for Louisiana and Mississippi.

On August 30th, Katrina passed over Tennessee, downgraded to a tropical storm, with winds down to 35 mph. Almost all of New Orleans was covered in water as high as 20 feet. The days following this storm was filled with a number of evacuations, rescue crews, and the beginning of searching for all that has been lost.

Katrina is known as one of the deadliest hurricanes in the United States history. Millions were left homeless, and almost 2,000 were killed in event, as well as in the flooding that followed. Along with taking place as deadliest, Katrina was also the most destructive and costliest, causing $108 billion in damage. More than one million people were displaced. The storm may have ended, but the damage and recovery would be a long journey after.

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