Science

Hurricane Ida will continue to wreak havoc with inland flooding

This post is being updated.

Ida, which made landfall over the weekend in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, is moving northeast across the country as of Monday morning, having weakened to a tropical storm. There will still be widespread, potentially life-threatening flash floods throughout the region as the storm moves inland. Upwards of four inches of rain are expected across most of Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and parts of Pennsylvania over the next few days.

The storm is creeping along its route, dumping massive amounts of rain as it moves up through Mississippi, lashing the region with tropical storm-force winds. Overflowing rivers are expected to last into next week, even after Ida has headed back out towards the Atlantic.

Residents of southern Louisiana are slowly starting to emerge as the worst of the storm has passed, and President Biden has met with the state governor to ensure that help is on the way. More than 2,000 miles of power lines are out of service in Louisiana, leaving more than a million people (and possibly two) without power—the entire city of New Orleans is dark. There’s not yet an estimate as to when power will be restored. In some areas, water mains are broken badly enough that locals may be without water for upwards of a week.

As Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, the combination of winds and the storm surge forced the Mississippi River to briefly flow backwards (at least at the surface), a phenomenon that the US Geological survey said was “extremely uncommon.” Southern Louisiana was the hardest hit region, since the storm remained at full force for several hours as it passed over.

The levee system in New Orleans held, but there is massive structural damage to many buildings, multiple hospitals lost generators, and widespread destruction was seen across the state. “The damage is catastrophic … primarily wind driven but we know that there were some areas that received tremendous rainfall as well,” said Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards, at a press conference on Monday.

Ida rapidly intensified from Friday to Sunday morning, which didn’t give officials enough time to issue a mandatory evacuation for those living inside the levee system, where a voluntary evacuation order had been in place as of Friday afternoon. Ida was a Category 3 storm, as projected, early on Sunday morning, but the National Hurricane Center upgraded it to a Category 4 storm just an hour later.

The 150 mile-per-hour winds recorded make Ida the fifth strongest hurricane to hit the mainland. It’s also tied with Hurricane Laura and an unnamed 1856 storm as the strongest to ever hit Louisiana.

Ida seriously tested the fortified infrastructure that the local government has invested billions of dollars in since Hurricane Katrina made landfall 16 years ago, according to The New York Times. Those improvements have become all the more important over the last decade or so, as hurricanes have gotten stronger as the oceans warm. The high water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico fueled Ida’s rapid intensification. So far that money seems to have been well spent, but it’s unclear at this point how much infrastructure was truly damaged.

Louisiana officials are also assessing how much damage may have been done to the state’s many oil refineries and chemical plants. At least nine refineries are out of commission or operating at reduced capacity. Destruction in those regions could mean continued suffering on top of the loss of property and lives, since oil and chemical spills can cause very different kinds of harm than wind and rain.

All of this is on top of the devastating COVID surge that’s currently raging in Louisiana. There were no ICU beds left in the entire state as of a week ago, which means hospitals are already over capacity even without the impact of a major hurricane.




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