Hurricane Katrina is now heading towards the northern Gulf Coast, and if it hits New Orleans, we all will likely suffer the consequences. Most of the city lies below sea level, protected on three sides by twenty-five foot levees. If the heavy rains, strong winds, and storm surge of the hurricane overcomes the levees, experts in city government and at the National Hurricane Center predict a catastrophe. Mayor Ray Nagin, who has already ordered the evacuation of millions of people, told CNN:
"The real issue – that I don’t think the nation is paying attention to – is that through the city of New Orleans, through the Gulf of Mexico, we probably deal with almost a third of the nation’s domestic oil that is produced. And that will most likely be shut down," Mr. Nagin said. "So, this can have a significant impact on oil prices going forward."
The path of hurricanes cannot be predicted and it’s possible New Orleans will be spared. We can pray with millions of residents for such a hopeful prospect. But as Chris Mooney, who grew up in New Orleans, documented this May in the American Prospect, experts have long been warning of the potential for a major disaster in New Orleans–possibly topping $100 billion worth of damage. We could have done much more to prepare New Orleans against the invasion of the sea. As Mooney points out on his website:
If that happens, the scientists and engineers I interviewed in my piece–who have been talking for years about the vulnerability of New Orleans–are going to come off looking very prescient. And then the only question will be, why did it require a catastrophe before we actually listened to them?
Surprisingly, even though hurricanes are fed by warm Gulf of Mexico waters, for years most climatologists have doubted that global warming would have a significant effect on the creation of these colossal storms. A decadal hurricane-creation pattern has long been believed to be much more significant. But in recent months, that consensus has been challenged–now some experts believe that in fact global warming will bump up more hurricanes to the catastrophic Category Four and Five status. Discussion to come…