Public Policy

THE BIG unEasy

The Big unEasy: Swollen Mississippi River in NOLA Cause for Concern as Trouble Brews in the Gulf

New Orleans Braces for Barry

by Joseph Scodney

As a tourist, when I hear New Orleans, Louisiana, my mind takes me back there. Back to one of the greatest cities on planet earth. I can hear the music, taste the food, marvel at the architecture, and feel the warmth in my heart. I think of having breakfast at Camelia Grill, laughing at Dragon Master Showcase, strolling through the French Quarter, drinking a hurricane at Café Pontalba, playing roulette at Harrah’s, and eating dinner at Red Fish Grill. Not many things can silence the laughter and zap the exhilaration from NOLA; but after the terror brought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 a feeling of uneasiness creeps back into the city anytime there is a storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Invest 92L has formed in the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to become Tropical Storm Barry, then Hurricane Barry before landfall. New Orleans felt some effects already Wednesday getting pelted with intense rain at rapid pace causing some street flooding. The city of New Orleans is protected by a 23 foot high levee along the Mississippi River on the city’s southern border; and by a 17 foot high levee along Lake Pontchartrain on the city’s northern border. When a storm is lurking, the worry in New Orleans is always centered around the levees. The city of New Orleans is essentially a bowl and requires the levees to keep the surrounding bodies of waters from seeping into the bowl.

Elevations Throughout New Orleans, LA: Large Portion of City is Below Sea Level

As mentioned earlier, the city is protected to the south at the Mississippi River bank by a 23 foot tall levee.  Referencing the elevations in feet scale on the left side of the image; before Hurricane Katrina reached New Orleans in 2005, the MississippiRiver was at about 3 feet.  Storm surge and rain caused the river to swell, adding 13 feet, taking it up to 16 feet.  At the 16 footmark, it was still below the levee protecting the city from floodwaters, but eventually the pressure from the swollen Mississippi River caused 55 failures of the levees and flood walls.  The levees essentially broke.  The result was the flooding of over 100,000 structures from tens of billions of gallons of water gushing into the city of New Orleans.  Utter death and destruction in one of the most gut-wrenching natural disasters to date.

The Mississippi River starts in Northern Minnesota at it’sheadwaters, Lake Itasca. The River flows southward spanning over 2,000 miles, running through 32 states, eventually dumping into the Gulf of Mexico. The Midwest experienced substantialrainfall and snowfall over the past 12 months, which drained into the Mississippi River flowing southward causing the swelling of the river in the New Orleans area. Reference the handy dandy elevations in feet scale again and know that the Mississippi River in New Orleans is currently at 16 feet. It was at 16 feet in 2005 when the levees failed. Eventual Hurricane Barry is projected to make landfall in Louisiana west of New Orleans on Saturday evening.

Tropical Invest 92L AKA Tropical Cyclone 2 Should Make Landfall on LA Coast as Category 1 Hurricane (Hurricane Barry)

This leaves New Orleans on the “dirty” side of the storm and could mean substantial storm surge and about 12 inches of rainfall which would cause even further swelling of the Mighty Mississippi.  The United States Army Corp of Engineers repaired all 55 levee breaches which will hopefully save New Orleans from another disaster.  Here’s to hoping Barry skirts by without causing much damage…Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!


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