Credit – National Weather Service: National Hurricane Center
Heading into the weekend, there are three very disturbing realities coming together that make those of us who care about the ocean very uncomfortable:
Tropical Storm Karen is making its way through the Gulf of Mexico and heading straight towards a vast field of offshore oil rigs and pipelines. Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are already under tropical storm watches and warnings.
When tropical storms and hurricanes hit this region, they can cause a lot of oil spills. For example, the damage that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused to rigs and pipelines resulted in spills totaling 17, 652 barrels (or roughly three-quarters of a million gallons) of petroleum products. Even more oil was spilled from on-shore facilities. Not to mention the fact that a major storm might also churn up submerged oil from the BP oil spill, sending it back onto our shores and beaches.
Because of the government shutdown, many of NOAA’s oil spill experts – employees of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – are furloughed and off the job.
I live in a world where time is marked by the storms that alter the face of the landscape and change people’s lives: Betsy, Camille, Frederick, Opal, Ivan, Katrina, Isaac. Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Gulf, and I feel confident in saying that folks on the Gulf Coast are sending their thoughts and prayers to those most severely affected by Hurricane Sandy because we understand the extent of the work and time it will take to recover. We will nod our heads in understanding when you start a sentence five years from now with “Before Hurricane Sandy” because that’s how we speak, too.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there was a lot of talk about the city of New Orleans and its vulnerability to hurricanes and flooding. Some people even said that the city shouldn’t be rebuilt, that it would be a waste of resources to build back in a place hanging on by a fingernail to the last fringes of marsh that are losing ground every day to a hungry and unforgiving sea.
Tar balls photographed by Louisiana state response teams on Elmer’s Island in Jefferson Parish on September 1, 2012. Credit: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
Last week was a long one for Gulf Coast residents as we watched Hurricane Isaac waffle about where to land before settling on coastal Louisiana, causing massive flooding from storm surge in Mississippi and Louisiana and bringing businesses and communities to a grinding halt for over a week.
As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, what with hurricanes and flooding and power outages and devastation for too many people, we also had the pleasure of remembering (in case any of us had forgotten) that we are still in the grips of responding to and recovering from the BP oil disaster.
Far from magically disappearing, oil has persisted in the marine environment for over two years now, and the force of Hurricane Isaac has churned up an ugly reminder of how much work we still have to do to restore the Gulf ecosystem. Tarballs and mats are showing up from Louisiana to Alabama, even forcing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to issue a closure for commercial fishing in the area of a large oil mat off Elmer’s Island.
This visible image of Tropical Storm Isaac taken from NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite shows the huge extent of the storm. The image was captured on Aug. 28 at 8:40 a.m. EDT. Credit: NOAA
I wrote a blog post about the start of hurricane season back in June, and I am writing this one today in Hurricane Isaac’s sights. Hurricanes are anything but predictable, and this one in particular has been hard to track. Would it rain and blow into the Republican Convention in Tampa? Head West towards Texas? Now, less than 24 hours away from landfall, it looks like Isaac has made up his mind to aim for somewhere in Louisiana or Mississippi, which means rain and wind anywhere across the Gulf Coast, and hopefully not much more than that. We hope.
If you are watching the approach of the storm on TV, you’d think that hurricanes are some sort of spectator sport or reality TV show. DEVASTATION! MANDATORY EVACUATION! DESTRUCTION! It turns what is a serious event into a sort of comic theater. Note to newscasters: Gulfport is in MS and Mobile Bay in in AL. Just sayin’. (Sorry, I’ve been seeing silly screen shots on Facebook all morning that are geographically confused).
In the midst of the TV hullabaloo, I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you what I think about Hurricane Isaac while safely tucked away from the weather, listening to the weather radio and wondering what the day will bring. Mind you, these thoughts are mine alone, and not meant to represent those of Gulf residents, generally. Continue reading »
For most folks, June 1st passes much like any other day (although it is Oscar the Grouch’s birthday and official “flip a coin” day), but for people who call the Gulf coast home, it’s a significant day on the calendar. It marks the start of hurricane season, which runs until November 30.
Like many people, I find myself equally fearful of and fascinated by these intense weather events. Talk to anyone who’s lived on the coast for more than 5 years and I bet they have a hurricane story for you. Continue reading »