Three months ago at this hour, Hurricane Katrina was coming ashore east of New Orleans. Having caused a weekend full of fear, it was now weakening; it would later be reported that winds in New Orleans meant Katrina was down to a Category Three storm.
I came in off vacation to help with coverage. But I remember how quiet things were after WNT. Since no levees had given way yet, the headline for the moment seemed to be that New Orleans had dodged a bullet.
Today, to mark the end of this horrific hurricane season, NOAA brass are holding a news conference to warn that more years like this one are in the offing. This is an active decade for Atlantic storm activity. 2005 was a record breaker in many ways, but we still need to worry.
“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” Katrina may have been unusually destructive, but the chaos around it was the rule, not the exception. Remember the exodus from Houston as Rita approached, the endless rains of Ophelia, the too-long power outages after Wilma. We are not very good at large-scale crisis management, even when the crisis–a moderately strong hurricane–is something government ought to know will happen half a dozen times in six months.
I’m told Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center director, is hoping people will get a basic civics lesson from the season-end summary. The off season is a good time to stock up on batteries and plywood. Mayfield won’t say this, but he probably won’t mind if I do: you can’t count on government in a real crisis. Remember all that post-9/11 nonsense about duct tape and bottled water? It applies to a hurricane better, perhaps, than to a terrorist attack.
Tropical Storm Delta is not gone yet. Alberto will be the first storm of 2006.