In a city already plagued by constant flooding and storm surge, climate change is a clear problem facing New Orleans. Located next to the southern tip of Louisiana, the Crescent City’s unstable ground and exceedingly low sea level have placed it in a zone ripe for encroaching seas. On top of that, hurricanes that form as a direct consequence of the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico frequently bombard Louisiana, and this will only get worse as the global temperature continues to rise. This begs the question: How will New Orleans survive?
In response to this question, the U.S. government has tried to prepare the coastal city for increasingly pervasive storm surge by installing storm surge countermeasures through the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). These countermeasures include, but are not limited to, levees, sea walls, and pumps. Such provisions can also be found in other vulnerable coastal cities around the world, such as Shanghai, Jakarta, and London. Unfortunately, New Orleans has had difficulty utilizing their defenses in the past.
When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, it absolutely overwhelmed the flooding countermeasures put in place by the USACE. In fact, the flooding countermeasures were so ineffective that the levees themselves are often cited as the main reason why New Orleans flooded to the degree it did. The levees, canals, and floodwalls were annihilated by storm surge, allowing waters from nearby lakes and the Gulf of Mexico to invade the city. To make matters worse, it was revealed a year later that some of the pumps installed to get rid of floodwaters were defective. The storm surge was so monstrous that a large amount of buildings were completely unusable until they were pumped and rebuilt. This tragic fate could be indicative of the future of New Orleans.
Thankfully, there might still be hope for this important cultural and economic center. Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina have better prepared the engineers, scientists, and officials for future disasters. Better designed levees, higher floodwalls that can stop up to 20 feet of storm surge, and warier city officials make it less likely that New Orleans will experience a Katrina-like failure again. However, it’s probable that these improvements won’t entirely save New Orleans from disastrous flooding in the future. Despite valiant efforts from engineers and officials, the city’s geography often leaves it defenseless from storm surge. As a result, there may be no way to completely erase the threat of storm surge from happening in New Orleans, especially with the intensifying climate. Regardless, the officials of New Orleans and the U.S. government must remain vigilant to protect this invaluable city from disaster. Hopefully, scientists and engineers will discover new ways to fight storm surge that will allow for more coastal security. Until then, it’s wise to remain watchful of incoming disasters that could devastate New Orleans and cities like it to minimize loss of life and property.
To learn more about other global climate topics, be sure to click here!
© 2019 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow