Laura a reminder New Orleans has not seen winds as strong in at least a century

Updated: Sep. 2, 2020 at 8:38 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Laura ended up a devastating windstorm for Southwest Louisiana.

While most think they’ve experienced a major hurricane in our region, New Orleans has not had a direct hit with category three winds in more than 100 years.

It’s difficult to truly describe the power of a major hurricane even for those like Ann Holcombe who lived through Laura’s category four landfall in Lake Charles.

“It was like standing in your front door and holding the nose of a 747 airplane and the water was rushing down Lake Street just like a fast-moving river,” Holcombe said.

Unfortunately, what’s left or not left behind gives a clearer picture. Bill Lowry was floored returning to his Lake Charles neighborhood.

“It looks like a tornado has come through, uh, or a bomb has gone off. I didn’t even know this was our street,” Lowry said.

Katrina’s record surge and flooding in 2005 prompted the massive hurricane risk reduction system of locks and walls to help protect southeast Louisiana, but the roof damage and blue tarps from that storm also send a signal that a real wind hit would be even more destructive.

When it comes to wind it’s hard to find even category two winds in much of the area.

“In Katrina, we saw near category 2 conditions; especially, in New Orleans East, but on the west side of the city it was likely tropical storm to category one conditions when you go into Jefferson Parish,” said Fox 8 Chief Meteorologist David Bernard.

Most of southeast Louisiana and New Orleans has not experienced true major hurricane sustained winds above 110 miles per hour in more than a century.

“One storm that came close to producing those winds was the 1915 hurricane at Grand Isle and New Orleans. It made landfall as a strong category 3, but as it moved over the marshes it quickly weakened to a category 1 as it got to the city of New Orleans,” Bernard said.

The 1915 hurricane may have come closest, but still falls short. Some reports show gusts around 120 miles per hour, but anemometers of the day were not that reliable. Also, that’s gusts, not the sustained winds experienced in Lake Charles during Laura.

“The damage potential between a one and a 4. The 4 can produce up to 200 or more times the amount of damage that a category one will,” Bernard said.

With many older buildings and some of the weakest building codes in the hurricane zone Southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast need to be prepared to see the same or worse wind damage should we find ourselves in the eye of a storm like Laura.

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