Louisiana avoided Laura's 'wall of water'? Not so, says forecaster
The 20-foot high "unsurvivable" wall of water Hurricane Laura was forecast to send onto the Louisiana coast showed up despite widespread reports of a lower peak, authorities said on Friday, rejecting criticism that they had raised too much alarm.
The highest surge hit about 15 miles east of where Laura was forecast to make landfall but it "wobbled" at the last moment. That slight change likely saved the city of Lake Charles, said Jamie Rhome, head of the storm surge team at the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Most U.S. media played up a nine-foot surge recorded by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observation station near Cameron, Louisiana, and the NHC was criticized for perhaps raising too much alarm.
There is just one problem, Rhome said.
"It's wrong. That reporting is based off a single observation station in Cameron Parish that didn't come close to measuring the peak storm surge which occurred at 10 or 15 miles east of there," he said.
Fresh data on Friday from an Army Corps of Engineer gauge 15 miles east indicates that the storm surge was right at the 15- to 20-feet forecast that was Rhome's highest in his 20-year career, he said.
... A decade ago, 50% of deaths from hurricanes were because of storm surges, he noted.
Today, that figure is closer to 4%, Rhome said, largely because the NHC started including storm surge warnings in its bulletins following the devastation brought by Hurricane Ike and its 15-foot storm surge in 2008....
At its peak upon making landfall on Thursday morning, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 km per hour), faster than even Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005 after arriving with wind speeds of 125 mph.