Understanding The NOLA Hurricane Season

Since my friend shared an enlightening post to help her friends understand Hurricane Season, I thought I’d chime in on the subject.

Hurricane’s happen all the time. But we’re a little different in New Orleans for a variety of reasons. It makes it more dangerous to be here during a Hurricane than anywhere else. But no one possibly could have predicted that. (oh wait. Well, ok. So scientists knew, but not back in like 1878. Oh wait again).

Based on my massive experience of hurricanes here (in three years), here’s how the hurricane season goes down.

Phase One: Blissful Ignorance

DefCon 5. Situation normal. TV tells us they’ll keep us informed this Hurricane season. If you go to the NWC Hurricane page, it’s got a couple red blobs, but nothing with a name.

Phase Two: Awareness

Our current phase. Now we have names, but don’t really care/know them yet. You take a quick gander at the map and projected cone and say one of two things:

A: “Ah, that’s going up the East Coast, we’re fine” (like, Bill*) and return to Blissful Ignorance. -OR-

B: “That could come at us…but we’ll worry about it when it gets to the Gulf.” (like, Ana*)

(*-Since we’re in phase two, I had to look those up)

Phase Three: There’s Some Shit Brewing In The Gulf

Self-explanatory. This is when you check out the NWC website in the morning and see which of these three reactions you should be having.

A: “Ah, that’s going up Florida, we’re fine” (Return to Blissful Ignorance) -OR-

B: “Ah, that’ll keep going to Texas.” (Wear a raincoat, as the return to Blissful Ignorance will be damp) -OR-

C: “_______ is coming right for us. How bad is it?”

Phase Four: Where Everybody Knows Your Name.

Things get kind of eerie around this time. The key difference between Phase Four and the previous phases is the name aspect. It’s no longer a thing, it’s a person. You’re shopping and you hear people whispering about him/her. TV commercial breaks begin/end with “Tracking _____ on NewsCenter 7” or “The latest on ______, tonight at 10”

If someone from another planet visited last year at this time, they would think were a primitive village who lives in fear of an angry tyrannical king/god named Gustav.

Practically speaking, you monitor any changes to projected path (there’s still like a 300-mile window in which the thing will move) to determine how much you should panic.

In the past, this is when Categories come into play. In our post-Katrina world, this season could be an interesting test case. As a New Yorker, having watched with baited breath and fingers crossed praying that the Industrial Canal levee would hold as water topped over it, I am still in “GTFO” mode. I don’t plan on sticking around to see the difference between a Category One and Category Four. I’ve see a Three/Four (safely from Birmingham, because I GTFO’d), and I’ve seen what a 4/5 did. In the past, people stayed for 1-3. We’ll see if we return to that.

The other part of Phase Four that makes the title apt is that with that eeriness, comes a general communal sense. The personification of the storm means the storm acts as a mutual friend which severs the separation of strangers in the city. You talk to people you don’t know as if they were acquaintances of yours solely because you both know Gustav is up to something. People you don’t know ask if you’re going to evacuate or not, where you’re going to spend the next few days, do you live in a flood area, etc. Conversations end with “Be safe” or “God Bless you.” It’s a lot like Disneyland.

Well, if everyone was expecting Godzilla to come stomp on Disneyland in two days. (Which is why I think Hurricanes should be named after Monsters/Horror Movie Characters). Some people plan on staying and fighting. Others are obligated to. Some are going to flee. Others take the opportunity to go hog-wild in Disneyland unattended by looting/pillaging/debaucherizing.

It’s very surreal and unique.

Phase Five: GTFO’ing / Leaving Before ContraFlow

For reasons I have not adequately been able to determine, the worst part about the Hurricane isn’t the wind, rain, flying objects, flooding, looting or societal breakdown. It’s ContraFlow.

No, ContraFlow is not the cool weapon where you can fire three-ways when playing Contra

No, ContraFlow is not the cool weapon where you can fire three-ways when playing Contra

ContraFlow is when all the streets of New Orleans immediately turn from normal roads into one-way avenues away from city center. In theory it is a genius idea to help people get out of the city: Instead of two/three lanes on I-10 going out from NOLA, we have four/six. And yet, somehow, doubling the amount of roads out of the city does not lead to a faster evacuation. It leads to DEATH.

From what I can ascertain, the problem with hurricanes is that with the limited amount of roads out of town, everyone tries to leave at once at the last possible minute. That leads to everyone in the city congregating bumper-to-bumper, getting in accidents and running out of gas on narrow interstates over swamps/lakes. Which would be really convenient for our angry, vengeful tyrant king/god to come along and destroy us.

Because getting caught in ContraFlow is a death sentence, half the city tries to leave before ContraFlow. Which basically just extends the gridlock by a day and a half, as they are all trying to leave at once with only half the lanes of ContraFlow.

The whole thing turns into that scene from Swingers in which they discuss when to call a woman after you get her number. Industry Standard is two days (ContraFlow), but everyone knows that, so you have to wait at least three days (pre-ContraFlow). And now that everyone knows that, and are all on a three-day time, it’s really best to go four days. But that’s kinda really crowded now, too. So, long story short: Six days.

I’d think that eventually everyone is leaving 2-4 days before ContraFlow, no one would actually be leaving once ContraFlow starts, and you could be the only person with six lanes to yourself, flying out of dodge at the last second. But that doesn’t work either, because there’s always people who are very stupid and stubborn.

You probably COULD time it just right, where you left a few hours before ContraFlow, and got to the opening of ContraFlow at the exact moment they opened the other lanes. If you’re first, you’re golden. But the odds of that happening are slim. And you can’t really risk miss-timing it.

Phase Six: Watch on TV from a safe destination and hope your possessions survive.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

One Response to Understanding The NOLA Hurricane Season

  1. travis says:


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