Katrina's Surge, Part 8

A Weather Underground 16 part series about Hurricane Katrina, by Margie Kieper.

For the remainder of the month, we're traveling the coastline destroyed by Hurricane Katrina's record storm surge. This is something that has never been shown on the news or talked about, either in the overall, or in detail. What you'll be seeing here is what people on the Gulf Coast have been calling the “Invisible Coastline” for almost a year now.

Today we'll continue our coverage of western Hancock County, MS, where the coastal communities of Ansley, Lakeshore, Clermont Harbor, and Waveland were completely destroyed by surge. This will also mark the halfway point in this series.

From Google Maps, the location of this area along the Gulf of Mexico coastline impacted by Katrina:

Lakeshore, Hancock County, MS

Image courtesy of Google Maps

And here are the locations of the various communities in western coastal Hancock County.

western Hancock County, MS

Image courtesy of Google Maps

Waveland, MS

Image courtesy of Google Maps

As mentioned yesterday, the story of the Mississippi coastline is record surge, further inland, and higher, than ever documented, and not anticipated by the majority of coastal residents.

So let's get right to the story.

I found an astonishing photo, of the peak of the surge in Waveland, which didn't appear to be faked, but I'm pretty much of a skeptic. The photo had this caption, "Photo taken in Waveland, MS, just North of the Railroad Tracks during Katrina around 9 AM by Judith Bradford."

Ok, off to WhitePages.com, which did not have a Judith Bradford, but did have this listing:

W & J Bradford
402 Bradford Ln
Waveland, MS 39576-3204

This must be a Waveland thing -- or a small town thing (the Mayor of Waveland is Tommy Longo, and there's a Longo Lane in Waveland, the Mollere family has Mollere Drive). Anyway, taking this to mapquest, it appears the information in the caption was correct:

Mapquest -- Bradford residence, Waveland, MS

Image courtesy of Mapquest

So, here's the image:

Surge in Waveland, MS

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Note that it is being taken from the second floor window of a home, and that the water is close to the roofline of the first floor. There is a man perched on what is left of a home across the street, wearing a tiny life jacket and clutching a neon green pool noodle. There are electric lines running down from a pole to a home from left to right. In the distance on the right is a home with water up to the roofline. It is likely after 9am, as the bulk of the surge came between 9 and 10 am (that is when most of the fatalities occurred along the Mississippi coast), and probably the eye is already overhead, as the water is relatively calm and there appears to be little wind or rain, even though the pine trees are bent from the recent force of the eyewall winds.

Update: I talked on the phone today to Bill Bradford, and I'll be talking to his wife Judith tonight, and I'll have a lot more information to give you in an update tonight. In the photo, I did not notice that the man is holding a dog. He was able to save only one of his two dogs, and lost three cockatiels, in the surge. The debris he is on is indeed a roof, but it was floating debris. The Bradfords rescued him, and several other people floating by.

I went to the FEMA topo maps to find the elevation of this location:

FEMA topo map detail

Image courtesy of FEMA

If the location is 18 feet, and it appears water is at about a height of ten feet, then that is around 28 feet of surge, over half a mile inland.

After Katrina, almost all the structures in Waveland were gone. The few that remained had to be gutted due to the briny surge. On the beach, aside from piers, exactly one house had the framework and partial structure remaining. It was a home with iron framework, and a cupola and what appears to be a chimney. I took this image in March:

Waveland beachfront home

The part of the home that was left seemed to be what was not ripped away underneath the surge and wave action. I was extremely excited to see this in March because months before I had estimated about a 30 foot surge at the shoreline in Waveland, and this seemed to tally. At that distance in from the road, the house was built on an elevation of eight to ten feet. Wave action would have been considerable right at the shoreline here, hence about thirty feet of water damage from the base to the remaining cupola. But I wondered if in the months since the hurricane, more of the structure had been ripped away, even though various details indicated the surge and wave action had reached that height. This image from the USGS taken only a couple days after the hurricane answered my question:

USGS detail image

Image courtesy of USGS

There are about fifteen additional images on the surge in Waveland that I don't have time to post right now, but which I'll add on Monday evening (so check back on this post, even after I've posted Part 9).

Hancock County and surge: Two of the three coastal Mississippi counties, Hancock and Jackson, are extremely prone to storm surge. Harrison has higher ground right up to the coastline and does not flood as extensively.

But of the three, Hancock County, niched into an inverted-L of both the Mississippi Sound and the larger GOM coastline, and part of a network of river basins, is extremely vulnerable to surge generated by hurricanes that funnel water into the flood plain with winds from the east and southeast. Hurricanes that track along the border of the LA coast and landfall in this county can cause tremendous surge, and, if they are powerful hurricanes, record surge. This was the case with both Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005. Water funnels into St. Louis Bay and the communities along the bay are inundated first from behind, as water builds and overflows from the bay, and then from the gulf, as the remainder of the surge quickly comes ashore. This type of surge destroyed both Waveland and Pass Christian, with both of these hurricanes, but the destruction from Katrina was much more complete, due to the higher and more extensive surge. The reason these particular communities are so vulnerable to surge is that they have no high ground whatsoever, and are both located along a narrow strip of shoreline. In the case of Waveland, the entire town is situated on the shore, and the main portion of Pass Christian is as well. The geography of these two communities also results in the peak of the surge height occurring at both those locations. The only other location that received surge almost as high, was the portion of Diamondhead that immediately bordered the northern portion of St. Louis Bay.

If we look at the FEMA flood inundation map for Hancock County, we can see just how extensively it was flooded -- many miles inland. There is no high ground in the entire area save for a small portion of Bay St. Louis, and inland of Diamondhead (which is north of the bay):

FEMA Inundation Map of Hancock County

Image courtesy of FEMA

To understand the scale of the above map, each of the small blocks in the map corresponds to an image such as this one, corresponding to hundreds or in some cases thousands of homes (below is E-9, part of Waveland's coast):

FEMA Inundation Map Detail

Image courtesy of FEMA

And if we take a closer look at the FEMA map, we can see those three areas previously mentioned, where surge reached higher than 25 feet (the maximum high water mark measurement was around 27-28 feet in Pass Christian):

FEMA Inundation Map Surge Detail

Image courtesy of FEMA

Waveland likely received a slightly higher surge (it would not be surprising if 30 feet of surge occurred right at the shoreline). Also remember that the other communities just along the coast to the southwest of Waveland, namely Lakeshore and Clermont Harbor, are also included in the area that received the highest surge, as can be seen on the FEMA surge inundation map detail.

This, by the way, is a Cat 4 surge. How do we know that -- and -- why is that, when the winds were essentially a strong Cat 2, with some allowance that they could have been, in some small pockets, a weak Cat 3? We'll find out next.

Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge:

Weather Underground Storm Surge Articles

Storm Surge Safety Actions

  • Minimize the distance you must travel to reach a safe location; the further you drive the higher the likelihood of encountering traffic congestion and other problems on the roadways.

  • Select the nearest possible evacuation destination, preferably within your local area, and map out your route. Do not get on the road without a planned route, or a place to go.

  • Choose the home of the closest friend or relative outside a designated evacuation zone and discuss your plan with them before hurricane season.

  • You may also choose a hotel/motel outside of the vulnerable area.

  • If neither of these options is available, consider the closest possible public shelter, preferably within your local area.

  • Use the evacuation routes designated by authorities and, if possible, become familiar with your route by driving it before an evacuation order is issued.

  • Contact your local emergency management office to register or get information regarding anyone in your household whom may require special assistance in order to evacuate.

  • Prepare a separate pet plan, most public shelters do not accept pets.

  • Prepare your home prior to leaving by boarding up doors and windows, securing or moving indoors all yard objects, and turning off all utilities.

  • Before leaving, fill your car with gas and withdraw extra money from the ATM.

  • Take all prescription medicines and special medical items, such as glasses and diapers.

  • If your family evacuation plan includes an RV, boat or trailer, leave early. Do not wait until the evacuation order or exodus is well underway to start your trip.

  • If you live in an evacuation zone and are ordered to evacuate by state or local officials, do so as quickly as possible. Do not wait or delay your departure, to do so will only increase your chances of being stuck in traffic, or even worse, not being able to get out at all.

  • Expect traffic congestion and delays during evacuations. Expect and plan for significantly longer travel times than normal to reach your family's intended destination.

  • Stay tuned to a local radio or television station and listen carefully for any advisories or specific instructions from local officials. Monitor your NOAA Weather Radio.

Source: NOAA

Hurricane Preparedness

National Hurricane Center

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention