‘Doomsday’ Katrina warning so extreme it was thought a hoax shared on hurricane’s anniversary

·3-min read
‘Doomsday’ Katrina warning so extreme it was thought a hoax shared on hurricane’s anniversary

On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — which made landfall in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on August 29, 2005 — a dire warning from before the storm has re-emerged.

Robert Ricks, then a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, warned of “a most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength”.

His predictions proved correct, as the days, weeks, months — and years — that followed the storm brought intense destruction to the Gulf Coast and nearly 2,000 dead.

But Mr Ricks’ warnings were also so dire that some people thought they were part of a hoax.

On Monday, James Spann, a meteorologist with ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama, tweeted out a photo of the warning to coincide with the storm’s 17th anniversary.

“Some thought this ‘doomsday’ statement was a hoax,” Mr Spann tweeted. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t.”

In his warning, Mr Ricks had walked, step by step, through what Katrina might bring.

“Power outages will last for weeks,” he wrote, as “water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.”

“Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks,” Mr Ricks said. “At least one half of well constructed homes will have roof and wall failure.”

“Airborne debris will be widespread… and may include heavy items such as household appliances and even light vehicles.”

In a 2020 interview with NOLA.com, Mr Ricks said that 10 minutes after he put out his warning he got a message from the Washington headquarters of the National Weather Service, who wanted him to know what reaction it was getting.

“They were getting calls from the national press saying, ‘We think this is a hoax. We’ve never seen a product come out like this, with this kind of wording. You sure this is real?’,” he told the publication.

One day after the storm made landfall, at least 2.6 million people across the south had lost power, including around 900,000 in both Louisiana and Mississippi.

Wind speeds up to 140 miles per hour (225 kilometres per hour), combined with up to a foot (30 centimetres) of rain, destroyed more than 200,000 homes. In some southern Louisiana parishes, around 80 per cent of all homes were damaged.

Storm surges pushed more than 10 feet of water inland along much of the coast. And in New Orleans, the levees holding back the water around the city failed, leading to catastrophic flooding and hundreds of deaths.

Since Katrina, no hurricane has been quite as deadly. But hurricanes are also growing more intense as the climate crisis accelerates.

Warmer air and ocean waters can supercharge storms as they head towards land — leading to massive amounts of rain and strong winds. In addition, sea level rise can make storm surges even worse as the ocean creeps closer to developed areas.

In the past four decades, a higher percentage of hurricanes are reaching Category 3 or higher, meaning wind speeds of at least 111 mph (178 kph), according to a UN climate science panel.

While this year’s hurricane season has gotten off to a slow start, that may be changing. The National Hurricane Centre is currently tracking four systems in the Atlantic, at least one of which is likely to form a cyclone by the end of the week.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an above-average hurricane season this year, with up to 20 named storms and three to five hurricanes reaching Category 3 or higher.