Five Lessons Learned from Hurricane Isaac

The circus has finally left New Orleans as they begin their cleanup after Hurricane Isaac dropped boatloads of rain on the Big Easy earlier this week. Despite some dire early warnings and a near-miss of the GOP convention in Tampa Bay, Isaac was fairly tame by hurricane standards. That didn't stop it from inundating three states and doing some serious damage.

As we review the aftermath, there are a few things we can take from Isaac and most of them, fortunately, are positive.

5. Major media outlets are largely worthless during storms. If I had a nickel for every time a big media conglomerate mentioned Hurricane Katrina in the same breath as Isaac, I'd have a big-ass pile of nickels.

CNN, Fox, MSNBC and pretty much every major news outlet spent way too much time scaring the crap out of people and making ridiculous predictions, most of which didn't happen. And when it didn't, they walked away from a pretty nasty flooding disaster earlier than they should have. Even the Weather Channel, with side-o-beef Jim Cantore standing in pelting rain in goggles, looked understated compared to the full-court press from the 24-hour news outlets.

4. Five-day forecast tracks are remarkably accurate, considering. Five days from landfall, the National Hurricane Center had averaged out the major forecasting models and dropped the center of its cone of uncertainty within about 100 miles of the storm's eventual landfall. While it moved around a bit over the next few days, it demonstrates just how greatly improved the global weather model forecasting has become for hurricane tracking. Even 15 years ago, three-day forecast tracks looked worse than five-day tracks do today.   3. Intensity models are clearly improving. Despite a fairly long time over Gulf water, Isaac came onshore as a moderate category one hurricane, which was right in the dead center of what intensity models were predicting. A couple maxed it out at a category two, but the NHC was rarely that bullish. There is still a long way to go with intensity forecasting, but the improvements are evident.

2. Katrina taught people something. Citizens heeded warnings. State, local and federal government mobilized quickly. The result was that, despite a lot of bad flooding along the northern Gulf coast, there was minimal loss of life thanks to the bad memories we all have from Katrina.

1. Rain is not as scary as wind, but just as deadly. The old adage goes "hide from wind, run from water," but wind scares the holy hell out of everybody, so the opposite is often the case despite the fact that water kills far more people during hurricanes than wind. Mostly, it's storm surge that does the damage, but a slow-moving storm like Isaac can drop 20 to 30 inches of rain in a very short period of time and no city is equipped to handle it well, a lesson we learned during Tropical Storm Allison.

Bonus: Al Roker should stick to the Today studios. Seriously, Al, don't try to brave the storm like Cantore. You aren't built for it since you dropped all that weight.

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