With Climate Change, Storm Surge Now Could Reach Baton Rouge

Category 5 storm surge map from NOAA

One of the embarrassing facts of American political life is that most of us only pay attention when the debate is about so-called “kitchen table issues.” Our lives are so busy and hectic, researchers claim, we don’t get involved at the ballot box until a topic might cost us money or safety.

That’s one of the excuses given to explain why so many south Louisiana voters continue to send people like Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins and Garret Graves back to Washington even as those congressmen vote against their constituents’ best interests by steadfastly fighting regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The science may show those pollutants are the main driver of rising seas that will drown much of the state’s bottom third within 40 to 50 years, but that seems like a long way off, these politicians say. No need to pay for it now. You’re still safe. And maybe it won’t happen!

Well, maybe the new storm surge risk maps issued by the National Hurricane Center last week will finally bring this issue to your kitchen table. The maps have the following color codes for the depth of the surge at different sites:

Blue: Less than 3 feet above ground.

Yellow: Greater than 3 feet above ground.

Orange: Greater than 6 feet above ground.

Red: Greater than 9 feet above ground.

If ever pictures can change minds, these certainly should.

And not just in Grand Isle, Houma, Thibodaux, Lake Charles, Covington, Mandeville and other coastal cities in strong GOP territory.

This should have those solid Republican voters all the way north of Baton Rouge reaching for their wallets and Googling “moving vans.”

That’s because these new maps show a Category 5 hurricane could push at least (at least!) 9 feet of water across the landscape into the communities north of Tiger Stadium. The only areas spared are those currently behind very high storm surge protection levees – basically metro New Orleans, Morgan City and a southern section of Lafourche Parish.

And things don’t get much better with less intense storms.

As you can see by the accompanying National Weather Service maps, a Category 2 could push at least 9 feet of surge across Scalise’s district including Mandeville and Madisonville, Laplace and west over Thibodaux, Houma, Lafayette and Lake Charles. It could even drive at least 3 feet into the Baton Rouge suburbs.

A Category 3 would basically be disaster for everything from New Roads south, east and west – including Baton Rouge.

Categories 4 and 5 would just be nature piling on – extending 9 feet above ground farther north.

Now, these new surge vulnerabilities are based on a variety of computer models that include worst- case possibilities for each class storm — including its size, path and tidal conditions upon landfall. But ignoring those possibilities is a recipe for disaster, or death. The National Hurricane Center has done its job by providing fair warning. It’s up to states and communities to be prepared.

Read the rest of the article at The Times-Picayune.