Tropical Storm Lee bears down on New Orleans
Will this be another Hurricane Katrina?
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2011 12:22
At least 1,836 people were killed byHurricane Katrina which struck New Orleans six year ago [EPA]

People are beginning to draw similarities between Tropical Storm Lee and the monster hurricane, Katrina, which completely devastated the city back in 2005.

Obviously both storms are big and powerful, but the difference between Lee and Katrina are immense.

Lee is a tropical storm with sustained winds of 85kph, whereas Katrina was a far more powerful beast, which had winds of 200kph at the time it made landfall. When it struck the city, Katrina was classed as a category three hurricane, on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, but the difference doesn’t end there.

Before impact, Hurricane Katrina had been swirling around the Gulf of Mexico for several days, feeding off the warm waters. It developed into a powerful category five storm, the strongest class of hurricanes that there is. At its most powerful, the winds were estimated to be 280kph, which at the time made it the most powerful storm ever to be recorded in the Gulf of Mexico.

Katrina barrelled towards New Orleans, making landfall on a small spit of land, Buras-Triumph, to the south of the city, then hurtling towards the Louisiana-Mississippi border.

Fortunately the winds eased significantly before impact, but the seeds of fate had already been sown.

As the storm grew to a powerful category five storm and raced towards land, it pushed a huge amount of sea water ahead of it. This storm surge was up to 8.5 metres, and caused a catastrophic failure of the levee system in the city. In all, the levees were breached in 53 different locations. 80% of New Orleans, a city that is mostly below sea level, was swamped by deep floodwater, which lingered for weeks.

It wasn't only New Orleans which was affected by Hurricane Katrina, all along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas, destruction was seen. In parts of Mississippi, the waters surged nearly 20 kilometres inland.

Evidently the majority of the destruction was caused by the storm surge, and that is the main difference between the two storms. Tropical Storm Lee is weaker and moving at a slower speed, so the surge of water ahead of it is far weaker.

A storm surge of just over 1.5 metres is expected along the Louisiana coast, and up to one metre along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts. This will cause flooding in some places, but nothing like Katrina. Provided the levees hold, this storm could actually be beneficial and provide some much needed rain to the drought-hit area.

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