This week marks 13 years since Hurricane Katrina, an event some citizens of Louisiana are still recovering from. We may have all heard the name, but do we know what a hurricane is, how wetlands are affected, and how coastal landforms can decrease hurricane impacts?
“Hurricanes” are low-pressure tropical storm systems that differ from other storms in severity as well as location. A hurricane is a storm with winds above 64mph accompanied by heavy rain that originates in either the NE Pacific or the N Atlantic Ocean (the oceans that touch the USA). Due to a phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect, hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise, whereas a southern hemisphere storm would rotate clockwise. Hurricanes develop a characteristic “eye of the storm” in the center, which is an area of low pressure and low wind. Just outside of the eye is the most severe weather, the eyewall, with winds reaching up to 210mph in the strongest storms! Hurricane “category” ratings are as follows:
- Category 1: 74-93mph
- Category 2: 96-109mph
- Category 3: 110-129mph
- Category 4: 130-157mph
- Category 5: >158mph
Hurricanes develop over areas with warmer waters, typically nearer the equator, and move away from the equator.  Coastal Louisiana is hit by hurricanes on an increasingly regular basis, and those hurricanes all develop in the North Atlantic Ocean in late summer and fall. Our “Hurricane Season” occurs from June through November each year.  Several aspects of hurricanes pose major threats to our wetlands statewide. High winds can topple trees, rip up shrubs and grasses, and move sediments around. High rainfall can cause flooding in areas that are not well-adapted to high-water conditions. Storm surge can push saline seawater into brackish and freshwater systems. Hurricanes cause massive disturbance in coastal wetlands, but wetlands are a crucial barrier that protects major cities from taking as much damage. CWPPRA works to combat land loss and protect the future of coastal Louisiana.
Some CWPPRA projects restore barrier islands, which are natural defenses that develop in the Deltaic Cycle. Barrier islands lessen storm surge during hurricanes, bearing the brunt of the waves. Sadly, they cannot provide perfect protection because they are degrading, but they are not the last line of defense. We still have coastal marshes that are great at storing water and acting like a speed bump to storm surge. It is estimated that each mile of coastal marsh decreases storm surge by about a foot. Unfortunately, many coastal marshes are decaying into open water and are no longer protective barriers. CWPPRA will continue to restore wetlands and nourish barrier islands to #ProtectOurCoast!
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