As Hurricane Gustav swirls towards the northern Gulf Coast, officials and people there are clearly less complacent than they were almost three years ago to the day when Katrina made landfall.
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin called Gustav the "storm of the century", calling for a mandatory evacuation and telling those who don't leave that they are on their own. Many Gulf Coast residents would undoubtedly affix that label to Katrina, which had category 5 winds (160 mph) at landfill in Louisiana. Gustav has weakened to a category 3 after passing over Cuba, but it is expected to gain strength as it is fueled by the warm waters of the Gulf Coast.
The characterization of Gustav, so soon after Katrina, as the "storm of the century" is the perfect real-life example of climate change models' predictions of more frequent, more intense storms in the Gulf Coast and other areas of the earth. An "100-year flood" is a pliable definition, which can change based on climate change, land use change, and other changes. The storm surge channeled by over-industrialization of the Mississippi Delta and levees that eventually failed, more than Katrina's winds themselves, was what unleashed the true wrath on New Orleans three years ago. Let's hope that hurricanes like Katrina and Gustav don't become "storms of every three years".
Let's do more than hope: let's limit the emission of the greenhouse gases that are making more intense storms like these more likely.