10 years later, Texas Gulf Coast has much to learn from Rita and Katrina

Thousands of cars caught in a traffic jam on an interstate highway

Image: Federal Emergency Management Agency

As the 10th anniversary of hurricanes Katrina and Rita approaches, there are lessons to learn from each disaster, according to a Texas A&M University expert in severe storms.

R. Saravanan, a professor of atmospheric sciences who specializes in climate variability, says the two storms were historic for their intensity.

Katrina was the costliest hurricane ever and one of the five most deadly storms ever to hit the United States.“The lessons learned from the Katrina disaster were immediately visible during the response to Rita a month later,” Saravanan says. “People took the evacuation warnings seriously.”

Although Houston dodged much of Rita’s power, the storm caused millions to flee their homes. At least 120 died during the storm, some from evacuation efforts, such as 23 who died in a bus accident near Dallas.

Gasoline shortages, inadequate evacuation routes, immense traffic jams, gridlocked roads, power failures and other miseries caused many who fled to say they would never evacuate again.

“It shows that we still need to educate the public about the nature of hurricane forecasts that can lead to evacuations,” Saravanan says. From the perspective of risk management, he says, evacuation remains a valuable option.

Weather forecasters have learned much in the decade since Katrina and Rita, he says.

“At the national level, Katrina and Rita led to major research initiatives to improve hurricane forecasts, ” Saravanan says. “Computer models have slowly but steadily been improving, and we have developed a better ‘cone of uncertainty’ about hurricane trajectories.”

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