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TS Gustav: OK, Smart Guy, what would >you< do?

No benefit of 20/20 hindsight

The best and brightest minds are forecasting TS Gustav to strengthen into Hurricane Gustav and make landfall on the central Louisiana coast midday Tuesday. That would put the eye over my backyard about half-past Oprah on Tuesday in the pm.

Cool map, huh?

OK. So. The $64 dollar question is, what would you do in my situation? Stay put? Evacuate? If so, to where? and when?

Of course, the easy answer is “Run!” 72 hours after Katrina, nobody could understand why any New Orleanians would stay put. But hurricanes are a fact of life on the Gulf Coast (and up the Atlantic Coast, too). Running from every single storm that poses a potential threat is not always practical, or even wise.

First uncertainty: landfall. The forecast track in the first map is deceptive in that it shows only the consensus track of multiple computer models.Computer models.

The storm is still five days from landfall. There’s a 90% probability that landfall will be somewhere between about Corpus Christi, TX, and Mobile, AL. Right now, the middle of that cone of uncertainty is Morgan City, LA.

If I knew for certain the storm were headed for, say, New Orleans, 100 miles east from here, I wouldn’t budge. Three years ago, Katrina gave us a blustery day, but that’s about it. The west side of a hurricane is the best side — that’s where the storm packs little punch.

If the storm landed near Beaumont on the upper Texas coast, we’d have more rain & wind and maybe a tornado threat, but we’d survive it OK.

Second uncertainty: strength.

I live about 40 miles inland in Lafayette. My house is about 35 feet above sea level. Our main threats locally are wind, tornadoes and falling trees. In the aftermath of a storm, power is often out, sometimes for days at a time.

I have zero concern for a Category 1 storm: we’d ride it out, no problem. Cat 2, we’d probably take our chances. If it looks like we’ll take a bullseye from a 4 or 5, I’m a gone pecan. A 3 makes it iffy. This one is forecast to be Cat 3, around 120 mph, by Tuesday.

The problem is, if you wait until the right choice is obvious, it’s too late to run.

Third uncertainty: timing and destination.

Generally, if you’re going to run, you want to run inland as tropical storms quickly lose their ferocity after coming ashore. There would be little point for me to run to, say, Houston or Pensacola as you take the risk of running into the path of a storm that you would have otherwise missed. The worst case scenario would be to be caught in heavy evacuation traffic as the storm makes landfall.

Houston avoided a calamity of biblical proportions in Hurricane Rita which was bearing down on the city. Mass evacuation was immediately followed by mass gridlock as the city of 4 million hit the interstate out of town all at the same time. Many that I know simply turned around and went home after a full day in a car got them all of 10 miles from home.

OK, so inland. Alexandria is 100 miles north; Shreveport’s 200 miles, all interstate from here. Try finding an available motel room in either one. Even excluding Houston, the population from Mobile to Beaumont is probably on the order of 2-3 million; how would you evacuate all those people?

Already, here in Lafayette, batteries and generators are sold out. Gas stations and grocery stores are busy. Bottled water is in short supply. Driving in from Houston today, we say several flatbed loads of plywood headed in.

So right now, Thursday night, the storm is in Jamaica. Hopefully, by this time next week the remnants of Gustav will be petering out harmlessly.

Fourth uncertainty: is running better than staying put?

Of course, running has a financial cost; it’s an impromptu vacation with no choice of destination and little planning. It’s stressful, dealing with the often gridlocked traffic and the crowds. In our case, should we run, we’ll have my elderly in-laws in tow (actually, they’re evacuating New Orleans on Saturday to come here). We’ve got to take into account the rigors of travel on them, vs. the risk of sitting at home in the heat & the dark should we decide not to run.

Oh, yeah, remember that we face this decision maybe 2 to 4 times in a typical year.

A week from now, we’ll all be geniuses and the right thing to have done will be quite obvious to all. Right now, though, it’s not so clear.

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