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September 2005

Under and Over

I’ve been meaning to post about this since about Tuesday, and it isn’t really timely any more, but oh well, I’m going to post it anyway. In the couple days immediately following Katrina’s second landfall I was hearing two distinct sets of comments that annoyed me. (And I know I’m not the only one, but hey, I’ll throw in my comments.) The comments from a variety of sources, fell into two categories:

The underestimators: These were the people saying “This is so much worse than we ever imagined!!”. And I’m not talking about your average person on the street, I’m talking about people in positions of authority. People who had no excuse whatsoever. This was not worse than could be imagined. This was in fact MUCH BETTER than the worst case scenerio, which had been discussed and analysed in detail for literally decades. There had been articles and papers and documentaries. Some recent, some going back years. And it wasn’t as if people weren’t talking about it… incessantly… from almost the moment Katrina left Florida and entered the gulf… about just how bad it would be if it hit New Orleans… and then the track maintained a bullseye on the city for a decent amount of time. Anybody paying attention knew it would be very very bad absent a huge amount of good luck. And as it happens, that good luck came. Less than 12 hours before landfall, Katrina sucked up some dry air on the Northwest side that destabilized a lot of the flow, weakened the hurricane significantly, and cause a wobble to the east… this was bad. Really really bad. But it is not “worse than we all imagined” it is actually considerably BETTER than anyone who was paying attention and actually believed the warnings thought. Brendan Loy, a great source through this whole thing, lays out the whole thing in more detail in terms of what could have happened and why everyone should have known.

The overestimators: Then there are the overestimators. This seems to have died down a lot since the beginning of the week, but there were a flurry of people comparing Katrina to the Asian Tsunami. I know there seemed to be some superficial similarities, and yeah, I saw them too. But as bad as this has been… it is a tiny, miniscule, insignificant event when compared to December’s Tsunami. OK, “insignificant” is not the right word. Any loss of life or property is significant. Especially to those involved. But these two events are simply an order of magnatude different. Take everything you know about what has happened in New Orleans this week. Multiply by 10. Maybe 20. Then you are getting closer to what happened in December. This seems bigger because it is HERE and NOW, and the other was THERE and MONTHS AGO. Looking at this hints at just how bad the earlier situation was.

Anyway… like I said, probably should have posted Tuesday, but I’ve been busy. By now lots of people have said both things. :-)

Now (hopefully) the worst is over. There will be much work to do and much hand wringing and blame throwing. In the end, New Orleans and the whole coast of all the affected states will probably be better than it was before. Just might take a few years.