UA Students Face Isaac in New Orleans for Research

Sep 3, 2012

Residents along the Gulf Coast are beginning to survey the damage left in Hurricane Isaac’s wake. Some University of Alabama research students are also assessing the impact of the storm. Four UA graduate students went to New Orleans and braced themselves against the high winds and heavy rains for research. John Mason is one of those students.

“I was pretty excited,” says Mason. “I had never been in a hurricane before so it was definitely a new experience and I was looking forward to seeing how everything worked. And actually how a very large city would be once everyone was evacuated out of it was kind of surreal.”

Mason and the three other UA students are studying geography. One of the objectives of the assignment was to measure wind speed. Mason says New Orleans provided a great opportunity to study urban wind speed.

“In the city, the wind seemed to be a lot more magnified when they’re tunneled through buildings and streets and alleys,” says Mason. “But, right along the river walk in New Orleans, the winds we found sustained 40 to 50 [mph]. And when you compare that same time to areas inside the French Quarter and downtown New Orleans, winds would have been sustained to 60 sometimes 70 [mph] gusting well over 80 to 90 mph.”

The graduate students also interviewed evacuees to find out how accurately they were interpreting forecast information. Mason says they talked with evacuees at rest stops along the interstate the Monday before Isaac hit.

“At that time, Hurricane Isaac was still a tropical storm and there had been no evacuations ordered for Louisiana,” says Mason. “So what we got was a lot of elderly people that were retired and had the means to evacuate and no responsibilities such as work left behind in the city that they could evacuate much more easily than people who are still in the workforce or who don’t have the means to just up and leave at that time.”

Hurricane Isaac hit Louisiana’s southeast coast on August 28th, the eve of the 7-year-anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Mason says Isaac stirred a lot of memories of Katrina for most of the evacuees he talked to.

“Usually we’ll ask what storm influenced your reason for evacuating and 90%of the time that’s Hurricane Katrina. And people say things like ‘I’m just going to leave. I’m not going to stay for anymore. I’ve seen what it can do. I’m not going to stick around for it.’”

Mason says he and the other research students will study how the evacuees perceive hurricane hazards associated with where they live and how their home would be affected. They’ll also use this first-hand experience to understand how people perceive the numbers associated with these hurricane categories.