June used to conjure happy images: vacations, snowballs, watermelon, the Gulf Coast, crawfish on the Lakefront, summer bliss.
This year, however, the month will be greeted with horror. Now that we are all more sensitive to the arrival of hurricane season and have stories to tell, we will be far more nervous about each tropical depression forming in the Atlantic.
We do not urge anyone to be foolish or to take the new hurricane season lightly. We are saying to be cautious of the hysteria.
Statistically June does not bring much hurricane activity to our area of the gulf. We may get tropical systems, but not the sort that has us darting to Interstate 10. We know that the worst months here are late August and September, but in the 288 summers since the founding of New Orleans only three times – September 1915 (before hurricanes were named), Betsy (1965) and Katrina – has the city been seriously hit.
We know: the global warming theory states that the earth is heating to an extent that makes us more vulnerable to the big storms more frequently. But that has yet to be proven conclusively. There does seem to be evidence that active hurricane seasons run in cycles, and we are in the middle of such a period. On one hand, the waters in the Atlantic are warmer than usual – that’s bad. On the other hand, la niña is expected to be less of a factor – that is good. Truth is, we don’t know for sure.
As we have experienced brushes with storms in the past, we speak of “dodging the bullet,” but the metaphor is imperfect. Land masses do not dodge; rather, the bullets change course. We know that, going into this season, the levees are not as good as they will be one day, but we also know that we are a lot smarter about monitoring them, establishing temporary flood gates, and operating pumping systems. With what we know about levees now, and with the improvements that have been made to them, what happened last year might be avoided or at least lessened.
We cannot prevent hurricanes, but we can be smarter about them. Just as the hurricane monitoring system is light years more sophisticated than in 1901. when a deadly storm sneaked up on Galveston, so too can we become more technologically advanced to tame the beast.
If the fear of hurricanes is going to disrupt our lives and make us live uneasily for five months out of every year, then living here is not worth the angst.
How can we ever persuade businesses and residents to invest in our community if we do not believe in it ourselves?
Be wise, be cautious, but do not be afraid. Storm clouds are inevitably followed by blue skies.