They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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Katrita Blows

When writing science fiction which has connections to our own culture and history, as opposed to imaginary places and races divorced from Earth, I am forever worried about the bolts out of the blue which one cannot anticipate. Strange, because it is so-ooo naive to think one's work should never be rendered obsolete by something as small as, like, oh, history? But I think Asimov got the concept right in Foundation -- individual events cannot be predicted, only aggregate trends. So one sets a story in 2012 and mentions the World Trade Center. Except... Or search for a hurricane name for 2027 and call it "Katrina". Except...

Until the end of August, we had no inkling of a hurricane named Katrina... or Rita. FEMA was an agency which came to the aid of those going through natural disasters. New Orleans showed up on the radar screens a couple of times of year, including college football bowl season, New Year's and Mardi Gras -- if your professional organization wasn't heading there for a national convention, that is. Three dollar a gallon gasoline would only occur in a financial meltdown. While someone in charge thought for the last couple of years that the best use of our National Guard troops was halfway around the globe from their respective states.

And only a crazy person would suggest that in a span of three-and-a-half weeks, we'd have two Gulf hurricanes which showed up on a chart as two of the five strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded. Yikes.

Hurricane Rita Has Certainly Played A Cagey Game

Rita blew up to a Category 5 storm faster than Katrina, grew to fill most of the Gulf of Mexico, but coyly wasn't making its intentions clear for a long time. Still had a Cat 3 rating when the eyewall hit land -- right near the Texas-Louisiana border where a minimal number of people live. Direct storm didn't destroy Galveston or even hit New Orleans as bad as it could've, except that the levies so recently repaired failed, flooding the 9th Ward which had just been pumped "dry". No doubt we'll hear some sort of story in the next few weeks about the environmental damage to the great marshes. Meanwhile, Rita's been less of a villain than Katrina. Together, though, "Katrita" has been quite the one-two sucker punch to underbelly of America.

The call for evacuation went out early this time -- and left the roads clogged. Too long a delay before contraflow initiated, meant gas tanks and gas stations went dry. One city had a five-year-old contract for bus and ambulance service to help evacuate, only to have someone (FEMA?) commandeer the vehicles for bigger city evacuations. Boy, sometimes you can't win for losing...


It is unreasonable to expect either minimal damage from such savage storms or perfect performance from everyone pre- or post-event. But you know that the microscope is going to be on your ass during Rita following Katrina... will the bloodletting be capricious and arbitrary? Or will just those too stupid to learn in two weeks be hauled up on the damp carpet?

It sounds like we were singularly lucky with Rita and singularly unlucky with Katrina. I hate having to depend on "luck". In classical physics, we have a very deterministic view of the universe. In modern physics, probability becomes such an issue that Einstein grew frustrated enough to utter his "God does not play dice" quote. Probabilities aren't the same as gambling & luck, though, because there's no definition of "winning" and "losing." Those are human responses -- in this case the weather doesn't care.

Dr. Phil

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