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The Path of Hurricane Katrina

August 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Now, Hurricane Katrina and its immediate aftermath. We begin with the latest on Katrina’s path. And for that, I’m joined by Joe Bastardi, meteorologist and chief hurricane forecaster for AccuWeather. Thanks for joining us.

JOE BASTARDI: It’s my pleasure.

GWEN IFILL: How big a storm in the end was this?

JOE BASTARDI: It was a tremendous storm. The barometric pressure in the storm was, I believe, the fourth lowest on record. And also for it to hit the United States it probably was the — in the top five or six as far as strength goes — 918 millibars. To put it in perspective with Andrew, for instance, Andrew was 921 millibars which a measure of the barometric pressure or the depth of the low pressure of the storm, and this was a much bigger storm. And when the totals come in I’m sure it will have justified a lot of what people were saying about it.

Now I want to make something clear that’s sort of a pet peeve of mine. This was not the perfect track to take New Orleans under. It was a very, very bad storm and a very risky storm for New Orleans, but the ideal, perfect track, I’m going to show you that in just a moment was not this track. And I think what happened was a lot of people got carried away with some things and turned around and said it wasn’t as bad as what it was supposed to be. It was every bit as bad. And when the damage figures come in, we will be seeing that.

You see this list up here — this ranks Number 4. I mean there’s been over 1,000 hurricanes we’ve recorded. This is the fourth strongest one we’ve ever recorded at 902 millibars. It did weaken a little bit as it came ashore simply because it was so strong when it was out there over the water because see the past was just up to the east of New Orleans.

By the way our forecast tracker here at Accu Weather had a six-mile error on the storm coming east of New Orleans. We forecasted over to 89.5. It actually got to 89.6 west of New Orleans – almost 90.2 – yes, go on.

GWEN IFILL: And as we look at this track right now, where is it going? We know when it came ashore when it was still in the Gulf it was a Category 5. It came ashore at Category 4. Now I understand it’s a Category 1. Where does it go from here? It looks like effects are going pretty far north.

JOE BASTARDI: Well, yes, this is going to break pressure wind records all the way up into the Ohio Valley here. What I did want to point out though for the education of our audiences, the perfect track for New Orleans comes from the southeast. It actually happened in 1947 and you see when that happens, the storm surge gets pushed straight in. This particular situation, the storm surge got directed more at Mississippi. The fear was back into Lake Pontchartrain, and now to the north.

Now, getting to the future path of this storm, let’s take a look at the radar, and you can see the band of heavy showers and thunderstorms pushing up to the north, the storm continuing its way up to the north-northeast, and it’s making it, you know, it’s pointing which way it wants to go for you up in there. And there goes the effects all the way Tuesday and Wednesday up into the Great Lakes and into the northeastern part of the United States, very warm tropical air up in the eastern part of the United States — the real fight zone where we’re going to see heavy rain.

There is sort of a silver lining to this cloud. There’s no cold air around. Now, you may say to yourself, what does that have to do with anything? Well the colder the air is on the western side of these storms the more the clash occurs because of all the warm, humid air and the heavier the rainfall.

So while there is going to be heavy to excessive rainfalls, it won’t be like Floyd where back in 1999 where there was record cold coming into the storm and forcing excessive rainfalls on the western side of the storm in a widespread fashion. This will have damage. This will have tornadoes and it will have wind. People up in Cincinnati and southern Ohio will be saying, wow, it’s really windy here for a storm.

GWEN IFILL: Can I ask you about the tornadoes. Have we seen evidence that there are tornados that are spinning off of this storm already?

JOE BASTARDI: Well, there already have been some tornadoes reported but here’s what happens: As the storm gets further inland, drier air gets into the hurricane circulation at different levels. When you get that drier air and you have a discontinuous weakening of the storm it weakens quicker in the low levels than the upper levels it creates that wind shear that causes tornadic activity to occur.

However, there is one interesting thing. They like to occur more when the storms come up east of the Appalachians because of the wind coming off the mountains accelerates this process I was talking about, so this will have a significant effect with tornadoes, maybe all the way up into Pennsylvania and on into New England but not as bad as if, you know, with Ivan and Frances and some of these other storms they come up east of the Appalachians, Jean, if I remember correctly, all these things were busting one tornado record after another in there.

And, by the way, it’s not the end of September. It’s the end of August. People are “Yo, Katrina, the K-storm here –“

GWEN IFILL: You’re thinking there’s more to come.

JOE BASTARDI: Oh, yes. This pattern is — we’ve got our hurricane tracking shoes on, believe me.

GWEN IFILL: Okay. We’ll be in touch with you then on that. Thank you very much, Joe Bastardi.

JOE BASTARDI: My pleasure.