GWEN IFILL: And for that, I'm joined by hurricane forecaster and meteorologist Joe Bastardi, of AccuWeather. Welcome again. Tell us, where is Ivan now?
JOE BASTARDI: Well Ivan is anywhere from nine to 12 hours away from landfall near the Alabama- Mississippi border. You can see, Gwen, this is tightening up this afternoon, an ominous situation as the hurricane is intensifying this afternoon. Hopefully the coolest shelf water temperature, the cooler waters will take out some of the steam we've seen pick up over the last several hours, but this is a disaster in the making for extreme southeastern Mississippi.
We have a big oil refinery over there at Pascagoula, this may turn out to be the worst hurricane in the history of Mobile, and the Pensacola area will be hit much like Opal hit in 1995. Opal was a strong category-two, borderline three, storm. Even though the center of this hurricane goes further west, this is going to be a major hurricane on the northwest part of the Florida peninsula... the west part of the Florida panhandle, I should say. Now New Orleans is going to escape the brunt of this storm. By that I mean New Orleans is going to have hurricane conditions but nothing like what is going to happen further east. We have a radar presentation with the eye coming up here.
GWEN IFILL: So we've heard all day about how New Orleans is under sea level, and the extremely vulnerable and elderly and frail are at the superdome and that people have to go to vertical evacuation buildings that are two or three floors higher. You say they are going to escape the impact?
JOE BASTARDI: We never believed, and neither is the conventional wisdom of the forecasters, that this was a New Orleans "disaster" or what we call a benchmark storm and I'll tell you why. The way New Orleans would have had the big problem is if the storm comes in north of the mouth of the Mississippi and then comes over the city from the east-southeast. That happened in 1947. When that happens, this storm surge you see directed here comes right in towards New Orleans through Lake Bourne into Lake Ponchartrain. So the level of Ponchartrain will come up ten to 15 feet, its normal level, and dump into the city anyway.
We have problems with New Orleans, make no mistake about that. The problem is we have strong northwest winds coming across Lake Ponchartrain, but it will be the water from Lake Ponchartrain that gets pushed into the city. That's a problem, but that's the kind of thing the city has had before. This is not an unprecedented event. Camille hit in 1969-- I'll show you where. Camille hit with 190-mile-per- hour winds - and this storm will certainly be no worse than Camille in New Orleans. This is the area that we are really going to have the problem, further east there.
GWEN IFILL: Let me stop you there for a second. If it hits along the coast of Mississippi, what does that... what is the potential impact? We are talking about coastal erosion? There was talk in Kwame's piece about the oil industry taking a big hit.
JOE BASTARDI: I'll tell you what: This is a disaster for the Alabama coastline and southeast Mississippi. We have a major refinery at Pascagoula that was damaged badly with Hurricane George that came into the southwest of Pascagoula. This situation is grievous, no doubt about that. These barrier islands, some of these... the way these look on this picture, will be history after this. They're going to be overwhelmed, some of them. Dauphin Island, Alabama, and some of these places are going to be permanently rearranged.
The big problem in Mobile, a surge coming in out of the south-- see how the bay is shaped like a funnel-- is the water has no place to go at the north end of the bay, and it's raining and the water's coming down the rivers. You are really going to get a tremendous amount of water build-up in there because of the storm in there and also we're probably going to see wind gusts of 120 to 130 miles per hour in Mobile and 120 in Pensacola and 175 miles per hour inland. And here's Pensacola here and they're in bad shape, too. Not as bad as mobile, but bad nonetheless. This is the area where the devastating storm may occur.
GWEN IFILL: Ivan is not the end of the story. We are hearing that Tropical Storm Jean is in Puerto Rico and it's heading on much the same path. What can you tell us about that?
JOE BASTARDI: Well, this is something here at Accuweather.com we were analyzing three days ago before it was named that this is going to be a threat. It's because of the pattern we are in, a pattern that is reminiscent of years ago back in the '40s, '50s and '60s. A lot of people don't remember what happened then, when big hurricanes were hitting United States coastline. In any case, Jean is going to move towards the United States coastline.
What may be a saving grace for a while is it is going to have to do battle with the island of Hispaniola, with 10,000-foot mountains that will take the punch out of it and may take a while to get it organized and also determine where it is going to go. There is a possibility, Gwen, that it moves so slow, that we get Ivan out of the way, and it tries to come back in through the Gulf of Mexico. You say, how can that happen? Two years ago Isadore and Lily, within ten days of each other, pulled a stunt in the central Gulf of Mexico. Two major storms. That's something we are considering and another system has another chance to recurve out in the Atlantic.
GWEN IFILL: Joe Bastardi, of AccuWeather, thank you very much.
JOE BASTARDI: My pleasure.