Wave Heights - Hurricane Katrina 2005

Wave Heights - Hurricane Katrina 2005 thumbnail


This movie shows calculations of the NOAA wave forecasting model, called WAVEWATCH III®, over the Atlantic Ocean and focuses on the time period that Hurricane Katrina occurred. Hurricane Katrina formed near the Bahamas on August 23rd, 2005. It made landfall in Florida on Monday August 27th and then regained energy tracking though the Gulf of Mexico. Finally it hit the southeast Louisiana coast on Monday August 29th, 2005.

The model predicted significant waves height to be 15.4m (50.5ft) high. Indeed, waves in the eye of the hurricane were observed to be extremely high, upto 16.9m. Two buoys in the Gulf of Mexico were close to the pathway of Hurricane Katrina; one buoy capsized and last recorded waves of 10.5m, the other buoy recorded the waves throughout the passing of the storm and found significant wave heights to be 16.9m. Statistically this means that the highest waves could have been as high as 32.1 m (WMO, 1991).

The National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service predicted the hurricane track with sufficient leadtime. This prompted the Louisiana State Government, and US President Bush to declare the state of emergency beforehand. A mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was given to 1.2 million people (there was no precedent for such an out migration of an urban area in US history). Still, Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest hurricanes in US history; 1833 people were killed. The city of New Orleans was hit hardest, because the storm surge associated with the hurricane breached the levees that protect large parts of the city from flooding. There were 53 levee breaches, and after the worst rain and wind had passed, 80% of the city and surrounding areas remained flooded.

Educational materials have been developed for this dataset, including a few PowerPoint slides, that can be used on a supplementary screen while viewing the dataset on Science On a Sphere®. Also, a discussion-based lesson plan can be used to facilitate student learning about wave heights.

Notable Features

  • Hurricane Katrina forms over the Bahamas on August 23rd, hits Florida on August 25th.
  • While Hurricane Katrina travels over the Gulf of Mexico you can see it gains strength from a hurricane category 3 to a category 5.
  • It made its third landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi border still at Category 3 intensity, this is close to the city of New Orleans.
  • Storm surge was 8-9m, and caused a civil engineering disaster. Levees and floodwalls collapse at many critical locations and 80% of New Orleans was flooded.

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