Isaac brings wind, rain, bad memories

By the time you read this, we'll very likely have an idea as to how hard the Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Isaac, which achieved that status Tuesday afternoon as it appeared to be bearing down on New Orleans.

Given the timing, the comparisons to one of the most devastating hurricanes to ever hit the mainland -- Katrina in 2005 -- was inevitable.

The prospects of this Category 1 storm, while serious, didn't appear to be in the same league as Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and other communities along the coast. Katrina packed 135 mph winds when it hit, while Isaac was expected to stay in the 75-80 mph range when it hit land. Isaac was a large cyclone, however, and its drenching reach was expected to encompass much of the Gulf's northwest coast before it rolled inland into the Lower Mississippi Valley region.

One aspect of the storm, which stretched 200 miles from its eye on Tuesday, that was particularly dangerous was its slow, wobbly movement, which was expected to dump up to two feet of rain in New Orleans, testing the levee fortifications that were implemented post-Katrina. They were expected not to have trouble with storm surges projected as high as 12 feet in southeast Louisiana, with surges up to 6 feet high all the way over on the Florida panhandle.

But two feet of rain is a lot of water to channel away, particularly from low-lying areas. By comparison, that is less than four inches short of the amount of rain that fell near Americus in 1994 when Tropical Storm Alberto stalled, leading to the greatest flooding we've ever seen in Georgia.

In 2005, too many in New Orleans ignored the orders to evacuate. This time, there was no call for mass evacuations as officials felt the reinforced protection of the city would hold, though New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu did call on residents riding out the storm to exercise some common sense caution, such as not getting out in streets that are prone to flood.

Our hope is that everyone in the impacted area comes out of this storm unhurt with as little property damage as possible, and that the emergency agencies that surely will be needed after Isaac's passing are quick and effective.

Hurricanes are part of life along the Gulf Coast. Nature is a beautiful thing, particularly as you look from the shore toward the Gulf, but there is always a danger lurking within that beauty. All anyone can do is be aware of it, respect its power, be prepared and exercise common sense.