New Orleans: The New Atlantis?

There's a certain sick fascination with watching a slow-moving inevitable disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina has become. It's now a strong Category 5 storm with 175 mph sustained winds and gusts over 200 mph, and it's heading straight toward the Crescent City. Of course, as huge as this storm is, it's going to cause catastrophic damage in a huge swathe of the Gulf Coast. It's the size of last year's Hurricane Ivan, with an intensity similar to 1969's catastrophic Hurricane Camille. It wouldn't have taken a storm of this magnitude to destroy New Orleans, which lies well below sea level and only exists because of a system of levees and pumps which keep the city from being flooded on a normal day. Tomorrow is not going to be a normal day. It may be the worst natural disaster our nation has ever seen, and as slow as the evacuation from the city has been, there will likely be huge loss of life, as well as unprecedented destruction of property. New Orleans itself may end up under 20-30 feet of water. This will make Hurricane Andrew and last year's Florida hurricanes look like nothing by comparison.

Katrina has really become a monster. The central pressure is down to 907 millibars, making it one of the strongest hurricanes in recorded history. Hurricane force winds extend out over 100 miles from the center, so when it hits, the wind is going to blow at hurricane force for several hours. The destruction we will see afterward is likely to be unbelievable. This would be a good time to say a prayer for our neighbors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. They're in for a rough ride.