2011 hurricane season leaves central Gulf Coast largely undisturbed
The 2011 hurricane season ends Wednesday, closing the book on another yet another summer that, in the long view, was ominously busier than usual -- but left the central Gulf Coast largely undisturbed. The season's total of 19 tropical storms tied for the third-most-active since record-keeping began in 1851, and continues the trend of bustling hurricane seasons that began in 1995, the National Hurricane Center said.
Yet this year's storms mostly lashed open water.
The local exception was Tropical Storm Lee, a storm that never developed to hurricane strength but dumped heavy rains over southeast Louisiana on Labor Day weekend.
Lee flooded scores of homes in low-lying parts of St. Tammany, Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes outside the federal government's multibillion-dollar hurricane defense system.
Otherwise, none of the year's seven hurricanes even entered the Gulf of Mexico, except perhaps little-known Hurricane Rina, which dawdled briefly at the doorstep in the Yucatan Channel before falling apart in late October.
For the sixth straight year -- a record -- the U.S. mainland was spared a strike by a major hurricane of Category 3 or higher. There were three such major storms this year.
Still, Hurricane Irene, the one hurricane to strike the United States, did $10 billion in damage and killed 55 people in late August, according to the National Hurricane Center.The Category 1 storm scraped northward past Cape Hatteras and made landfall near New York City. After its winds dissipated, its rains destroyed billions of dollars worth of property further north in Vermont.
Closer to home, the Army Corps of Engineers continued rebuilding a completely redesigned system of levees, floodwalls, floodgates and other barriers to replace the flawed system that failed catastrophically after the near miss of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
At the opening of the 2011 hurricane season, the corps' deadline, the federal agency pointed to a much-improved system constructed after six years of breakneck work.
Although not finished, the new hurricane "risk reduction" system was built to protect against a target storm even before its last components are fully finished. That target storm is one that has a one percent chance of hitting the area in any given year.
During the 2011 hurricane season, work continued on a massive set of pumps and floodgates below Harvey that would protect most of the West Bank. Even short of completion, however, it now provides the mandated protection, said corps spokesman Rene Poche.
Among other projects, Poche said, work continues on raising some Mississippi River levees below English Turn in Algiers and Belle Chasse; on the reconstruction of the southern terminus of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway where it ties into a protection levee; and on levee protection along the western edge of Kenner.
Bruce Nolan can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3344.
© 2011 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.