New Orleans: 10-years after Hurricane Katrina
This spring break, March 15-22, 10 Ohio State students travelled to New Orleans, LA to work with St. Bernard Project. Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane, made landfall in August of 2005 devastating lives across the Gulf Coast. We enjoyed giving back and helping rebuild while gaining an appreciation for the power of hurricanes!
A trip to storm chase in the Great Plains had been a dream for several years for many Ohio State University Meteorology Students who were quickly approaching graduation that spring and beyond. In January of 2013 the dates were set and May 17th-22nd became the topic of many prayers for severe weather. In early spring, severe weather activity was low and brainstorming began for alternative ways to keep ourselves busy in the event of no storms. As the weekend drew closer the ingredients came together and for the 10 students departing May 17th, it looked like it could be a weekend to remember for a long time. Chasing Saturday resulted in cool cloud formations, some lightning, and no tornadic activity. Sunday produced a small tornado viewable a few miles away and the Shawnee tornado seen by a few from our group. Monday May 20th was our last day to chase and appeared to be a prime day for severe weather. While the models hinted at supercells forming in southern Oklahoma, we stayed near Norman. At about 2:30 we drove through Newcastle, OK and the tornado sirens began to sound. The funnel was beginning to form and we knew it was only a matter of (extremely tense) minutes until the tornado would touchdown. At a distance of about a mile and a half away, we witnessed the funnel make contact with the ground and rapidly expand to a wedge tornado.
The opportunity to witness the occurrence of an event we had studied so recently in class –high precipitation, visible inflow, a rapidly rotating wall cloud, funnel cloud formation and finally rapid growth into a wedge tornado – was an exhilarating experience we will all never forget. After leaving the field we were in as we witnessed the tornado touchdown and in the days to come we began to realize the magnitude of the event. The tornado would go on to reach EF-5 intensity, the highest rating possible for a tornado. Undoubtedly the tornado would become the topic of extensive research as it hit the town of Moore, OK yet again. As Bill Kelly, the chief meteorologist at ABC6/FOX28 in Columbus said, the Moore tornado was the biggest weather event we will witness in our careers – a powerful statement indeed.
As we drove away and began to hear of the devastation the tornado was causing, emotions began setting in. We had just been celebrating the tornado touchdown with O-H-I-O pictures where the tornado served as the “I” and now the tornado was destroying homes and schools. That afternoon we discussed the emotions of the day from the standpoint of professional meteorologists. On the one hand, a tornado is a powerful and awe-inspiring phenomena. Witnessing a tornado touch down is the dream of every meteorologist and understanding tornadoes helps with forecasting. On the other hand, meteorologists are people too, and the sadness that comes with devastation, death, and destruction is normal. Yet the impacts of weather become very real in a situation like that where we witness the tornado touchdown and see the devastation. Those emotions were great motivation to forecast better, to improve lead time, and to minimize loss of life and that was the most beneficial part of our trip.
Buckeyes for Moore
Immediately following the Moore tornado event, brainstorming began to determine how we could help those affected. While in Oklahoma it soon became evident the local outpouring of support was more than sufficient and our best opportunity to help would be a long term effort. A week-long trip to help rebuild seemed like the best bet. Spring break 2014 was the time to take the trip. Contact was made with Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity and we reserved our space. 11 students, three of whom were storm chasing last May went on the trip. For the three of us, the opportunity to see the tornado, witness the destruction the day after, and return less than a year later to see the progress was an experience we won’t soon forget. While work still needs to be done, many homes have been rebuilt and it is amazing how the community has bounced back.
While we were there we worked on two homes in Norman, OK and spent one morning in Moore. One of the homes in Norman was being built for a single father and his two kids whose house was destroyed by the Moore tornado. They decided not to move back to Moore afterwards. The second home was for a single mother and her two kids and was being built as a part of a research project through the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture. The two homes being built had identical floor plans but the latter was being built with more environmentally friendly and efficient materials. A long term study is being done to determine the energy efficiency and savings over the next several years between both homes. While working on these two homes we had the opportunity to install installation and siding outside, put up dry wall, spread insulation in the attic, paint trim, and mix and apply plaster to the walls. The final morning we were there we worked on two lots in Moore and prepped them for construction the following week. Weather through the spring had prevented CCHFH from working in Moore the week we were there but it was awesome to start the projects. Installing a sign that said “Future site of a Habitat for Humanity home” was one of the coolest experiences of the week.
Rebuilding homes and working with Habitat for Humanity was humbling, exciting, and memorable. While there we donated $250 to go toward future efforts. The opportunity to help those directly affected by the powerful storm was a huge blessing and we are so excited to continue our efforts by collecting donations through our Facebook page: Buckeyes for Moore. The money raised will help offset the costs of the trip for the 11 students that went. This experience was something we will never forget and it was a phenomenal opportunity to witness a powerful and rare meteorological phenomenon while being able to go back and help in the rebuilding process.