Scientific Methodology

Scientific Methodology for Study on Wind and Water Damage During Hurricane Katrina

Scientific Methods Used for Hurricane Katrina Research

The damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina was by far greater than any other hurricane in the recorded history of the United States of America. Why were so many properties destroyed during Hurricane Katrina? While the institutional reasons (failed levees, destruction of delta wetlands, etc.) for the vast flooding will be debated for years, the meteorological causes for the storms intensity can be traced to the following:

  • One, the storm hit during high tide
  • Two, the intensifying low-pressure Category IV/V storm, Hurricane Katrina, was moving northwest when it hit land
  • Three, a blocking high was moving from the west to the east over Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi which resulted in the hurricane changing directions
  • Four, the hurricane environment changed from a low friction, wet environment to a high friction, dry environment.
  • Five, the combination of the events 1-4 resulted in the extreme high flooding and the released of massive amount of stored energy in the form of downbursts.

Downbursts are wind events that happen when the atmosphere is unstable and the air literally falls from the sky. The best way to understand what downbursts is to compare them to tornadoes. Both downbursts and tornadoes can have touchdown vortexes and paths of destruction with similar wind speeds. Tornadoes vortexes spiral upward into the atmosphere. Downbursts vortexes spiral downward to the ground. Tornadoes paths are formed by the air turning into wind as it is pulled into a vortex. Downbursts paths are formed by air pushed into straight-line winds that radiate outward from the vortex. Downbursts are formed by the downward movement of air; tornadoes are formed by the upward movement of air. In summary, downbursts are almost the exact opposites of tornadoes. Tornadoes move air upward while downbursts, move air downward.

During my scientific investigation of properties, I found evidence that led me to conclude that downbursts were happening with great frequency during this hurricane. Downbursts that are less than four kilometers in size are called microbursts. Downbursts can be over four kilometers and are called macrobursts. I have documented a number of microbursts in Mississippi and I believe that macrobursts may have occurred during Hurricane Katrina.

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