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Happy Severe Weather Awareness Week!

February 25, 2021

After a little bit of snow (le sigh), spring is finally on the way! Which naturally turns a young(ish) girl’s thoughts to...that’s right, severe weather. Coming, appropriately, at the one-year anniversary of our March tornado, this year’s Severe Weather Awareness week runs from March 1-5. To celebrate, I’ve got several selections about one of our worst natural disasters of all time: Hurricane Katrina. 2020’s hurricane season set records for the number of named storms at 30. While several of them got a little bumpy (Laura, Eta), none were as bad as this monster from 2005.

This was the first book I read on Katrina, and I enjoyed the first half much better than the second half. At the beginning the author talked more about the weather aspects of the storm – which is what I was looking for. The back half wasn’t bad, but it got more into why the levees failed and the political aspect of the whole event. I think this was a good choice to start with because the author is a scientist, and he does a good job of presenting facts.

This book is all photos and emails from Spielman who did not evacuate, choosing instead to remain in New Orleans and take care of a local monastery when the nuns evacuated. It was interesting to read his perspective on how things unfolded. I remember how bad Nashville was during the 2010 flood, but that only lasted a few weeks. New Orleans was really bad for months, which is hard to imagine. A little annoying that Spielman did not correct his emails, instead publishing them as is. He could have put a little more effort in there. Also, as I read the other books, Spielman got really lucky in how his storm story played out. A lot of people were in a lot worse shape. 

I’ve shied away from digging into Katrina books because of all the politics. This is that book. Now that we are 15 years out from the storm, it was interesting to see how things have developed. Also, Ivor Van Heerden (from the first book I read) made a brief appearance here as well. He lost his job at LSU after all the fighting he did against the Army Corps of Engineers. In the end, it doesn’t look like New Orleans is any safer now than what it was before Katrina. I guess time will tell.

This book is an expansion of the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the same topic, and I can see why. Fink was very thorough. Not much about the weather here. This one is more about the tragic deaths that happened at the flooded Memorial Hospital. There was a particularly disturbing section at the end as the author was wrapping up. She discussed new disaster protocols that were being developed because of the events that happened during Katrina, and there was a large section about a possible future (this book was released in 2013) respiratory pandemic and ventilator limitations. It’s way too soon for this, but I’d love to see comparisons of what actually happened in New York at the beginning of the pandemic to what they’d planned for, post-Superstorm Sandy. This was an interesting read, but for other reasons than weather.

Phyllis and her family rode out the storm in their apartment complex in the Ninth Ward. The building sustained severe damage during the actual storm. But when no one had come to rescue them by the next day, Phyllis, her husband, mother, sister, and nephew (who had special needs) decided to rescue themselves. Phyllis is also one of the talking heads in Spike Lee’s documentary about Katrina, When the Levees Broke.

This one was by far the most comprehensive coverage of the storm. If you only read one of these, I think this one will give you the best overall picture of the entire event. 

I think this one was my favorite of all the books I read. It had the best balance of human interest stories and weather. The Curtis family started the John Curtis Christian school in Jefferson Parish in the 1960s. Their football team is one of the best in the country, and they can’t wait for the 2005 season to start. Initially, it seems like player transfers and a challenging schedule will be all they have to worry about. But Katrina has other ideas. I was really impressed with all the work the Curtis family put in to taking care of their kids – and not only getting the football season restarted after the storm, but also making sure that everyone had somewhere to stay. 

I will admit that I went down a bit of a rabbit hole here. But I never managed to find a book about Katrina that was all weather and no politics, mostly because I don’t think it exists. Apparently you can’t have one without the other.

Ok, friends. I hope your 2021 Severe Weather Season is full of fun this year and NOT tornadoes. If you have a little free time and are curious, NWS Nashville is offering a ton of free, online weather classes next week. Check out the schedule here. I'm excited about the class on Sat (3.6) with @NashSevereWx. I love those guys! See you there.

Happy not blowing away,
:) Amanda

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Amanda is a classically-trained pianist who loves to read. Like any good librarian, she also has two cats named after Italian cities. Amanda spends her free time sitting in Nashville traffic, baking, and running the Interlibrary Loan office at the Nashville Public Library.

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