Fight or flight: See how storms are strengthening quicker than local evacuation plans

    In the past, Louisiana-based emergency managers tilted toward “flight,” leading evacuations that moved tens of thousands of people to safer ground before storms made landfall. 

    But as climate change throws faster and stronger hurricanes at the Gulf Coast, local leaders say staying put and fighting through whatever comes may be the more realistic option, Louisiana Illuminator reports.

    “We’re having very rapid storms with very little notice,” says Collin Arnold, New Orleans’ emergency preparedness director. “Our [evacuation] plans are terrific. They’re viable, workable plans. But, like with Hurricane Ida, we’re not being given the ideal timeline.”

    The 2024 hurricane season, which began Saturday and ends Nov. 30, may produce several storms that intensify faster than most cities can evacuate, says Lauren Nash, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in New Orleans.

    “We likely won’t have days to decide whether to go,” she says, noting that Ida, the last major hurricane to strike southeast Louisiana, leaped from Category 1 status to Category 4 overnight and left no time for mandatory evacuations. 

    Contraflow, which involves reversing inbound highway lanes to flow out of heavily populated areas, has long been known as the region’s main tool for widespread evacuations, but hasn’t been used since Hurricane Gustav nearly 16 years ago. 

    Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng doubts future hurricanes will give the necessary three-day heads-up to initiate and manage contraflow.

    “I just don’t see how contraflow can happen again,” she said at a news conference earlier this month. “We need 72 hours for contraflow. It’s just not even an option for us with rapidly intensifying storms.”

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