The Days Leading Up to the 2016 Louisiana Flood
The Office of Academic Affairs met with Dr. Barry Keim, LSU Professor and Louisiana State Climatologist, to discuss his involvement with tracking the “no-name storm” that progressed into the historic 2016 Louisiana Flood.
“When we look back, Tuesday, August 2 was the last weather map that did not show the storm that hit us on the map,” Dr. Keim said. “The storm actually formed off the coast of Florida on August 3 and was considered a broad area of low pressure, or a meteorological trough which is called a tropical wave in the hurricane world.”
Meteorologists in the area were convinced it was a weak wave that was producing scattered thunderstorms, and they were relatively convinced it was not going to advance into anything more.
“On August 5, the Hurricane Center issued a notice pointing out the broad area of low pressure,” Dr. Keim said. “At that time, they were giving it about a 20 percent chance of turning into a tropical cyclone, which is enough reason to keep a close watch on the system, but not enough to get too worked up about it.”
As the days continued, the storm drifted slowly westward along the Florida panhandle and onto the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast line. The Hurricane Center monitored the storm closely and realized that the storm was not an entirely tropical system even though it had tropical elements to it.
“On Wednesday, August 10, the system moved inland and the Hurricane Center was no longer concerned and responsibility for the storm was passed to the National Weather Service,” Dr. Keim said. “The National Weather Service predicted five to eight inches of rain on Friday in southeast Louisiana. The National Weather Service almost never forecasts that much rain in a day and because of that forecast, we knew the potential was there for something big to happen.”
As the days of August 11, 12 and 13 arrived, the unprecedented amount of rain continued to fall like no meteorologist in the area had ever seen before.
“On August 11, the thunderstorms started kicking up and it rained throughout the evening and into the next day,” Dr. Keim explained. “It rained continuously and flooding began in some parts of the Baton Rouge region. It rained every waking minute of Friday, which is something I don’t ever remember experiencing personally.”
By August 15, the “no-name storm” had been named a 1000-year rainfall event, claimed the lives of thirteen Louisianians and flooded areas in more than 20 cities in Louisiana.
“As Louisiana State Climatologist, I am charged with the responsibility to provide the correct and accurate information to the public and I take that responsibility very seriously,” Dr. Keim said. “As rainfall totals were accumulating and water levels were rising, I needed to get that information out to the public.”
National news stations such as the New York Times, PBS, NPR, and CNBC interviewed with Dr. Keim immediately following the floods.
“I usually average 150-200 media interviews per year,” Dr. Keim mentioned. “In August 2016, I conducted about 40 media interviews in two weeks. I found myself going from interview to interview it was a crazy time, but I had a responsibility to uphold for my community going through this unprecedented natural disaster.”
Dr. Barry Keim serves as the Richard J. Russell Professor in the Department of Geography & Anthropology at LSU. Dr. Keim has served as the State Climatologist since 2003.