Louisiana was once a French-owned territory. Along with an approximate total of 828,000 square miles, it was sold to the United States for a mere $15 million dollars in 1803. Exactly nine years later, on April 30, 1812, Louisiana became a state.
Louisiana was named “La Louisanne” in honor of the King of France, King Louis XIV. To this day, there’s a heavy French influence that characterizes the state.
The state is divided into 64 parishes (aka counties) and is the only US state that operates under the Napoleonic Code (French Emperor’s Civil Code).
In Louisiana you’ll discover a melting pot of cultures including Cajuns, French, French-Canadian, African, and modern American. This melting pot has subsequently resulted in the creation of multiple French dialects which are uniquely spoken there.
Louisiana is nicknamed the Pelican State, but is more popularly known as the birthplace of jazz and is the jazz capital of the world. It’s also the home state of Louis Armstrong.
Another thing Louisiana is recognized for is its food. Creole and Cajun food are not just a meal but a way of life, especially when you add a splash of hot sauce.
Louisiana boasts some of the prettiest views ever— that is, under good conditions. Unfortunately, it’s one of the hardest-hit states when it comes to natural disasters and the remnants of these disasters are oftentimes long-lasting.
This article will shed light on previous disasters in the state, why they occur, and how to become prepared for major weather events in the future.
What natural disasters does Louisiana have?
Louisiana’s most common natural disasters include floods, hurricanes, severe storms, tornadoes, extreme heat and drought, power outages, wildfires, ice storms, and landslides.
Between 1953 and 2019, Louisiana declared 84 major disasters, of which floods and hurricanes happened the most according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Louisiana has a very high risk of severe flooding and unfortunately, the situation is expected to get much worse over time.
An estimated 47% of properties are located in a flood risk area— that is almost every other home! Some sources suggest that over the next 30 years, the state will see a 62.8% increase in properties being at risk of flooding, especially if the sea level continues to rise.
The risk of flooding increases after periods of heavy rain, long-lasting precipitation, and hurricanes. New Orleans is sinking at a rate of 2 inches per year, therefore elevating its flood risk even more. Almost 1 million people in the Pelican State are currently at risk of coastal flooding.
One of the worst floods in recent history occurred in August 2019 in which was referred to as a 500-year event. Some areas received 20 to 30 inches of rain, thereby resulting in flash flooding, rivers swelling, and overflowing creeks and waterways.
There was widespread destruction, including approximately 50,000 to 75,000 inundated structures, a significant loss in crops, livestock, and the fishing industry, and the death of 13 people. Many places located near the rivers remained flooded for up to 9 months. The cost of flood damage was estimated to be around $20 billion.
Another major flood event hit the state in 2021, particularly Lake Charles. Within 12 hours, heavy rains of over a foot fell over the city, completely flooding downtown and nearby areas. A state of emergency was declared by the governor.
The saddest part is that this event occurred less than a year after two devastating hurricanes swept through the region.
Preparing for floods is vital if you live in Louisiana. The most important place to start is to learn what your home and community’s risk is. Check out local flood maps for up-to-date information as erosion and other natural events can quickly alter your risk.
If you live in a flood zone, consider moving to a safer place. In the meantime, learn how to stay safe during such an event and look into the National Flood Insurance Program to see what options are available to you.
If flood waters get near, get to higher ground immediately and do not attempt to cross them.
Louisiana is a target for major hurricane, tropical storm, and tropical depression activity because it is located in the prime location along the Gulf of Mexico.
While the Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and lasts through November 30, August and September have historically been peak months for the Pelican State. The National Hurricane Center monitors these storms.
The state of Louisiana has a long history of damaging hurricanes. Between 2000 and 2020, the state has been struck by at least 28 tropical storms or hurricanes. These are a few hurricane facts:
- In 1969, Hurricane Camille made landfall as a category 5 hurricane on the Mississippi Gulf coast with wind speeds of up to 190 mph. It remains one of the strongest storms in state history.
- In 2005, Hurricane Katrina also made landfall as a category 5 hurricane near the city of New Orleans with wind speeds of up to 174mph.
An estimated 80% of Orleans Parish was inundated. The parishes of St. Charles, St. Tammany, Terrebonne, St. Bernard, Lafourche, Plaquemines Parish, Jefferson Parish, and the surrounding area also experienced major damage.
Millions of people were left homeless, around 1,800 people died, and the storm became the most expensive hurricane in US history and the deadliest disaster in Louisiana history. It caused over $100 billion in damages.
- 2020 was the most active year with 5 storms affecting the state. Hurricane Laura was one of these. It made landfall as a category 4 storm near Cameron and had sustained wind speeds of 150 mph.
The eye, which was about 25 miles wide, stalled over Lake Charles long enough to cause unprecedented devastation. Hurricane Laura killed 77 people and the storm damage was estimated at around $19 billion.
A short six weeks after Hurricane Laura, Hurricane Delta made landfall in Creole with winds of 100 mph.
- Hurricane Ida in 2021 was the second-most damaging hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana. Its highest recorded wind speed was 149 mph. It caused over $75 billion (2021 USD) in damages and left 107 people dead.
If you live near the coastal areas of Louisiana, you should definitely be putting some thought and action toward your hurricane preparedness plan.
There are steps you can take now to mitigate future damage, such as installing storm shutters on your windows, or buying plywood and measuring it to the appropriate size of your windows.
Supplies can run out quickly and when a hurricane is forecasted you will have trouble finding certain items at the store, so make sure your emergency kits are also stocked beforehand.
If you live in the coastal region, be prepared for storm surge which is especially common during hurricanes and tropical storms.
It's a good idea to practice evacuation drills with your family members and keep an emergency kit handy. Learn about hurricane preparedness and safety here.
3. Severe Storms
Due to its climate, the Pelican State experiences severe weather in the form of thunderstorms, lightning, heavy rainfall, strong winds, and occasional hail.
A typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts around 30 minutes. Nearly 10% of storms are classified as severe, meaning that they include high winds and hail of at least 3/4 inch in diameter.
Louisiana is the 2nd most lightning-prone state, averaging 827,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year. The summer months (June, July, and August) are peak months for lightning and thunderstorm activity.
Most lightning-related deaths in the state occurred because people were outdoors enjoying leisurely activities, such as sports and fishing.
Lightning can strike more than 10 miles outside of the storm area, so when there’s a thunderstorm approaching, it’s best to take shelter indoors, preferably away from windows.
Louisiana experiences approximately 37 tornadoes each year and ranks 14th in the nation when it comes to its average number of tornadoes.
The strongest tornado outbreak in Louisiana occurred on February 7, 2017, and lasted a little over 13 hours.
There were a total of 15 tornadoes, and the most damaging one was an EF 3 with wind speeds of up to 150 mph. That one struck New Orleans, injured 40 people, killed 1, and caused around $2.7 million in damages.
One of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in United States history occurred in Louisiana and neighboring states during April 24-26, 1908.
A number of violent tornadoes moved through parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, killing 324 people and injuring 1,652 others. The city of Amite experienced the most extensive damage and 29 of its residents were killed.
Knowing where to take shelter before a tornado can be vital to your safety. In this guide, we discuss important mitigation strategies as well as what to do during the few minutes between when a tornado is predicted until after it passes.
Although we cannot do anything about the intensity or destruction of such a natural event, there’s a lot we can do to lower our risk of becoming injured. Learn more here.
5. Extreme Heat and Drought
Louisiana has a humid and subtropical climate that creates a warm and muggy environment. It is ranked as the third hottest US state. New Orleans ranks 15th as the hottest city in the US.
Louisiana’s hottest month is August, where the highs range from 89°F to 94°F.
The state’s position on the Gulf of Mexico gives it a wet season and high humidity that can make the heat feel like it’s 120°F. The hottest temperature ever recorded was 114°F on August 10, 1936, in Plain Dealing.
Louisiana averages 35 days of extreme heat but that number is expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years. Over 160,000 people are currently vulnerable to extreme heat in the state.
Even though it rains a lot statewide, there are occasional periods of drought. According to the Drought Monitor, the longest duration of drought in the Pelican State lasted 107 weeks between April 2010 and May 2012.
The most intense period occurred the week of June 21, 2011, where D4 (extreme drought) affected 64.94% of Louisiana land. As of the writing of this article, there is no drought.
6. Power Outages
Due to our vulnerable power lines and electrical equipment, any natural disaster can cause extended power outages lasting from as little as a few hours to as long as months at a time. Two significant power outages occurred after hurricanes.
After Katrina, nearly 28,900 utility poles were destroyed or knocked over and more than 2 million people were left without power. More recently in 2020, Hurricane Laura impacted nearly 900,000 customers.
A short-term power outage is inconvenient, but most people can adjust to a lack of electricity if it’s for a couple of hours. But what about 12 or more hours? And what if other factors are involved, like high heat and humidity or an ice storm?
Natural disasters tend to have a domino effect on each other, so one intense storm can lead to numerous other issues, such as power outages.
Be sure to print the checklists at the end and keep them in your emergency kit for future reference.
Each year approximately 1,431 wildfires are responsible for burning 14,950 acres throughout Louisiana. Fifty percent of Louisiana is forestland— that is about 14.9 million acres. Nearly 45% of the population, over 2 million people, lives at an elevated risk of wildfire.
While we weren’t born to remember this tragedy, New Orleans burned to the ground in 1788. Practically the entire city was consumed.
That event serves as a reminder of what can happen if a fire goes out of control. Simple practices can save your home or community from burning down.
Know how to burn debris properly. Burn only when fire danger is low and never leave a flame unattended
8. Ice Storms
While this is not Louisiana’s greatest natural threat, one winter storm is expected to occur about once a year in the state. Freezing rain mixed with sleet and snow is rare but not out of the question.
In February 2021, an ice storm swept across southwestern Louisiana bringing frigid weather, temperatures in the single digits, and covering absolutely everything in a thick sheet of ice.
This event halted transportation and caused rolling power outages leaving approximately 120,000 homes in the dark statewide.
Southeastern Louisiana has a moderate to high susceptibility of landslides, but low incidence.
This might be because the point of highest elevation is only 535 ft. In any case, there is a higher possibility and occurrence along river banks and steep slopes, shifted sand, and muddy areas.
Severe weather may cause erosion and alter the topography of a region, thereby contributing to the possibility of landslides. Hurricane Harvey is a prime example that caused two landslides near the Louisiana and Texas border in 2017.
Natural disaster resources for Louisiana
Year after year it seems that Louisiana gets hit hard by natural disasters.
Be sure to look into the following resources to help you prepare and recover from all types of disasters.
- One of the best ways to stay informed about developing storms is by downloading the National Weather Service app.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - NOAA Weather Radio is a free app sends you real-time alerts and warnings.
- Now that you know all of the disasters that are likely to occur in your state, it’s time to learn what to do when you’re faced with one of them.
Our guides will walk you through the process step-by-step, beginning with mitigation strategies. Then we discuss safety tips to consider before, during, and after each disaster.
Finally, you’ll have the option to download a free copy of our checklist (unique to each disaster) which you can print and keep with your emergency kit. Find all of our disaster guides here.
- Working together with your community can make a big difference when it comes to emergency preparedness. If you’re interested in getting free training and meeting like-minded people, check out Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
This organization is an extension of the federal government organization FEMA. They provide free training and prepare the local community to respond to natural disasters. Find your local CERT here via your zip code.
- Communities thrive with the help of each other. When a disaster occurs, organizations like Louisiana’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) will determine what the immediate needs are after a major disaster declaration.
They work with local governments, businesses, and organizations in their registrar to figure out the best ways to get the needs of the community met. Get in touch with Louisiana’s VOAD if you’re interested in becoming a part of your community’s relief efforts.
Another disaster relief organization worth mentioning is the American Red Cross. They provide temporary housing for communities under mandatory evacuation orders, as well as food, water, and supplies.
- The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is a place you can search for information regarding the preparedness and recovery aspects of disasters that occur within Louisiana.
I hope you liked reading about natural disasters in Louisiana.
We created an in-depth resource with guides, templates, and checklists that will allow you to customize your emergency plan according to your specific needs. Click here to get started!
Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here!
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